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The Difference Between Crack and Cocaine

The Difference Between Crack and Cocaine

Cocaine and Crack are strong and highly addictive stimulants derived from the coca plant in South America. Cocaine is rarely used in modern medicine, but occasionally it is utilized by doctors as a local anesthesia for ear, nose, and throat procedures or to alleviate pain. Even though it can be used by a medical professional,  recreational cocaine or crack use is illegal. What is the difference between crack and cocaine?


Cocaine is a hydrochloride salt. This street drug usually looks like a fine-grained, white powder. Cocaine is typically snorted or inhaled through the nose, but can also be rubbed into the gums, or injected. Drug dealers will “cut” or mix cocaine with other substances like cornstarch, crushed laxatives, or flour in order to maximize profits. 

Sometimes dealers may even mix cocaine or lace it with other drugs, like fentanyl or amphetamine, in order to make the drug appear more potent, even though it is not. This is the most dangerous for users, because they can easily overdose or become addicted to other substances without even knowing. The increase in overdose deaths in connection with cocaine users may be related to the popularity of laced cocaine. 


Crack, sometimes called Crack Cocaine or Crack Rocks, typically appears as little crystal rocks or chunks that are white or off-white. It is made from cocaine, and chemically, crack and cocaine are almost identical. Crack is created by combining cocaine, water, and baking soda or sodium bicarbonate. 

It is also usually consumed by smoking and makes a crackling sound which is where the drug gets its name. Heating the crack rocks creates vapors that are inhaled into the lungs. Some users may mix crack with tobacco or marijuana and smoke it that way. 

The Effects of Cocaine or Crack on the Brain

Smoking and injecting cause an instantaneous and more intense but shorter-lasting high. While snorting can take several minutes for the drug to affect the user’s brain, and lasts longer. The short and intense nature of the high, causes users to take cocaine on binges. This means they take the drug again and again in a short period of time in order to maintain their high. 

The brain experiences boosted dopamine levels flooding the brain, creating euphoric feelings. As an individual’s brain becomes accustomed to drug use, they build up a tolerance. As a result, the user feels the need to use more cocaine and wants stronger highs to feel good and avoid withdrawal. 

This is how a user’s addiction may spiral or worsen. A user may start by snorting cocaine occasionally, then daily, and then move to smoking crack or injecting cocaine to get a more intense high. 

Short-Term Mood and Health Effects

Short-term effects on an individual’s mood are extreme happiness, energy, vigilance and hypersensitivity to their senses. An individual can also experience irritability, mood swings, restlessness and feelings of paranoia.

Some users will feel that cocaine or crack will boost their ability to perform physical or mental tasks more efficiently, but other users will have an opposite effect. Large quantities can produce bizarre, unpredictable or even violent behavior that is dangerous for the user and others around them.  

Cocaine or crack will also make an individual’s heart beat faster, increasing blood pressure and body temperature. It can also cause irregular heart beats, tremors, muscle twitches and nausea. 

The unpredictable nature of cocaine is that a user can overdose from seemingly small amounts. Some users can suffer from heart attacks, seizures, stroke or death from one use.  

Long-Term Effects

If an individual abuses cocaine or crack over time they often develop mood changes, depression, anxiety, paranoia, hallucinations and malnutrition. Some of the long term effects can depend on how an individual uses the drug. For example, snorting can cause nosebleeds, loss of smell and difficulty swallowing. Consuming via the mouth can cause serious bowel decay. 

Smoking can cause cough, asthma, respiratory dress and higher risk of infections. Intravenous or injecting increases risk of contracting HIV, hepatitis C and other diseases. Individuals also suffer from skin and soft tissue infections, scarring and collapsed veins.


Not only is cocaine or crack highly addictive but withdrawal symptoms are intensely uncomfortable. Thus, causing users to feel stuck in the cycle of addiction and experiencing intense cravings. Withdrawal symptoms can include agitation, depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. Physically users may feel nausea, extreme fatigue and muscle pain.

If you or a loved one is suffering from addiction to cocaine or crack, don’t let the fear of withdrawal keep you from getting substance abuse treatment. At Harm Reduction Center in South Florida, we use personalized treatment plans and evidence based practices to help our clients achieve long term recovery from cocaine addiction. It is never too late to seek help.