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  • Modifying or cooking cocaine changes the physical properties of the drug, creating crack in the process. But, how is crack cocaine cooked, and why modify cocaine in this way?

    What Is Crack Cocaine?

    Crack cocaine is a modified, freebase form of the stimulant drug cocaine hydrochloride (or powder cocaine). Crack resembles small, off-white, crystalline rocks. If you press one of these crack rocks to your tongue, it will cause a numbing sensation due to the drug’s anesthetic effects.

    Crack, unlike powder cocaine, does not dissolve in water or alcohol and is smoked rather than injected or inhaled. Smoking crack delivers a massive dose of the drug from the lungs to the brain within seconds.

    Any form of cocaine is considered a schedule II controlled substance. Crack first appeared in the United States in the early 1980s and its use quickly became widespread, especially in urban areas. 

    How Crack Is Made

    Crack cocaine is made by modifying powdered cocaine to extract the base cocaine, changing the drug’s physical qualities.

    It Starts With Cocaine

    To produce cocaine, leaves from the coca plant are harvested in South America, primarily in Colombia, Bolivia, and Peru. 

    Cocaine may be modified by drug dealers into crack cocaine in batches before or after being smuggled across international borders, and some consumers even choose to convert small amounts of cocaine powder into crack cocaine at home. 

    Modifying Cocaine To Produce Crack

    Making crack cocaine with baking powder is a relatively simple process. The drug is mixed into a solution of water and either sodium bicarbonate (baking soda, though ammonia may sometimes be used instead) and boiled until a solid substance is formed and removed from the mixture. 

    Once the freebase cocaine dries, it is broken into chunks (rocks) and used or sold. 

    Crack Cocaine Vs. Powdered Cocaine

    Cocaine is converted into crack cocaine in order for the drug to be smoked/freebased, rather than snorted.

    The effects of cocaine are generally slower and milder when the drug is snorted, as the drug enters the bloodstream more slowly.

    Smoking crack, on the other hand, causes a shorter-lived but faster and much more intense high. This euphoria or rush is a driving force for addiction and the repeated use of crack cocaine.

    Why Can’t Cocaine Be Smoked?

    Because cocaine powder is water soluble it’s easy to inhale and absorb through the blood vessels of the nose, or to prepare for IV injection. But cocaine powder is not good for smoking due to its extremely high melting point of 197 degrees °C.

    If you try to smoke cocaine powder as-is, you’ll burn the drug off before it can reach your lungs.

    Alternatively, crack cocaine melts at only 98 °C with a boiling point of 188 °C, which allows the drug to be easily vaporized and smoked using paraphernalia as simple as a handheld lighter and small glass pipe.

    Risks Of Cooking Crack Cocaine

    Cooking and using crack cocaine is associated with adverse health effects, including the risk of cocaine use disorder and addiction.

    In addition, crack cocaine abuse can lead to:

    • increased body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure
    • constricted blood vessels
    • increased risk of cardiac arrest and seizure
    • respiratory problems
    • lung damage

    Smoking crack cocaine also strains overall mental health and can cause aggressive, paranoid, and unpredictable behaviors.

    Treating Crack Cocaine Addiction

    Treatment programs for crack cocaine abuse are similar to treatment programs for cocaine addiction. Treatment services likely involve detox, cognitive behavioral therapy, group therapy, and aftercare

    To learn more about our substance use disorder treatment programs, please contact us today.

    Keep Reading:

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2024 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.

    City of New York - Cocaine Abuse & Addiction
    Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) - Drug Fact Sheet: Cocaine
    Drug Policy Alliance - What is the difference between cocaine and crack?
    National Drug Intelligence Center - Crack Cocaine Fast Facts
    National Institute on Drug Abuse - How is cocaine used?

    Medically Reviewed by
    Lauren Weinand, M.D.
    on January 11, 2023
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