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  • Writer's pictureKim May

Crack: Facts and Safety

Updated: Nov 15, 2021

Drug abuse counseling at Substance Use Therapy

This may come as a surprise to you, but there are no pharmacological differences between crack and cocaine. The two main differences between them are baking soda and sentencing laws.

However, those two things are substantial enough to create some big differences and considerations.

So, what is crack cocaine?

Cocaine is a stimulant drug extracted from the leaves of the coca plant, which is cultivated in the Andean region of South America. Cocaine is a powder, which is typically snorted (intranasal) or injected (intravenous). Cocaine is a short-acting central nervous system stimulant.

Cocaine increases levels of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is responsible for feelings of pleasure, as well as our fine motor control. Cocaine is associated with feelings of increased energy, alertness, and for many, euphoria.

Crack begins as powdered cocaine but becomes crack after being boiled with sodium bicarbonate (aka, baking soda). The result are “rocks” of cocaine, that when heated make a crackling sound, hence the name crack. Crack delivers a much faster high than snorting cocaine and the rush is intense but levels off after mere minutes. However, the rapid delivery of the drug puts users at higher levels of overdose.

Is being arrested with crack different than being arrested with cocaine?

Um, hell yes. Even though crack and cocaine are different forms of the same drug, sentencing disparity has been ridiculous. From the 80’s until 2010, the disparity was 100:1. That means if you were arrested with 5 grams of crack you were looking at a 5-year mandatory sentence. Yet, it would have taken 500 grams of cocaine to trigger the same sentence.

The law was changed in 2010 and it was a vast improvement. However, there is still a disparity of 18:1. This sentencing disparity has disproportionately affected people of color, though most research indicates that whites are more likely to use crack.

What are the dangers of smoking crack?

  • Seizure, heart attack or stroke, even amongst healthy people

  • Paranoia and/or aggression

  • Contaminants added that be harmful

  • Respiratory problems

  • Increased likelihood of unsafe sex practices

  • Transmission of HIV/Hep-C from sharing pipes

Crack safety tips

All drugs (licit and illicit) have risks associated with them. Certainly, crack cocaine can never be considered low risk. However, there are some practices that can make use safer.

Safer smoking

1. Use Pyrex pipes. (as opposed to thin glass, plastic, or metal). Non-glass pipes can release toxic fumes and thin glass can break easily.

2. Use a metal pipe screen. Steel wool and Brillo screens are less effective and break down over time.

3. Attach a plastic or rubber mouthpiece to the end of your pipe. This can prevent burns and abrasions. If you cannot get a proper mouthpiece, wrapping rubber bands around the end can help.

4. Use lip balm to keep your lips from cracking and bleeding.

5. Don’t share your pipe with others. Even a tiny speck of blood can carry hep-c.

6. Use wooden push sticks. Metal can break or chip the glass and plastic can melt. Chopsticks work well for this.

Safer use

1. Avoid combining crack with alcohol or other drugs.

2. Avoid dosing on the high—try to wait 30 minutes before smoking again

3. Limit your use—taking breaks of days and weeks between your use can give your brain and body a time to rest. It can also help minimize the crashes that come after your use.

4. Take care of your body. Eat something before you smoke and drink water during.

5. Carry condoms. Since crack may increase sexual desire, you want to be prepared.

6. Prep before you use. Try to set limits ahead of time on how much you will use. Make sure you have your supplies and food and water on hand.

Support if you need it

Struggling with substance use or addiction can be overwhelming and isolating. But you do not have to manage it by yourself. Schedule today with Substance Use Therapy or check out some of the resources below. Whatever you are facing, you do not have to face it alone.

Texas Resources

National Resources


Denning, P., & Little, J. (2017). Over the Influence: The Harm Reduction Guide to Controlling Your Drug and Alcohol Use. The Guilford Press.

Kuhn, C., Swartzwelder, S., & Wilson, W. (2019). Buzzed: The Straight Facts about the Most Used and Abused Drugs from Alcohol to Ecstasy. W.W. Norton & Company.

About the Author:

Kimberly May, LPC-S, LMFT is a therapist at Substance Use Therapy in Austin, TX. Kimberly works with individuals, couples and families whose lives have been affected by substance use. By utilizing a harm reduction framework, Kimberly works effectively with people in any stage of use. In addition to substance use, she works with other issues such as anger, burn-out, anxiety and grief. Contact today to schedule a no-charge, 30 minute, in-person consultation. *Note: telephone and telehealth sessions are currently available.

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