All About Crack Cocaine

Cocaine - Crack Cocaine

  • In 2007, there were 906,000 persons aged 12 or older who had used cocaine for the first time within the past 12 months; this averages to approximately 2,500 initiates per day. This estimate was not significantly different from the number in 2006 (977,000).

  • Most (66.5 percent) of the 0.9 million recent cocaine initiates were 18 or older when they first used. The average age at first use among recent initiates aged 12 to 49 was 20.2 years, which was similar to the average age in 2006 (20.3 years).

Cocaine and crack cocaine are powerfully addictive stimulants. People easily become addicted to its feelings of euphoria and increased stimulation of both body and mind.

Cocaine, Crack Cocaine Addiction Usage

Cocaine is a strong central nervous system stimulant that increases levels of dopamine, a brain chemical associated with pleasure and movement, in the brain's reward circuit. Certain brain cells, or neurons, use dopamine to communicate.

Normally, dopamine is released by a neuron in response to a pleasurable signal (e.g., the smell of good food), and then recycled back into the cell that released it, shutting off the signal between neurons.

Cocaine acts by preventing the dopamine from being recycled, causing excessive amounts of dopamine to build up, amplifying the message, and ultimately disrupting normal communication. It is this excess of dopamine that is responsible for cocaine's euphoric effects.

With repeated use, cocaine can cause long-term changes in the brain's reward system and in other brain systems as well, which may eventually lead to addiction. With repeated use, tolerance to the cocaine high also often develops.

How Cocaine and Crack Cocaine are used

Three routes of administration are commonly used for cocaine: snorting, injecting, and smoking.

Snorting Cocaine

Cocaine in powdered form

The powdered hydrochloride salt form of cocaine can be snorted or dissolved in water and injected. Snorting is the process of inhaling cocaine powder through the nose, where it is absorbed into the bloodstream through the nasal tissues.

Injecting

Injecting is the use of a needle to release the drug directly into the bloodstream.

Smoking Crack Cocaine

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.

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.

Cocaine, Crack Cocaine Effects

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 user 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.

Cocaine Effects

Abusing cocaine has a variety of adverse effects on the body. For example, cocaine constricts blood vessels, dilates pupils, and increases body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure. It can also cause headaches and gastrointestinal complications such as abdominal pain and nausea. Because cocaine tends to decrease appetite, chronic users can become malnourished as well.

Different methods of taking cocaine can produce different adverse effects. Regularly snorting cocaine, for example, can lead to loss of the sense of smell, nosebleeds, problems with swallowing, hoarseness, and a chronically runny nose. Ingesting cocaine can cause severe bowel gangrene as a result of reduced blood flow. Injecting cocaine can bring about severe allergic reactions and increased risk for contracting HIV and other blood-borne diseases. Binge patterns of use may lead to irritability, restlessness, anxiety, and paranoia. Cocaine abusers can suffer a temporary state of full-blown paranoid psychosis, in which they lose touch with reality and experience auditory hallucinations.

Tolerance - How much crack cocaine is fatal

Many cocaine abusers report that they seek but fail to achieve as much pleasure as they did from their first exposure. Some users will increase their dose in an attempt to intensify and prolong the euphoria, but this can also increase the risk of adverse psychological or physiological effects.

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