Crack, or crack cocaine, is a hardened rock-like version of powdered cocaine, cheaper but just as addictive and just as deadly. Both crack cocaine and cocaine itself originate from South America, derived from the leaves of the coca plant. The process by which the street version of the drug is extracted is in itself toxic and deadly and, often, so are the chemicals used to cut the drugs before sale. The resulting products, from powder cocaine to further processed crack cocaine, can trigger lifelong addiction if not overdose and death.
Black market drug dealers mix cocaine powder synthesized from coca leaves with sodium bicarbonate, or baking soda, to create small, hard “rocks” called crack cocaine, according to the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC). These “rocks” are estimated to be between 75 and 90 percent pure cocaine. They are usually smoked in a small pipe or in a glass “straw,” creating an almost instant and intense high. Stimulant in nature, crack cocaine often triggers a sense of euphoria, alertness, and immediate cravings for more of the drug.
Subsequent uses do not produce the same intense high as experienced with the original use, yet cravings grow stronger with each use, creating a cycle of use and addiction.
In use since the 1980s, crack cocaine continues to be an ongoing problem for hundreds of thousands of Americans and their families. It is classified as a Schedule II drug by the federal government, meaning that it has been identified as a drug with a high potential for abuse and addiction that is defined by both psychological and physical dependence.
Crack Cocaine Use Trends
- In 2014, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) found that about 3.6 percent of Americans aged 12 and older reported use of crack cocaine at some point in their lives, with 0.3 percent reporting use of the drug in the past year and 0.1 percent reporting use in the past month.
- That same year, about 1.6 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 25 reported the use of crack cocaine at some point in their lives, with 0.4 percent reporting use in the past year, and 0.1 percent reporting past-month use.
- The highest rates of crack cocaine use occurred among those aged 26 and older in 2014, with 4.3 percent of this group reporting use of the drug at least once in their lives, 0.3 percent reporting past-year use, and 0.2 percent reporting use of the drug in the past month.
- Young people are abusing the drug as well. About 0.3 percent of 8th graders and 10th graders reported using the drug in the past month, and so too did 0.6 percent of 12th graders, in 2015. Additionally, 0.5 percent of 8th graders, 0.7 percent of 10th graders, and 1.1 percent of 12th graders report using crack in the past year. Lifetime use is reported by 1 percent of 8th graders, 1.1 percent of 10th graders, and 1.7 percent of 12th
Effects of Crack Cocaine Use
When ingested, crack cocaine impacts the ventral tegmental area of the brain and triggers the release of dopamine, a chemical in the brain associated with feelings of happiness, and blocks its reabsorption by the releasing neuron. The effect is an intense feeling of euphoria that is triggered within seconds of use and lasts for 5-15 minutes.
There are a number of side effects that are also associated with use of crack cocaine, however. This is not a pure or safe “high;” in fact, there are a number of acute effects as well as effects that can build up and have a long-term negative impact on the user.
- Increased heart rate
- Dilated pupils
- Increased body temperature
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased sensory perception
- Stomach pain and nausea
- Lack of appetite
- Agitation or irritability
- Aggressive behavior
- Serious mental health disorders
- Heart attack
- Respiratory issues
Crack Cocaine and Alcohol
When alcohol is ingested at the same time as one smokes crack cocaine, a third substance called cocaethylene is created in the liver. This substance is just as toxic as alcohol and crack cocaine and can causes a more intense high than experienced when using crack cocaine alone; this can ultimately be overwhelming to the user. Additionally, cocaethylene can trigger higher blood pressure and more rapid heart rate than the use of crack cocaine alone; thus, it can be fatal.
Use in Pregnancy
During the 1980s, the media device of the so-called “crack baby,” based upon a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that found that a fetus exposed to crack cocaine would likely struggle with cognitive impairment, was prolifically used to underscore the dangers of using crack during pregnancy. While it is certainly true the use of crack cocaine can be damaging to the fetus as well as the mother, it is not necessarily so that all the babies dubbed “crack babies” in the 1980s were in fact the result of simple exposure to crack cocaine while in the womb. Rather, experts believe that many of these babies struggled with poor post-natal care, perhaps due in part to a mother’s continuing struggle with addiction.
It is a fact that crack cocaine use during pregnancy can cause preterm births and low birthweights as well as contribute to developmental delays. It is not recommended in any amount during pregnancy – or during parenthood, for that matter – and it is recommended that all parents who struggle with use and abuse of the drug seek immediate treatment.
Street Names for Crack
According to NDIC, crack cocaine goes by a number of different names depending on the region, including:
- Snow coke
- Hard ball
- Prime time
- Devil drug
- Fat bags
- French fries
- Jelly beans
- Bad rock
- Ice cube
- Hard rock
Where Does the Name Originate?
The name comes from the sound that the drug makes when it is lit and smoked – a crackling sound. Specifically, the crackling sound comes when the sodium bicarbonate, or baking soda, is heated.
HIV and Crack Cocaine
Though rates of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) are higher among users of all drugs as compared to the rest of the population, significant issues with HIV contraction and development among users of crack cocaine have been documented. According to NIDA Notes, one study funded by NIDA found that both cocaine and methamphetamine increase the ability of the HIV virus to not only penetrate immune cells but to also replicate once in the cells.
In another NIDA-funded study, it was found that crack cocaine users who were already living with HIV often experienced a more rapid decline in their immune function despite adherence to therapy as compared to those who also adhered to their therapy but did not use crack cocaine. Use of crack was also found to reduce the efficacy of antiviral medications.
Crack Cocaine Use and Conduct Disorder
A 2015 study found that users of crack cocaine who were also living with a conduct disorder experienced higher rates of other psychiatric conditions, violent behavior, and trauma. Specifically, the study found a high prevalence of the following in users of crack cocaine with conduct disorder:
- Social anxiety: 22.9 percent
- PTSD: 20.2 percent
- Alcohol abuse: 12.8 percent
- Lifetime psychotic symptoms: 36 percent
Additionally, the study found that individuals with conduct disorder who used crack exhibited higher rates of violent behavior, crime, and trauma, and were more likely to be the victim of a violent crime or experience a life-threatening situation.
Addiction develops to crack cocaine much like it does with the use of any other addictive substance. Over time, the individual begins to crave the use of the drug even while a tolerance is developing. That is, larger and larger amounts of crack cocaine are needed to achieve a high at all, and it is never as strong as the original high; however, cravings intensify and become more insistent.
Additionally, with long-term use of crack cocaine, the brain will begin to change in structure and function. This in turn alters how the person may behave in a given situation, increases the priority of getting more of the drug in question and staying high, and also increases compulsive use of the drug despite negative consequences. The nature of addiction is such that it is difficult to be objective and determine that the behavior is the source of problems experienced, and to take the step of recognizing that treatment is a relevant option. This step, however, is critical in recovery. Once a person enters professional treatment, healing can begin.
Treatment and Recovery
Crack cocaine addiction can trigger a range of psychological withdrawal symptoms when the person stops using the drug, as well as some physical withdrawal symptoms as well, depending on the individual case. It is recommended that professional medical detox be sought and followed with intensive therapeutic treatment as well as long-term aftercare and support. The idea is to stop using all drugs of abuse safely and then turn one’s attention to better understanding why and how drug addiction occurred, and learning how to address those issues with a healthier and balanced response.
Each person’s experience is unique during active addiction. There is no stereotypical crack cocaine user, and there is not a typical crack cocaine addiction experience. Thus, every person’s journey into recovery should be as unique as they are, complete with an individualized treatment plan made up of a range of different traditional, alternative, and holistic treatments and therapies based on psychiatric and medical evaluations and diagnoses. Additionally, treatment plans should also take into consideration other issues that may be a factor in a person’s ability to remain sober for the long-term, including family situations and relationships, employment opportunities, underlying medical conditions, co-occurring mental health disorders, and more. When a treatment plan effectively addresses the many different issues that are potential obstacles to recovery, the client will have more tools available to continue progressing and growing in recovery.