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Cocaine and Crack

Street names:  crack, freebase, rock, work, base, iron, heavy

Cocaine is an illegal drug that is made from the leaves of the coco bush, a plant native to South America. The powder form of the drug is called cocaine and the rock crystal form is called crack or freebase. In South America there is also a paste version of the drug, which is made by mixing the leaves with sodium bicarbonate (baking soda.)

Cocaine and crack act as powerful stimulants and are highly addictive.

The drug affects the central nervous system, creating an intense feeling of intellectual sharpness and physical strength. It also suppresses fatigue, curbs hunger and cuts back on the need for sleep.  For thousands of years people living in the Andes Mountains, where the plant grows natively, would chew on coco leaves to lessen hunger and fatigue.

How it is used

The powder form of cocaine can be taken orally, snorted or injected. The crystal form of the drug can be smoked or snorted. The paste form, which is not commonly found in Canada, is smoked.

Quick facts:

  • Cocaine possession accounted for the largest increase in police-reported drug offences in 2012, up five per cent from the previous year.[1]
  • Regularly snorting cocaine can create a hole in the wall between the nostrils, which will cause frequent nosebleeds.
  • The powder form of cocaine is a hydrochloric salt that is created when the drug is neutralized by an acid.
  • Freebase and crack have the same chemical formula, but are produced using different methods. The process used to create crack is simpler and less dangerous, which has led to a decline in the use of freebase.
  • A youth-focused organization notes that in Toronto cocaine is reported to be second only to alcohol as the most problematic substance requiring treatment, based on reports from Toronto treatment centres.
  • The 2011 Canadian Alcohol and Drug Use Monitoring Survey found that drug use in youth aged 15-24 had decreased from 11.3% in 2004 to 4.8% in 2011. This drop was for the past-year use of at least one of 5 illicit drugs (cocaine or crack, speed, hallucinogens (excluding salvia), ecstasy, and heroin.)[2]

Recognizing Cocaine and Crack

The drug comes in three forms: a powder, a crystal solid and a paste.

Cocaine is the powder form. It is a fine, white crystalline powder and is a salt form of the drug.

Crack or freebase is the base form of the drug and is the purest form. It is white or off-white and looks like irregularly shaped rocks. This form of the drug makes a crackling sound when heated and smoked, which is why it is called crack.

Effects of cocaine and crack

As a stimulant, cocaine and crack affect the reward centre of the brain, creating a feeling of euphoria that starts within a few minutes of the drug being taken and can last for a few minutes up to an hour depending on how it is used.

A person using the drug may feel energetic, talkative and mentally alert. The person may also have an increased blood pressure and heart rate, as well as reduced fatigue, appetite and need for sleep.

The intensity of the effect, as well as the duration, will depend on which form of the drug is used and how quickly the drug is absorbed into the body.

The effect from smoking crack or injecting cocaine is more immediate and will typically last from 5 to 10 minutes. When the powder form is snorted it takes longer for the drug to take effect, but the experience will typically last from 15 to 30 minutes.

Individuals who use cocaine/crack also experience lowered inhibitions, which can lead the person to act dangerously and recklessly, committing acts such as violent crimes, sexual assaults or compulsively spending money.

Since the effect of the drug is felt for a very short time, when it wears off a person may feel depressed or anxious. This creates a tendency to reuse the drug immediately or "binge."

Regular use of cocaine and crack can result in:

  • Brain damage
  • Erratic moods, behaviours and possibly psychosis
  • Violent behaviour
  • Mental and physical exhaustion
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Nose and sinus problems
  • Heart problems
  • Sleeping and eating problems
  • Severe breathing and lung problems ("crack lung")
  • Birth defects
  • Impotence

A cocaine overdose can cause a heart attack, stroke, seizures or respiratory arrest.

Cocaine and crack are highly addictive, with crack being the most addictive form of the drug. An addiction to cocaine or crack creates a powerful psychological dependence, which makes it difficult for someone to stop thinking about or using the drug. It also creates a physical dependence.

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