Drug Addiction: Cocaine and Crack

Cocaine is a drug derived from coca leaves, producing euphoria, hallucinations, and temporary increases in physical energy. Prolonged use can cause nervous-system aberrations (including delusions), general physical deterioration, weight loss, and addiction. Withdrawal from the drug can produce severe depression.

Cocaine is a powerfully addictive stimulant that directly affects the brain. Cocaine has been labeled the drug of the 1980s and 90s, because of its extensive popularity and use during this period. However, cocaine is not a new drug. In fact, it is one of the oldest known drugs. The pure chemical, cocaine hydrochloride, has been an abused substance for more than 100 years, and coca leaves, the source of cocaine, have been ingested for thousands of years.

There are basically two chemical forms of cocaine: the hydrochloride salt and the “freebase.” The hydrochloride salt, or powdered form of cocaine, dissolves in water and, when abused, can be taken intravenously (by vein) or intranasally (in the nose). Freebase refers to a compound that has not been neutralized by an acid to make the hydrochloride salt. The freebase form of cocaine is smokable.

Cocaine is generally sold on the street as a fine, white, crystalline powder, known as “coke,” “C,” “snow,” “flake,” or “blow.” Street dealers generally dilute it with such inert substances as cornstarch, talcum powder, and/or sugar, or with such active drugs as procaine (a chemically-related local anesthetic) or with such other stimulants as amphetamines.

Crack is the street name given to the freebase form of cocaine that has been processed from the powdered cocaine hydrochloride form to a smokable substance. The term “crack” refers to the crackling sound heard when the mixture is smoked. Crack cocaine is processed with ammonia or sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and water, and heated to remove the hydrochloride.

Because crack is smoked, the user experiences a high in less than 10 seconds. This rather immediate and euphoric effect is one of the reasons that crack became enormously popular in the mid 1980s. Another reason is that crack is inexpensive both to produce and to buy.

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Department of Health and Human Services. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2002, February 18). NIDA Research Report – Cocaine Abuse and Addiction (PHD813, NIH Publication No. 99-4342) Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Retrieved October 03, 2002 from www.drugabuse.gov/ResearchReports/Cocaine/cocaine2.html#what