What's the Difference Between Crack & Cocaine?
Last Updated Dec 2, 2021
Crack and cocaine are the same drug. Their main differences relate to how they are made, how they work in the body, how they appear, and how they are ingested.
Two drugs that have been in the public consciousness for decades and continue to remain pervasive among drug users are crack and cocaine. Cocaine, the earlier predecessor, has been around since the 1800s.
Crack, however, didn’t arrive until the 1980s. Use of crack metastasized into a full-blown epidemic in the late 1980s and early 1990s that is historically known as the crack epidemic.
Crack vs. Cocaine
The drug cocaine consists of hydrochloride salt in the form of a powder.
Crack cocaine is made from cocaine combined with water and most often baking soda. Crack is made by boiling this mixture, cooling it, and then breaking it into small pieces that are sold as crack cocaine.
Both crack and cocaine are considered addictive, even after a single use.
Another primary difference between crack and cocaine is the high that each drug produces. The effects of cocaine will generally set in for users within minutes and last up to 30 minutes. Crack users will experience a high that begins fairly immediately (within 15 to 30 seconds) and lasts anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes.
Both drugs have long-term side effects that include heart problems, organ damage, and brain damage. Both cocaine and crack can cause throat damage that results in hoarseness and difficulty swallowing.
Cocaine often damages the inner workings of the nostrils, often resulting in a deviated septum, while crack cocaine can often yield significant lung damage among users.
Comparing the Dangers Between Crack & Cocaine
While the immediate effects of crack and cocaine are fairly similar, the dangers each drug presents somewhat differ. The dangers of using crack and cocaine can be broken up into short-term dangers and long-term dangers.
Short-term dangers of using crack and cocaine include loss of inhibition.
It’s often said that using either drug once can render a person addicted. This doesn’t mean that physical dependence occurs with a single use. It simply means that one use can trigger such a pleasure response that users often repeatedly engage in use. With this cycle, they can quickly end up addicted.
Both drugs can produce violent or erratic tendencies. Prolonged use of each drug can also result in extreme paranoia.
The long-term dangers associated with using crack cocaine include intense addiction, asthma, fluid in the lungs, tooth loss, pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in the lungs), and pneumonia.
Crack users can also develop a condition commonly referred to as crack lung, which results in intense chest pain, respiratory duress, decreased oxygen intake, as well as coughing up blood. Ultimately, smoking crack on a long-term basis can lead to lung failure.
Cocaine’s long-term dangers include intense addiction, loss of smell, perforation of tissue between the nostrils, difficulty swallowing, scarring or collapsed veins, as well as additional long-term physical and mental damage. Cocaine use can also result in individuals having a higher risk of contracting HIV, hepatitis C, and other diseases that affect the blood.
Crack vs. Cocaine: Who Uses Each Type of Drug?
Although crack and cocaine are different versions of the same drug, the types of people who tend to use these drugs differ significantly.
Young Professionals or Clubgoers
Cocaine is often used among younger people. It gets used and distributed widely on college campuses as well as among young professionals keeping hectic schedules. The sort of instant pick-me-up the drug offers makes it an attractive option for people in high-stress professional careers and those who want to party all night.
Adults or Seniors
Cocaine is also used widely among adults, especially clubgoers. As new generations of individuals enter their senior years, many hold onto the same activities they did when they were younger, even when they are sometimes dangerous. Cocaine use rates are increasing among adults and seniors as a result.
While cocaine is often associated with higher society due to its presence in lounges and nightclubs, it still yields the same undesirable effects that crack does.
Crack is most often used in lower income areas. Due to the lower price of this drug compared to powder cocaine, low-income and homeless individuals often resort to crack for its similar effects.
However, many individuals who are addicted to other drugs begin to experiment with drugs like crack and crystal meth to enhance or alter their high.
Comparing Cost: Crack vs. Cocaine
The cost of cocaine and crack will vary depending on the region where it is sold. Cocaine is usually sold by the gram or in larger amounts. Crack is sold as individual rocks. Overall, crack is often considered cheaper and more accessible.
Finding pure cocaine is more difficult for a drug user. Cocaine is often cut with other substances, which increases the profit margin for the dealer. The purer the cocaine, the more expensive it will be.
What Are the Risks of Crack vs. Cocaine?
The most immediate and considerable risk of using crack and cocaine is getting addicted or developing a dependency on the drug.
Both forms will likely put you in positions and environments that are not safe at the very least. Most of the time, they can be extremely dangerous. Both forms of the drug can alter the mind and result in abnormal behaviors, such as violence and paranoia. Being impaired as the result of crack or cocaine use can put the individual and others who come into contact with them in serious danger, especially if the user is operating a vehicle.
Both crack and cocaine come with the potential for serious short-term and long-term risks, as described above.
Legal & Criminal Distinction Between Crack & Cocaine
Another primary difference between these two drugs is the legal ramifications if caught with the drug by law enforcement. For powder cocaine, if an individual is convicted with intent to sell, they could be subject to a 5-year prison sentence or even up to 20 years if in possession of 500 grams or more.
Crack, on the other hand, can bring the same sort of sentence for only 5 grams of the substance. As you might be able to gather, law enforcement is markedly more lenient on the powder version of the substance.
There have been attempts in recent years to correct some of the discrepancy in sentencing for powder and crack cocaine, as it has a basis in racial disparities. Today, federal differences in sentencing for powder cocaine versus crack cocaine have been largely eliminated. Disparities still exist at the state level.
Myths & Facts About Crack & Cocaine
One popular myth that has circulated is that crack is more damaging and more addictive than cocaine, which is unproven. Both forms of the drug are highly addictive and result in similar long-term damage to the brain and body.
While sentencing for crimes involving crack and powder cocaine have been widely different, and this has resulted in higher rates of incarceration for Black individuals, the main difference in the demographics that use crack versus powder cocaine relate to socioeconomic status rather than race. Crack is more likely to be used by those who come from lower income backgrounds.
Another myth is that cocaine heightens sexual experiences. Cocaine makes high-risk sex more likely, but in the long term, cocaine use can lead to impotence and an overall loss of interest in sex.
Do Treatment Options Differ for Crack & Cocaine?
Treatment approaches are generally going to be the same for crack and cocaine abuse. Comprehensive treatment will give you the best chance at a full recovery, as you’ll receive therapies that are catered to your personal needs.
Medical detox is generally the first step. You’ll receive supportive care as you detox, and you may receive medications to address specific symptoms, such as depression or insomnia.
Therapy will make up the bulk of treatment, as you’ll identify root causes of your substance abuse. You’ll develop coping strategies, so you can better deal with triggers without turning to cocaine use in the future. Various therapeutic approaches are used in cocaine rehab.
Support groups are a key part of recovery, as you’ll learn from others who have been in your situation. You’ll also begin to build important relationships, which can be essential to your ongoing sobriety.
Geeking and Freaking: Black Women and the 1980s Crack Epidemic. (May 2022). University of California Press.
Associations Amongst Form of Cocaine Used (Powder vs Crack vs Both) and HIV-Related Outcomes. (December 2021). Addictive Behaviors Reports.
Effectiveness of Incorporating Contingency Management Into a Public Treatment Program for People Who Use Crack Cocaine in Brazil. A Single-Blind Randomized Controlled Trial. (January 2022). International Journal of Drug Policy
AG Issues New Guidance on Ending Sentencing Disparities for Crack Versus Powder Cocaine Cases. (December 2022). NBC News.
Sexual Dysfunction in Abusers of Cocaine and Alcohol. (1988). American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse.
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