Crack is the street name given to crack cocaine (benzoylmethylecgonine), which is the crystalline form of cocaine created by processing the drug with baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and water. The name originates from the cracking or popping sound the crystals make when they’re heated to be smoked. It is a Schedule II drug under the Controlled Substances Act, in the same category as other highly addictive drugs such as methamphetamine and oxycodone (OxyContin).
Crystals can come in varying colors, ranging from white to pale pink or yellow. Crack cocaine crystals are the most potent form of cocaine and are far more powerful than the regular powdered version of the drug.
Heating cocaine crystals and smoking the fumes allow the substance to reach the brain more quickly, creating a faster onset of effects. The result is an almost immediate high that can last for around 15 minutes. Smoking crack cocaine increases the rate at which addiction to the drug develops.
Cocaine powder is expensive, especially in comparison to the cheap street prices charged for crack cocaine crystals. The low initial cost entices more people to smoke crack to get high, although the expense increases dramatically as tolerance to the drug develops. The user needs to take more of the drug in order to achieve the same effects after even short-term use, which increases the risk of developing dependence.
Crack cocaine has no medical use, and is entirely sold as an illegal street drug. It is sold in small bags of “rocks” that consist of an off-white or yellowish powder clumped together.
This drug is a stimulant that functions in the same manner that cocaine does, by inhibiting the re-uptake of chemicals that cause pleasurable feelings in the brain. Crack is considered to be even more dangerous than cocaine as it is more addictive, has more negative health consequences, and is much cheaper to buy on the street.
It often surprises people to learn that crack cocaine is a Schedule II substance. The reasoning for this is likely that it is virtually identical to cocaine on a molecular level. While crack is not used in medicine, cocaine has a valid medical use as a topical anesthetic, which keeps it from being listed as a Schedule I drug.
It is most commonly smoked using a glass pipe. It can be injected or snorted, but use of it in this way is rare.
The drug produces an intense but short-term sense of euphoria, often lasting as little as 10 minutes. The short duration of the high is what makes crack even more dangerous than cocaine, which can last up to an hour per dose. Chronic crack abusers feel the need to use the substance more frequently, which increases their exposure levels and speeds up the process of addiction.
Users experience an increase in their heart and respiration rate, and may experience intense anxiety and paranoia. They may have outbursts of aggression or violence. Death by overdose due to a heart attack is also possible.
Regular users often have chronic depression and mood swings. They may also develop continual paranoia, psychosis, delusions or aggressive behavior. They are also at an elevated risk for heart attack, stroke, seizures and respiratory failure.
Overdose and addiction are serious risks of any amount of crack use, and chronic use is almost guaranteed to create some sort of health complications. Since it is only available from street dealers, adulteration with toxins is also a risk. A common adulterant is phenytoin, an anti-seizure medication which can be toxic in high enough doses.
Alcohol is commonly used to ease the “come down” period after crack use. This can be dangerous if the user has been awake and not eating for a long period of time, as this will increase the potency of the alcohol and may trigger a seizure. Use of marijuana to “come down” is less dangerous to physical health, but can compound the symptoms of confusion and paranoia that crack often causes.
Crack is extremely dangerous when taken with other types of drugs. When mixed with other stimulants, there is a very good chance of inducing a heart attack or stroke. Use of this drug with prescription benzodiazepines can cause heart or kidney failure and brain damage.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that there are about 400,000 regular crack users in the United States based on survey results. Crack use is responsible for about 8% of admissions to substance abuse treatment programs each year. Addiction is common with use because the high is so short and the drug is so relatively inexpensive, users often expose themselves to large doses in a short amount of time.
Since the high brought on by crack use is so fleeting, users of the drug may disappear frequently to get high. Chronic use also often leaves white burn marks around the lips from the hot crack pipe. Absentminded crack users will also often have burn marks and melted spots on furniture in their place of residence from leaving their hot pipe sitting on top of it.
Due to its extremely addictive nature, the course of treatment for crack is almost always a one-week period of detox followed by at least a 30-day stay at an inpatient facility. Inpatient time may be significantly longer depending on the strength of the addiction.
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