Cocaine & Crack

Cocaine & Crack

ALSO KNOWN AS: Angie, blow, C, Charlie, coke, crack, flake, freebase, hard, Henry, nose candy, rock, snow, stardust

What are cocaine & crack?

Cocaine is a powerful stimulant made from the leaves of the coca plant. The purified chemical, cocaine hydrochloride, was isolated from the plant more than 100 years ago. Before the development of synthetic local anesthetic, surgeons used cocaine to block pain. 1 It was considered safe and used in toothache drops, nausea pills, energy tonics, and, of course, the original “Coca-Cola” beverage.2 However, research has since shown that cocaine is a powerfully addictive substance that can alter brain structure and function if used repeatedly.3

The two main varieties available are a water-soluble white powder, which is often mixed with other substances such as cornstarch, to be snorted or injected, and a water-insoluble whitish opaque crystal, known as crack.4 Crack cocaine or “freebase” are smokeable forms of cocaine which look like crystals or rocks that can be smoked or dissolved and injected. These cheaper forms of cocaine are made by chemically processing cocaine powder with baking soda or ammonia.

In 2019, cocaine was the most commonly used illegal drug, accounting for approximately half (49%) of illegal drug use.5

Individuals who have tried cocaine have described the experience as a strong “high” that gave them a feeling of supremacy. However, once someone starts taking cocaine, one cannot predict or control the extent to which they will continue to use the drug.

What do cocaine & crack look like and how are they used?

The major ways of taking cocaine are sniffing or snorting, injecting, and smoking (including free-base and crack cocaine). Health risks of use exist regardless of whether cocaine is inhaled (snorted), injected, or smoked.  

A regular cocaine snorting habit is evident by a red, chapped, runny nose. A person may lose his/her sense of smell and develop sinus infections. The wall that separates the nostrils may develop a hole and bleed often.

Smoking allows extremely high doses of cocaine to reach the brain very quickly and results in an intense and immediate high, it appears that compulsive cocaine use may develop even more rapidly when smoked rather than snorted.

Sharing crack pipes can lead to the transmission of diseases like Hepatitis C through saliva or blood and the injection of cocaine places the user at risk for acquiring or transmitting HIV infection/AIDS if needles or other injection equipment are shared.

Signs & symptoms of cocaine & crack use

A person on cocaine may feel agitated and nervous. Cocaine can also produce euphoria (“high”) and can make a person feel mentally alert, energetic and talkative. The senses of sight, sound, and touch are heightened. A person may feel more calm and in control. However, all of these effects do not last long. When the “high” wears off, the person may feel anxious or depressed and have intense cravings for the drug. Some people stay “high” by using the drug for hours or days.

Short-term use of cocaine can produce many other effects:

  • postponement of physical and mental fatigue
  • reduced appetite
  • increased blood pressure and heart rate
  • exaggerated reflexes
  • rapid breathing
  • dilation of pupils
  • dry mouth
  • anxiety
  • paranoid thinking

In addition, a person could potentially experience:

  • severe agitation
  • paranoid psychosis
  • nausea and vomiting
  • elevated body temperature and cold sweat
Footnotes:

1. National Institutes of Health – NIDA

2. June 2022, Cocaine Toxicity, John R. Richards, Jacqueline K. Le , National Library of Medicine  

3. National Institutes of Health – NIDA

4. Cocaine (Canadian Drug Summary), Canadian Centre on Substance Use & Addiction

5. Canadian Alcohol and Drugs Survey (CADS) 2021