Drug Facts: Crack

 

Cocaine is a powerfully addictive stimulant drug. The powdered hydrochloride salt form of cocaine can be snorted or dissolved in water and injected. Crack is cocaine base that has not been neutralized by an acid to make the hydrochloride salt. This form of cocaine comes in a rock crystal that is heated to produce vapors, which are smoked. The term “crack” refers to the crackling sound produced by the rock as it is heated.

Three routes of administration are commonly used for cocaine: snorting, injecting, and smoking. Snorting is the process of inhaling cocaine powder through the nose, where it is absorbed into the bloodstream through the nasal tissues.

Injecting is the use of a needle to release the drug directly into the bloodstream. Smoking involves inhaling cocaine vapor or smoke into the lungs, where absorption into the bloodstream is as rapid as by injection. All three methods of cocaine abuse can lead to addiction and other severe health problems, including increasing the risk of contracting HIV and infectious diseases.

The intensity and duration of cocaine’s effects, which include increased energy, reduced fatigue, and mental alertness, depend on the route of drug administration. The faster cocaine is absorbed into the bloodstream and delivered to the brain, the more intense the high. Injecting or smoking cocaine produces a quicker, stronger high than snorting.

On the other hand, faster absorption usually means shorter duration of action. The high from snorting cocaine may last 15 to 30 minutes, but the high from smoking may last only 5 to 10 minutes. In order to sustain the high, a cocaine abuser has to administer the drug again. For this reason, cocaine is sometimes abused in binges—taken repeatedly within a relatively short period of time, at increasingly high doses.

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