Freebasing Cocaine and Other Drugs

Freebasing is used to increase the potency of certain drugs. It changes the structure of a drug and also makes drugs that usually cannot be smoked or injected available to use in this way. Freebasing makes drugs more addictive and more dangerous.
Evidence Based
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What Is Freebasing?

Freebasing is a method of using a drug, usually cocaine, to increase its potency.

Cocaine is typically snorted or applied to the gums. In its powder form, you cannot smoke it or inject it. To do so, you must change its structure. Freebasing changes the structure so it can be smoked or injected, and in doing so, illicit a stronger effect.

People with a cocaine addiction need to take higher doses over time to feel the same effects. So, freebasing the drug may become the method of choice as the addiction worsens. However, using cocaine in this way is especially dangerous and can lead to a deadly overdose. 

The most common question people ask when they learn about freebasing is whether or not it’s the same as smoking crack cocaine. In many ways it is, but it’s important to have a bit of understanding about the chemicals that make up cocaine and how they are affected by certain methods of use.

Cocaine is made from two chemicals:

  • Alkaloid (base)
  • Hydrochloride (salt)

These chemicals make up the drug’s base. Decades ago, some cocaine users would use ether to free cocaine from its base, which included any impurities or additives. 

It’s also possible to create the freebase form of cocaine by boiling the drug with sodium bicarbonate. The goal is to make the drug purer, giving it more potency. Once the original product was “freed from its base,” it was heated and the vapors inhaled.

Using ether for freebasing is no longer common because it is so dangerous. This risk eventually led to the development of crack cocaine. Smoking crack cocaine offers the same potent effect of freebasing, but the process of altering traditional cocaine is not as dangerous as it was with freebasing using ether.

How is Crack Cocaine Created?

Instead of using ether, people who want to smoke cocaine use baking soda to remove the hydrochloride in cocaine. The end product is smokeable crystal rocks.

Now that crack is far more commonly used than freebasing, the terms are often used interchangeably.

What Does It Feel Like?

Like most addictive drugs, people freebase cocaine for the feeling it provides. The risk is worth it to users because of the intense initial rush freebasing produces and how quickly the high occurs. 

The effects of traditional powder cocaine peak within an hour, but freebasing occurs within seconds. The longer-lasting high that follows is similar to the high caused by traditional cocaine use.

Graphic human body showing symptoms.

Freebasing Cocaine & Side Effects

Common side effects of freebasing cocaine include:

  • Heightened sensitivity
  • Irritability
  • Paranoia
  • Increased or irregular heartbeat
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Dilated pupils
  • Shaking
  • Restlessness
  • Constricted blood vessels
  • Muscle twitching
  • Elevated body temperature
  • Sweating
  • Fleeting euphoria
  • Increased energy
  • Hyper-alertness

Freebasing cocaine, like crack, has a higher risk of abuse, addiction, and overdose.

Freebasing Meth & Side Effects

Powder methamphetamine is the hydrochloride salt form of meth. It is smokeable as is.

Crystal meth is the crystallized version of methamphetamine. It is purer and easier to smoke in this form, but it is not truly considered a freebase. Actual methamphetamine freebase is an oil, which is an uncommon form of the drug.

Freebasing Other Drugs

Cocaine is the most commonly freebased drug. However, it is possible to freebase other drugs, including nicotine and opioids. Similar to cocaine, people freebase to get a dose of a drug in its purest form, making it more potent. Since nicotine and opioids are already in smokable forms, the only reason users freebase these drugs is to increase their potency.

Freebasing nicotine makes it easier for the drug’s chemicals to cross the body’s membranes. It might surprise some people that commercial cigarettes are a form of freebased nicotine. Cigarette companies add ammonia in the form of diammonium phosphate to nicotine to make the drug more bioavailable to the brain, lungs, and tissues. 

One of the reasons why smoking cigarettes is such a health risk is because commercial cigarettes are not just tobacco rolled in paper. They are a blend of altered chemicals that are as potent and addictive as possible.

Graphic of microorganisms

Long-Term Effects & Health Risks of Freebasing

Freebasing comes with many risks. The intense rush of freebasing directly affects the brain and increases the risk of addiction. There is also an increased risk of HIV/Hepatitis due to cracked pipes and burns on the face.

Smoking cocaine long-term does not affect the nasal passages like snorting cocaine does. However, if cocaine is smoked, the drug can negatively impact your lung health. 

People who have freebased for a long time may experience:

  • Chronic cough
  • Breathing problems
  • Asthma
  • Increased risk of pneumonia
  • Changes in lung capacity
  • Acute lung injury

Since freebased drugs are often smoked, users increase their risk of developing problems associated with smoking in general. 

Cocaine also decreases coronary blood flow, which can be fatal. Cocaine users are at risk of developing a variety of serious health problems, including:

  • Cardiac arrhythmias
  • Myocardial infarction
  • Hemorrhagic stroke
  • Aortic aneurysm rupture
  • Endocarditis
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Myocarditis

Other long-term effects of using cocaine include:

  • Increased tolerance
  • Extreme cravings
  • Panic attacks
  • Full-blown psychosis
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Freebase Overdose

Freebasing carries a heightened risk of overdose. Symptoms of a freebase cocaine overdose include:

  • Convulsions
  • Delusional thoughts
  • Elevated body temperature and blood pressure
  • Hallucinations
  • Inability to make good decisions
  • Shaking
  • Stroke
  • Tachycardia
  • Unresponsiveness


Ready to Make a Change?

Resources

“Freebasing: The Same As Smoking Crack? And Other FAQs.” Healthline, www.healthline.com/health/freebasing#effects

“Freebase Nicotine - SourceWatch.” Www.Sourcewatch.Org, www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Freebase_nicotine.

 “Erowid Methamphetamine Vault: Basics.” Www.Erowid.Org, www.erowid.org/chemicals/meth/meth_basics.shtml

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Updated on: July 20, 2020
Author
Addiction Group Staff
About
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Medically Reviewed: July 17, 2020
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Annamarie Coy,
BA, CADACII/ICADC, ICPR, MATS
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