Dangers of Smoking Crack

Drug abuse in the United States is an ever-increasing problem. Drug and alcohol abuse costs the US economy over $600 billion every year. Cocaine is one of the most used illicit drugs in the United States, with around five million people reporting using it in the past 12 months. It is a stimulant derived from the coca plant and can be found in powder or rock form.

The powdered form is often referred to as coke, while the rock form is generally called crack or crack cocaine.

Crack is the name given to cocaine that has been diluted with baking soda and water and cooked down to form small rocks. Those who smoke it experience a very short, intense euphoric high. Crack is extremely addictive as it is highly concentrated.

What Is Cocaine?

Cocaine is one of the most abused illicit drugs in the United States. Approximately five million people reported using it in the past 12 months.

It is an illicit stimulant derived from the coca leaves and is available in powder, liquid, and rock (crack cocaine) forms.

Before synthetic local anesthetic was developed, doctors would use cocaine as a pain blocker. Research has shown that cocaine is a powerfully addictive substance that can alter brain structure and function after long-term chronic use and cause substance use disorder.

Cocaine is now a Schedule II controlled drug by the Drug Enforcement Administration. It has a high potential for abuse but can be administered by a doctor for legitimate medical uses, such as local anesthesia for some eye, ear, and throat surgeries.

Crack Cocaine

The other form of cocaine, crack, is created by combining the drug with ammonia or baking soda and water; the substance is then heated to remove the hydrochloride to produce a smokable substance.

While both powdered cocaine and crack cocaine are very similar and derived from the same drug, society often views them differently. Several factors affect this, including the price of each form, how they are consumed, and how they are made.

Chemically speaking, crack and cocaine are identical, creating closely matching results. The main difference is in the way they are consumed. Cocaine is generally snorted, injected, or swallowed, whereas the most common method of consuming crack is to smoke crack through a crack pipe.

When powder cocaine is snorted, it must travel from the blood vessels in the nose to the heart, then to the lungs to be oxygenated, and then the oxygenated blood with the drug is pumped throughout the body, finally reaching the brain. Smoked crack skips some of this process, and it travels straight to the lungs, giving the user an immediate rush. However, the effects of crack do not last as long.

How Is Crack Cocaine Consumed?

Chemically, crack and cocaine are identical, so they create closely matching results. The main difference is how they are consumed and the high produced. While powdered cocaine is generally snorted, crack cocaine is smoked with a glass pipe, often called a crack pipe. Snorting or eating cocaine means it must travel from the blood vessels in the nose to the heart, then to the lungs to be oxygenated, and then the oxygenated blood with the drug is pumped throughout the body, finally reaching the brain.

Smoking the drug through a crack pipe bypasses some of this process, and the drug travels straight to the lungs, giving the user an immediate rush and a more intense high. However, the effects of smoking crack do not last as long.

Differences Between Crack and Powdered Cocaine Use

Crack is a much lower-cost alternative to cocaine in powder form because it is diluted with other substances and can be produced anywhere. Crack became a cheaper alternative to cocaine, which made it so popular. Crack is generally associated with drug abuse in lower-income communities, homelessness, and ethnic minorities. US drug policy, specifically the so-called ‘war on drugs,’ emerged in the 1980s to tackle substance abuse, particularly cocaine abuse in the US. New drug policy introduced a considerable gap in how possession of each substance was prosecuted, creating racial and economic divides.

The anti-drug abuse act introduced mandatory minimum sentences as part of the war on drugs, with a significant gap between the length of compulsory prison sentence depending on the form of cocaine an individual was carrying. Possession of five grams of crack resulted in an automatic five-year sentence, whereas possessing 500 grams of cocaine powder resulted in the same sentence length. This led to an unequal increase in incarceration rates for low-income communities and nonviolent Black drug offenders.

This drug policy created a racial and social disparity in the legal process that endured until the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which eliminated the five-year mandatory minimum sentence and increased the amount of crack necessary to result in the minimum sentence.

Because crack is less expensive than cocaine, this law targeted lower-income Americans while letting affluent drug users face less harsh punishments.

Effects of Smoking Crack

The effects of crack cocaine vary significantly for each individual due to the variability in the purity of the cocaine and the range of substances it is combined with. Crack cocaine can be mixed with synthetic opioids or stimulant amphetamines, including fentanyl, a dangerous and highly addictive synthetic drug. This dramatically increases the risk of addiction and overdose, especially when crack users don’t realize that crack cocaine has been cut with additional substances.

Immediate Effects of Smoking Crack

Smoking crack causes an immediate high that often diminishes within five to ten minutes. The crack cocaine ‘high’ is said to be incredibly euphoric but is quickly followed by uncomfortable and distressing sensations, often called a crash. This can cause cycles of bingeing and crashing, which increases the risk of dependence and addiction in addiction to crack overdose. The initial euphoria can quickly turn into feelings of depression and paranoia.

Immediate effects of smoking crack cocaine include:

  • Euphoria
  • Dilated pupils
  • Irritability
  • Increased confidence and talkativeness
  • Anxiety
  • Increased sexual arousal
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Restlessness
  • Increased body temperature and heart rate
  • High blood pressure

Secondary Effects of Smoking Crack

Additionally, individuals who smoke crack may experience secondary effects as crack cocaine begins to wear off. These can result in a variety of short and long-term health problems. Secondary effects include:

  • Nervous agitation
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Drug cravings

Longer-Term Effects of Smoking Crack

Using crack cocaine can cause a range of health problems. Smoking crack causes damage to the lungs and puts stress on the body. Crack use increases the risk of a heart attack, anxiety, depression, and malnutrition. In addition to these common side effects, crack cocaine can cause more specific products such as:

  • Delirium
  • Psychotic symptoms and paranoid delusions
  • Hallucinations (auditory and tactile hallucinations)

Using crack cocaine often results in tactile hallucinations, often referred to as crack bugs, where a person feels like bugs are crawling on or under their skin.

Crack Addiction

Studies show that smoking crack has a higher risk of addiction than snorting cocaine. Several behavioral changes can indicate a person is struggling with crack addiction. These behavioral signs include:

  • Changes in motivation level
  • Change in academic performance
  • Change in social groups
  • Deteriorating relationships with family and friends
  • Depression
  • Irritability or hostility

People struggling with crack addiction may turn to dangerous and illegal activities to obtain more crack cocaine. This may include theft, prostitution, and drug dealing. Substance abuse research has revealed that approximately 65 percent of the United States prison population has a substance use disorder (SUD). A further 20 percent did not meet the official criteria for a SUD but were under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of their crime.

Risk Factors for Crack Addiction

Many factors are associated with the risk of developing substance abuse problems. Knowing the risk factors associated with illicit drug use and other addictive substances is an integral part of understanding my people may smoke crack.


Substance abuse research has shown that individuals who abuse crack cocaine are usually embedded in a context of significant social vulnerability. This often starts in childhood but can develop later in life too. These contexts are often associated with violence, poverty, family conflict, close contact with substance abuse, and access to alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs.

Dual diagnoses

A dual diagnosis is when an individual is diagnosed with both an addictive disorder and another mental health condition, such as anxiety or depression. Underlying mental health issues can cause an increased risk of developing a crack addiction.

At the same time, smoking crack or other drug use and addiction can increase the severity of other mental health conditions. This can result in a vicious cycle in which smoking cocaine can progress quickly to addiction. Crack users may feel like cocaine use decreases symptoms of anxiety or depression temporarily, but in the long run, the crack use will likely make things worse.

Method of Use

Just as certain drugs may be more addictive than others, your use of drugs can also increase your risk of addiction. Drugs that are smoked or injected into your body tend to be more addictive than those you swallow.

Snorting cocaine means the drug must travel through the blood vessels in the nose to the heart, then be transported to the lungs to be oxygenated. Finally, the oxygenated blood containing cocaine is pumped around the body, including the brain.

Similarly, swallowing powder cocaine or other drugs means traveling through the digestive system before reaching the brain.

When you smoke drugs, such as crack, skips some of this process, the substance travels straight to the lungs and then the brain, rather than passing through your liver and other organs where they’re filtered first, providing a more immediate rush. The fact that crack is typically smoked contributes to the increased addiction rate.

Addiction Treatment

Drug abuse, including smoking crack, can quickly progress to dependence and drug addiction.

At Cornerstone, we offer a vast range of therapeutic approaches to drug addiction and mental health issues. Cornerstone understands that every person has a unique set of needs and goals, and so the treatment program should be personally tailored for each individual.

Cornerstone offers a range of crack cocaine addiction treatment options and dual diagnosis treatment that helps those who experience mental health issues overcome mental health conditions that may accompany their heroin addiction. We use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Art Therapy, mindfulness, and a range of other approaches to help you heal from mental health issues that cause or contribute to drug abuse.

Contact Us

Cornerstone offer inpatient medical detox treatment options to help you safely and successfully manage drug withdrawal symptoms, including intense cravings. The severe effects of these cravings often cause relapse; we are here to help you through the drug withdrawal process and decrease the chances of relapse.

Get confidential help and contact us to speak to a professional treatment provider today and learn more about our tailored treatment options for crack addiction.