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The Difference Between Crack and Cocaine

Let’s talk about the difference between crack and cocaine.

You may have heard the terms “crack,” “cocaine,” or even “crack cocaine.” It seems as if they are used interchangeably when talking about the drug as a whole.

While crack and cocaine are both derived from the same plant and contain the same main ingredient, there are major differences between the two forms.

What is Cocaine?

Cocaine is derived from a South American plant called Erythroxylon coca, otherwise known as coca leaves. At first, it was chewed, but eventually, it became a purified chemical called cocaine hydrochloride, a chemical that was isolated from the plant and appeared in the form of a white powder.

Prior to its use today as an addictive stimulant drug, Cocaine was once used in the early 1890s in a variety of forms to treat illnesses. Surgeons once utilized it to block a patient’s pain.

While at the time the drug was widely used (and even thrown into everyday consumer drinks such as Coca-Cola® which was also known as Coke), studies began to reveal that cocaine was incredibly addictive.

Not only that, but cocaine also had the ability to dramatically change the chemical makeup of a person’s brain.

Cocaine hydrochloride is essentially odorless and bitter-tasting, appearing as white crystals. It is soluble in water at a rate of 200 g per 100 ml. In alcohol, 25 g is soluble in 100 ml.

Because cocaine is water-soluble, it can be snorted, rubbed on the gums above/below your teeth, or dissolved in water to then be injected directly into the veins. Depending on how a person consumes the drug, the effects of cocaine can set in quickly.

If a person snorts the drug, they might feel the effects within three to five minutes. This high can last anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes. However, when cocaine is mixed with water and injected into the veins, the high may be felt almost instantaneously (in about 15 to 30 seconds).

What is Crack?

Crack cocaine, otherwise known as Crack, is made when cocaine hydrochloride powder is dissolved in water then mixed with baking soda. This mixture is then heated to remove the hydrochloride, leaving behind a concentrated form of cocaine.

This results in small, white, irregularly shaped rocks. So, Crack is known as the “rock” version of cocaine. Crack can also be created when mixing cocaine with other fillers, like cornstarch or flour.

It is then broken into chunks and smoked with a crack pipe. The name “crack” refers to the crackling sound that occurs when these are smoked.

When a person smokes Crack, the effects can be felt nearly instantaneously and can last from five to 10 minutes long. The sizes of these rocks can differ but are usually anywhere from one-tenth to one-half of a gram. Rocks can sell for anywhere from $3 to $50 depending on the size.

Differences Between Crack and Cocaine

Now that we understand the two terms, let’s dive into the main differences between Cocaine and Crack Cocaine (Crack).

CocaineCrack Cocaine (Crack)
In the form of a white, soluble powder.In the form of “rocks” or white crystals.
May be mixed with water to create a solution injected directly into the veins, placed on the gums, or snorted.Is mixed with baking soda and other fillers such as cornstarch to then be smoked.
Its high is felt within a few minutes or instantly depending on the method of consumption.Its high is felt nearly instantly.
Expensive, sold around $93USD per gram on the street.Cheap, sold anywhere on the street from $3 to $50 USD depending on the size of the rock.
Can thin linings in the nose and cause nosebleeds.Can lead to developing cancerous tumors in the lungs.

Because Crack is cheaper than Cocaine, there is a higher percentage of users who smoke Crack rather than use the powder form. A 2017 SAMHSA report showed that 40.6 million individuals admitted to at least one use of Cocaine, while 9.6 million individuals admitted to at least one use of Crack.

Additionally, the legal trouble that a person can get into when being caught with the drug differs depending on which type they have on hand. In years past, someone convicted of possessing one gram of crack would receive a sentence 100 times longer than someone possessing one gram of powder cocaine.

Similarities Between Crack and Cocaine

While different in their forms and makeup, Crack and Cocaine are both highly addictive drugs. They are both stimulants which means that they produce fast, intense feelings of power and energy.

A person who consumes the drug might have a fast heart rate and higher temperature and blood pressure.  When the high eventually wears off, the person using the drug can feel depressed and nervous. This leads to cravings for the drug to go back to feeling good again. However, using this drug even just once may lead to a heart attack, stroke, or even death.

While the kinds of substances that get mixed with both of these vary, both Crack and Cocaine can be cut with different substances, making them that much more dangerous. Both are highly addictive, though Crack is felt more quickly than Cocaine and may possibly be more addictive.

Both Crack and Cocaine have the potential to lead to addiction and death. Because it’s so highly addictive, using it just once can lead to more cravings. The greater the use, the greater the risk for damaging the body—from nose bleeds to strokes to heart attacks and lung cancer to overdose and death.

What if You Use Both Crack and Cocaine at The Same Time?

Consuming both Cocaine and Crack at the same time can lead to overlapping symptoms, enhancing them and increasing the risks associated with using the drug. The chances of someone overdosing using both Crack and Cocaine would greatly increase.

When consuming both Crack and Cocaine at the same time, dangerous side effects include:

  • Cardiac arrhythmias
  • Increased blood pressure and heart rate
  • Stroke or sudden cardiac arrest
  • Mental health issues like irritability, anxiety, paranoia, and insomnia
  • Seizures
  • Depression

Cocaine Addiction and Treatments

Crack, Cocaine, coke, rock, snow, blow, white, toot, nose candy, base, flake, powder, basa, smack—these are all words that describe highly addictive and dangerous drugs. The difference between Crack and Cocaine is mainly in how they are consumed by the user and what they are mixed with.

Regardless of how a person consumes it—smoking Crack, injecting or rubbing Cocaine on their gums—the drug will leave the user feeling an intense, powerful high. But, this is followed by an intense low, leading to depression, anxiety, and an overall craving to get that high feeling back.

It’s important to note that no matter how the media portrays these drugs, with one seeming “safer” than the other or more “fun” than the other, neither form of Cocaine is safe.

If you or someone you know is struggling with Cocaine addiction, there are some treatments that can help.

Behavioral interventions, therapeutic communities, cognitive behavioral therapy, community-based recovery groups, counseling, and contingency management are just a few examples of ways a person can get the help that they need.

While there is no cure that exists today for someone who has a Cocaine addiction, researchers are currently testing medications that act at the dopamine D3 receptor, a subtype of dopamine receptor that is abundant in the emotion and reward centers of the brain.

Other research is testing compounds (e.g., N-acetylcysteine) that restore the balance between excitatory (glutamate) and inhibitory (GABA) neurotransmission, which is disrupted by long-term cocaine use.

Additionally, some medications that have been marketed for other diseases show promise in reducing cocaine use within controlled clinical trials. Among these, disulfiram, which is used to treat alcoholism, has shown the most promise.

Still, scientists don’t know exactly how disulfiram reduces cocaine use, and these medications—though they show potential to help—may not work for everyone.

The safest way to keep healthy is to take preventative action and avoid using the drug at all. Becoming addicted to Cocaine or Crack can happen even just after a single dose, and your risk for addiction is higher if addiction runs in your family.

Targeting the core wounds with therapy and medication may be helpful to prevent a craving to use another drug. The more we can do to take care of our brains, the better we can also protect and care for our bodies.

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Samantha Mineroff

Samantha Mineroff is a writer, mental health advocate, and aspiring author. In 2018, her paper, “The Rhetoric of Major Depressive Disorder: Performativity and Intra-activity of Emotions in Major Depression” won best seminar paper award at West Chester University of Pennsylvania. At the Poetics And Linguistics Association (PALA) Conference in 2019, she went to The University of Liverpool to present her paper “An Application of Scripts, Schemas, and Negative Accommodation Theory in Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams.” She currently works as a marketing writer for clinical research. She enjoys live jazz, good conversation, and writing letters. You can reach her at sammineroff@gmail.com