Crack is a stimulant drug, usually smoked, that produces an intense effect. Crack is cocaine hydrochloride that is made into crystals using ammonia or baking soda. It is the most addictive form of cocaine. Crack comes in the form of small, off-white “pebbles”. Its name refers to the loud cracking sound that occurs during its manufacture and when it is smoked.

It quickly became popular in American inner cities in the mid-1980s after baking soda was found to be an inexpensive, readily available and far less dangerous alternative to ethyl ether, a volatile and flammable substance. When smoked, crack is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream, producing a more potent and intense effect than cocaine, which cannot be smoked because of its higher vaporization point.

Users experience a feeling of euphoria for 5 to 10 minutes, during which time they feel more confident and alert. These effects fade quickly, however, giving way to anxiety and depression, with a subsequent need to increase the dose to achieve the same effect. Crack can also cause loss of appetite, insomnia and paranoia, as well as cardiac arrest and respiratory distress.

Crack use may not be as widespread as other drugs such as cocaine or marijuana, but it is still estimated that more than 6 million U.S. residents aged 12 or older have used crack cocaine.

Its harmful effects and the relative ease with which it can be manufactured using very simple equipment and techniques have made it a priority for drug law enforcement agencies in their efforts to limit its production, trafficking and use. It is considered a particularly dangerous drug worldwide, classified as a Schedule II drug in the United States and with similar classifications in many other developed countries.


The availability and use of crack cocaine is closely linked to that of cocaine, the main ingredient in its production. Crack is also sometimes called “rocks” because of its appearance. Other street names for crack include “beat”, “candy”, “crumbs”, “gravel” and “sleet”, although as with any other drug, there are hundreds of different variations and regional names. Being a free base form of cocaine, crack is sometimes also called “cocaine base” or “free base”.

For many addicts, cocaine is a gateway drug to crack, which produces a similar but much more intense effect and has a higher risk of addiction. As a result, in places where cocaine is heavily used, so is crack. As a result, it remains very popular in inner cities, particularly in North America and Europe.


Crack, unlike cocaine, is usually smoked and although this gets the drug into the bloodstream very quickly and causes a brief but intense effect, it can be very harmful physiologically and psychologically.

Almost instantly after taking the drug, dopamine levels in the brain increase dramatically, pupils dilate and body temperature rises, accompanied by a feeling of euphoria. After 5 to 10 minutes, these effects begin to wear off and dopamine levels in the brain drop, with the euphoria being replaced by depression, irritability, restlessness, anxiety, insomnia and loss of appetite, which will last until the next time the drug is taken. However, the addict will need to increase the dose regularly to regain the euphoric state. This desire to regain the feelings experienced the first time around is considered one of the main reasons why crack is so addictive and harmful.

In the long term, prolonged use of crack cocaine can lead to depression, irrational tendencies and paranoia. It is impossible to know exactly how a person will react to this drug, either in the short or long term.

Cocaine and crack cause vasoconstriction and increase the heart rate, raising blood pressure and creating a risk of cardiac arrest. Crack can also cause muscle twitching and dizziness. Because it is smoked, crack can also damage the lungs, sometimes resulting in complete respiratory failure. Crack use is the leading cause of several deaths each year and a major contributor to many others.


Being a modified form of cocaine, crack is usually only available where cocaine trafficking already exists, which means that in order to determine where crack cocaine comes from, one must first look at the origin of the cocaine. The coca bush, from which cocaine is extracted, is grown almost exclusively in South America, particularly in Peru, Bolivia and Colombia, and exported mainly to Europe and North America, which are the two main global markets for cocaine and crack.

The quantities exported from cocaine-producing countries vary from year to year for several reasons, including regional instability, declining global demand, and government crackdowns on trafficking. Although Colombia remains the world’s largest exporter of cocaine, its cultivation has declined significantly over the past decade, while production in Bolivia and Peru has remained relatively stable.

The main global markets for cocaine tend to be the developed Western countries, particularly the United Kingdom and the United States, but also including the rest of North America and Europe. Crack is generally cheaper than cocaine, produces a shorter but more intense effect, and is therefore generally associated with inner cities, unlike cocaine, which tends to have a more upscale reputation. It is also for this reason that it is widely associated with crime and prostitution.

The prevalence of the two drugs is closely related, and as cocaine use has increased in the more economically developed parts of South America, Central America, and Africa, crack use has also increased in those regions. This is a relatively recent trend, as crack use remained relatively rare outside the United Kingdom and the United States until 20 years ago.

Although demand in Europe, and especially in the United States, far exceeds that in any other region, overall trafficking and use have declined since the 1980s, which can be attributed in part to more effective law enforcement and disruption of the supply and trafficking of the drug, but also to changing societal attitudes toward cocaine and crack. Improved treatment of crack cocaine addicts has also contributed.

The process used to turn cocaine into crack requires little specialized equipment or ingredients, so crack is usually made at or near the place where it is sold. It is not uncommon for users to turn cocaine into crack themselves. They are said to “base” or “cook” it. The drug is thus trafficked across borders and across continents in the form of cocaine and is only converted into crack by drug users and dealers once it is in the country in which it is to be used. This makes it difficult to find accurate statistics on crack use, unlike cocaine use in general, because cocaine is rarely exported as crack. There is no way of knowing how much of the quantities seized by drug law enforcement agencies were potentially destined for consumption as crack.



  • Crack is a “freebase” form of cocaine, primarily grown in South America and usually processed into crack by drug users and dealers once on the street.
  • Crack is a relatively new drug, which only became popular in the mid-1980s when the techniques used to process cocaine became more accessible.
  • It requires very little specialized equipment or ingredients. Only baking soda, water, a heat source, a spoon and the cocaine itself are needed to “cook” crack.
  • Crack is a drug that you smoke, unlike cocaine, which you cannot smoke at all.
  • Because of this, the drug is absorbed more quickly into the bloodstream and users feel an intense effect almost immediately.
  • This effect lasts only 5 to 10 minutes, after which the drug leaves the brain. Addicts may then feel depressed, an effect that some call a “coke crash” and that can be suppressed by another trip to regain the feelings of euphoria.
  • The first trip produces the most intense effect and larger and larger quantities are then needed to obtain the same effect, which can lead to an overdose.
  • Crack is the most addictive form of cocaine. Of all the drugs in existence, it is widely considered to be one of the most addictive.
  • In some cases, crack cocaine use can result in sudden death on or just after the first use.
  • Crack is classified as a Schedule II narcotic in the United States. Previously, possession of crack cocaine carried a much higher penalty than possession of cocaine, and although this disparity has been reduced, prison sentences for crack cocaine are still generally more severe.
  • Cocaine use, and thus crack use, is reportedly negligible in Asia and Oceania. Crack use is increasing in parts of South America and Africa, although these markets remain small compared to those in North America and Europe.


  • In 2008, cocaine production in Colombia, Peru and Bolivia amounted to 865 tons, more than half of which came from Colombia. This is the lowest amount recorded since 2003.
  • Studies suggest that more than 6 million U.S. residents have used crack cocaine at least once in their lives.
  • More than 165 tons of cocaine were consumed in the United States in 2008, one of the lowest amounts ever recorded.
  • 124 tons of cocaine were consumed in Europe in 2008, while 17 tons were consumed in Mexico and 14 tons in Canada.
  • 75% of federal cocaine arrests in the United States in 2008 involved U.S. citizens. The remaining 25% were foreign nationals.
  • Despite this fact, U.S. citizens accounted for only 0.1% of all cocaine arrests in North and South America.
  • Approximately 31,800 people died of drug-related causes in the United States in 2007.
  • 40% of these deaths are believed to be cocaine-related.
  • In 2007/2008, Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom accounted for nearly two thirds of cocaine consumption in Europe.
  • More than half of the cocaine shipments to Europe by sea between 2006 and 2008 originated in Venezuela.
  • In 2008, there were 7611 drug-related deaths in Europe, of which 635 were reportedly cocaine-related.


The signs of crack addiction are largely the same as for cocaine, although there are some distinct signs because crack is not a drug that is snorted, but smoked. In particular, crack causes loss of appetite and weight loss can be a visible sign of crack use. Episodes of crack use usually occur over a period of several days, during which the person sleeps very little or not at all, and persistent fatigue can also be a sign of use.

Although crack is generally cheaper than cocaine, it is still one of the most expensive drugs available and addicts tend to use it for short periods of time. Frequent financial problems and even stealing can be symptoms of addiction. An addict may go so far as to sell items from his or her home in order to get money to buy the drug.

The physiological effects of crack cocaine include dilated pupils, increased heart rate, increased body temperature and muscle twitching.

Baking soda is one of the main ingredients required to “base” cocaine and turn it into crack. Its presence in large quantities, as well as the pipes used to smoke crack cocaine, may raise questions.

Because crack is a drug that is smoked, it can severely damage the lungs. Frequent coughing and wheezing, especially after smoking crack, are also signs that addiction is present.

Crack users tend to take larger and larger doses to try to recreate the effect they felt the first time they tried it. This can lead to anxiety, irritability, irrational behavior and paranoia, which can develop into full-blown psychosis.


As with many drugs, treatment for crack addiction can be negotiated through an abstinence approach. However, as crack is one of the most addictive drugs, this is incredibly difficult and generally not recommended. Crack withdrawal symptoms are felt within 20 minutes of taking the drug, in the form of feelings of depression and anxiety. The more the drug is used, the more these feelings are amplified, accompanied by paranoia and irrational behaviour.

Not everyone is able to wean themselves off the drug, especially with such a powerful drug, so it is best in all cases to seek help from a doctor to stop using crack. On a practical level, an addict needs to be placed in an environment where he or she is unable to take the drug and cannot harm himself or herself or others. It is also best to be surrounded by doctors to treat the physical symptoms of withdrawal, which can include nausea, insomnia and seizures. Given the irrational tendencies of addicts in withdrawal, being surrounded by trained medical professionals also helps reduce the risk that an addict, in the throes of withdrawal, will do something he or she might later regret.

After a sufficient period of time, which will depend on the individual and the extent of their drug use, the body will eventually return to a normal state. This may take several days or weeks and addicts may still feel the psychological need to experience the effects of crack. This is why it is always best to get professional help to limit the risk of relapse.

It is also important to address the underlying reasons that contributed to the addiction in the first place. If an addict only smokes around certain people, for example, it may be necessary to remove those people to reduce the risk of relapsing into addiction. Other life issues such as employment status and general well-being may also need to be addressed in an attempt to stop the spiral of drug use.

The most effective way to treat an addiction to crack cocaine is to seek inpatient treatment or to enter a detox center, where trained medical professionals can help treat withdrawal symptoms with medication for nausea and insomnia and by addressing behavioral aspects. Once withdrawn, a person can very easily return to the negative behavior that led them to use the drug, and therefore counseling and therapy can help reduce the risk of this happening by helping the person avoid or neutralize the factors in their life that got them into the addiction in the first place.

In all cases, it is important not to try to cope alone and to seek professional help if possible. The physiological effects of withdrawal and the psychological need felt can be very difficult to manage and can even be fatal. An abstinence approach rarely treats the underlying problems that cause and prolong the addiction, so a person addicted to crack cocaine should first consult their primary care physician, who can provide advice, support and referral to a specialized facility.