Crack cocaine is a solid, smokable cocaine that is made using baking soda or sodium hydroxide in a process to convert powder cocaine into a freebase form of the drug. Crack cocaine, when processed correctly, may contain most of the original cocaine alkaloid as it did before being what is called on the streets as buffed. Buffing cocaine is the process of adding different substances, usually chemicals closely related to the original alkaloid, in attempts of increasing the size of the yielded product.
Crack cocaine is one of the most addictive “street drugs” available, with an estimated 500,000 regular users in the U.S. today.
Crack cocaine affects brain chemistry, causing euphoria, supreme confidence, loss of appetite, insomnia, alertness, increased energy, craving for more cocaine and potential paranoia between doses. Its initial effect is to release a large amount of dopamine, a brain chemical inducing euphoric feelings, with the high lasting 5-10 minutes, followed by plummeting dopamine levels that lead to feelings of depression. The levels of dopamine in the brain take a long time to replenish themselves, so rapid doses of the drug lead to increasingly less intense highs. However, a person might binge for 3 or more days without sleep, while partying with occasional hits from the pipe. The short-term physiological effects of cocaine include constricted blood vessels; dilated pupils; and increased temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure. Large amounts (several hundred milligrams or more) intensify the user’s high, but may also lead to bizarre, erratic, and violent behavior and can also induce tremors, vertigo and paranoia. Some users of cocaine report feelings of restlessness, irritability, and anxiety. In rare instances, sudden death can occur on the first use of cocaine or unexpectedly afterwards.
Crack-related deaths are often a result of a heart attack or seizures followed by respiratory arrest.
When large amounts of dopamine are released by crack consumption, it becomes easier for the brain to generate motivation for other activities. The activity also releases a large amount of adrenaline into the body, which tends to increase heart rate and blood pressure, leading to long-term cardiovascular problems.
When the drug is taken repeatedly and at increasingly high doses, leads to a state of increasing irritability, restlessness, and paranoia.
This may result in a full-blown paranoid psychosis, in which the individual loses touch with reality and experiences auditory hallucinations. Stimulant drug abuse (particularly amphetamine and cocaine) can lead to delusional parasitosis, a mistaken belief they are infested with parasites and feel them crawling under their skin. These delusions are also associated with high fevers or extreme alcohol withdrawal, often together with visual hallucinations about insects. People experiencing these hallucinations might scratch themselves to the extent of serious skin damage and bleeding, especially when they are delirious. Tolerance inevitably develops over prolonged use. Some users will increase their doses more and more frequently to intensify and prolong the euphoric effects. Users can also become more sensitive to cocaine’s anesthetic and convulsant effects. This increased sensitivity may explain some deaths occurring after low doses of cocaine.
One of the more dangerous trends among users is “speedballing” or “snowballing” (mixing cocaine with heroin). studies show that this combination leads to a higher rate of fatalities than either drug used on its own.
Mothers who use cocaine during the early months of pregnancy run the risk of miscarriage. Later in pregnancy, it can trigger preterm labor (labor that occurs before 37 weeks of pregnancy) or cause the baby to grow poorly. Low-birthweight babies are 20 times more likely to die in their first month of life than normal-weight babies, and face an increased risk of lifelong disabilities such as mental retardation and cerebral palsy. Crack Cocaine is a powerfully addictive drug. Even with short term use, many individuals experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop using. The symptoms are more pronounced in individuals who have been using crack for a long time and in high doses.
Withdrawal symptoms include intense cravings, irritability, hunger, anxiety and paranoia.
Medical treatment for crack abuse and addiction is highly recommended. The physical and psychological dependence of crack is intense and most people find it extremely difficult to escape the addictive cycle. Medical detoxification is usually required, and should be followed by psychotherapeutic and social counseling, ongoing peer support, and social reintegration.