Though crack and cocaine both derive from the same drug, the profile of people who use these drugs is quite different. In the 1980s, cocaine users began producing crack, a crystal form of the drug that could be smoked. The drug became increasingly popular in impoverished areas – so popular, in fact, that some users still propose conspiracy theories suggesting that the CIA created crack. Cocaine, by contrast, cuts across demographic lines, with a wide variety of people developing an addiction. It has historically been a drug of choice for high-functioning professionals and students, particularly when they need assistance working long hours or studying.
The demographic differences between users of these two drugs yielded a massive sentencing disparity at the height of the crack epidemic. During that time, a cocaine user would have to possess 20 times more of the drug than a crack user to get the same sentence. Despite popular wisdom and stereotypes about these drugs, though, the two have markedly similar effects.
Crack and Cocaine: The Basics
Cocaine derives from the leaves of the coca plant, with evidence for its use dating back several hundred years. Indigenous peoples once chewed its leaves, but Albert Niemann, an enterprising chemist, was the first to isolate it from coca leaves in 1859.
Since that time, cocaine has been in wide use. IT was originally used in medicine to alleviate pain and combat sleepiness. Cocaine quickly caught on as a recreational drug, though, with even famed psychologist Sigmund Freud advocating its use. By 1912, though, the drug had caused 2,000 deaths, and in 1922, the U.S. officially banned its sale.
Cocaine has historically been a pricey drug, but the creation of crack in the 1980s led to a massive surge in the use of crack-cocaine. Crack can be purchased for a fraction of the cost of cocaine, though it is also less pure. Some research suggests that crack-cocaine is more addictive than cocaine, but other data points to the low cost of crack as the primary culprit in rampant crack addiction.
Cocaine is most typically snorted, though some users eat the drug and a limited few even inject it. Crack is designed to be smoked, offering a quick high. Both drugs yield near-immediate effects, with a short high of 60 or so minutes. This necessitates frequent use, increasing the likelihood of dependence.
Cocaine goes by a wide variety of street names, including coke, dust, snow, Charlie, blow, and powder. Crack’s street names include Kryptonite, ball, base, candy, cloud, and rock.
How Crack and Cocaine Affect the Body
Cocaine is a central nervous stimulant, which means it speeds up activity in your brain and nervous system. It is also a serotonin-norepinephrine-dopamine reuptake inhibitor (SNDRI), which means it can temporarily alleviate feelings of depression. Cocaine’s ability to block sodium channels in the body makes it one of the most dangerous illicit drugs. At high doses, it can cause sudden cardiac death. Crack and cocaine cause about 5,000 overdose deaths each year, and even short-term use carries a significant risk of overdose.
Other short-term effects of crack and cocaine include:
- Increased energy and alertness.
- Excessive talking.
- Decreased appetite.
- Runny or bloody nose.
- Dilated pupils.
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure.
- Erratic behavior.
- Anger and aggression.
- Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
- Paranoia, panic, and psychosis.
The likelihood of an adverse reaction increases with the drug dosage. Users who inject cocaine are particularly vulnerable to serious short-term side effects. Incorrect injection techniques can also cause life-threatening medical events such as an embolism.
Long-Term Effects of Crack and Cocaine Use
Both crack and cocaine are powerfully addictive. These drugs cross the placenta, which means that women who abuse cocaine while pregnant can cause their babies to become addicted. In the 1980s, an epidemic of so-called crack babies yielded hundreds of sick children with stunted development and chemical dependence on crack.
In addition to addiction, other potential effects of long-term crack and cocaine use include:
- Damage to blood vessels.
- Cardiovascular dysfunction.
- Brain damage.
- Severe sinus problems among users who snort the drug.
- Respiratory problems among crack users.
- Sexual dysfunction and infertility.
- Mental illness; some users develop depression, anxiety, or even psychosis.
- Weight-loss and malnutrition.
- Aggressive behavior.
- Sudden death.
- Tooth loss, tooth decay, and other oral health problems.
- Skin lesions and infections.
- Transmission of infectious diseases among users who smoke crack or cocaine.
Many long-term side effects of crack and cocaine use can be reversed with proper medical care, but the longer you continue to use, the worse symptoms will become.
Understanding the Withdrawal Process
Over time, the body gets accustomed to cocaine, developing coping mechanisms that reduce its effect on the user. This means that addicts typically must use more cocaine to get the same high they once got with a lower dose. And when they suddenly quit using, the body goes into a shock-like state called withdrawal. Withdrawal typically lasts about a week, and can give rise to unpleasant symptoms such as:
- Anger and aggression.
- Headaches and muscle pain.
- Difficulty sleeping.
- Changes in appetite.
- Strong drug cravings and extreme psychological distress.
- Skin picking.
- Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
- Night sweats and cold chills.
- Tremors, dizziness, and shaking.
- Hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia.
Rarely, some users suffer more serious side effects, such as seizures. Particularly if you have a history of mental or physical illness, it’s wise to talk to your doctor before beginning the detox process. Your doctor may be able to recommend steps you can take to make detox easier, and can also advise you about the risks you face during withdrawal.