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The Difference between Crack and Cocaine

The Difference between Crack and Cocaine

Statistics [1] show that about 14 million people worldwide binge on cocaine and its variants each year.

And I’m sure by now you’ve noticed cocaine bags slip between hands in the streets.

Just like I’m also sure you have at least gained an awareness of the term ‘cut’ and ‘uncut’ cocaine thanks to TV series such as Queen of The South.

And all the reason to know the difference between cocaine and crack.

Statistics indicate approximately 21 million people in the US have admitted snorting on cocaine, and 9.4 million people are thought to bingeing on crack cocaine at some point.

What then is the difference between cocaine and crack cocaine?

What is Cocaine?

Cocaine is an alkaloid derivative of the coca plant. It’s extracted through chemical means and distributed in pure form ‘uncut’ or cut with additives to make it more intense.

The coca plant is an Erythroxylaceae shrub that mainly thrives in South America. The cocaine alkaloid makes up about 70 % of the plant’s density.

The alkaloid is extracted from coca leaves using chemical substances such as methane. At this stage, the product is in paste form, so it has to be dried using sodium bicarbonate then further processed using harsh agents such as ammonia, hydrochloric acid, acetone and alcohol into pure cocaine.

The cocaine is dried then distributed in powder form as cocaine hydrochloride.

Historically, the coca leaves were used by the South American natives for their stimulant properties. The doses were mild, though just enough to produce nicotine or caffeine-like high.

The cocaine buzz later saw it getting used in soft drinks and medications against toothache and cough. Coca-cola, for example, famously started adding a little of the alkaloid extract in their drinks till until were pressurised to stop this practice.

Cocaine would later get banned by the United of States government. The ban began with the anti-cocaine movements of 1903 and the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act that required brands which included any coca plant products in their beverages to register for the same and pay government taxes.

Despite the ban, production and distribution never stopped as cocaine remained fashionable among the affluent.

Then during the 1970s, the US government started to crack down on cocaine production and distribution. Restrictions were placed on the ingredients used in cocaine production.

Dealers Discover Ways to Sell Less for More Money: Uncut vs Cut Cocaine

To circumvent these laws and still make a profit despite the boom, cocaine dealers sought different ways to use less of the actual cocaine in each batch they sold.

Therefore, they started to ‘cut’ the cocaine by mixing it with other substances.

The cutting agents would be used to intensify the effects of the cocaine so less powder could be used per batch. Cocaine could then be distributed in pure powdery form or ‘cut’ with additives into some fine pieces.

When distributed in this pure powdery form, it is referred to as ‘uncut’ cocaine. It contains no additives. And what makes it deadly is that it is very concentrated.

The resulting powder has high cocaine doses than what the coca leaves contain. The results are intense ‘highs’, negative side effects and also increased dependence as well.

When cut, the texture, colour and form of the cocaine drug would change, resulting in possibilities for other multiple applications.

It could be smoked, ingested or even snorted. Hence the rise of ‘cut’ cocaine variants such as crack cocaine.

The Rise of Crack Cocaine

Crack cocaine is a variant of cocaine produced by processing the alkaloid extract for a third time.

The processing allows for its multiple applications; it can be smoked or snorted as well. And that’s where it gets its name because when heated during smoking, it produces crackling sounds.

It is distinguishable from cocaine because, after processing, it attains a rock form.

Crack is derived from the cocaine hydrochloride by mixing the powder with water and baking soda. The mixture is then boiled into a fine paste, cooled and broken into fine rocks.

Crack cocaine is cocaine that has been processed for a third time. Here, cocaine hydrochloride gets mixed with solvents, including water and baking soda.

It is then boiled to reduce the water to create a fine paste, dried, and then broken into rocks. The baking soda makes it possible to smoke crack at 98C.

Crack gained popularity, especially during the 1980s leading to a crack epidemic. Crack rose in popularity because it was cheaply priced.

What do Cocaine and Crack Users Say?

While both cocaine and crack are variants of the same drug, they are perceived differently by the public [2]. Not all who snort the uncut powder are into smoking the cut rocks.

Surveys show that only half of the drug addicts switch between cocaine and crack.

To understand, then, the difference, you have to ask the users to give their first-hand account of how the experiences from snorting ‘uncut’ vs ‘cut’ cocaine differ. Here’s what both cocaine and crack users usually say:

1. Price and Strength

Powder cocaine is more expensive than crack cocaine. Cocaine is sold in grams while crack gets sold in smaller unit sizes. Cocaine is, therefore viewed as an elite drug for the affluent. It’s associated with glamour and tolerated in dorms and clubs as well.

In terms of strength, the public generally views crack as a stronger of the two variants. But that may not be the case, especially if cut with too many additives.

Therefore, sometimes, cocaine is stronger than crack by weight. Just the way crack is produced makes it 30-60 per cent full of impurities such as baking soda.

2. Usage Patterns [4]

Drug users mainly snort cocaine or, less commonly, inject it into their bloodstream. Cocaine users say they feel the effects within minutes of ingestion. Crack users, on the other hand, smoke it for an instant euphoria.

In terms of the usage pattern, cocaine users said the effects only last for about half an hour then they would get their fix again.

Crack users, on the other hand, said the euphoria lasts for only a time duration of 5 minutes, so they prefer to nurse their pipe till the crack is gone.

Crack users, therefore, love to binge while cocaine users follow a more predictable and measured pattern of use.

Crack users also say that filling and lighting up the pipe becomes a nuisance that’s why they pack more. The consequence? Crack users risk increased addiction and are more likely to over-dose.

3. Effects [3]

In terms of how long the effects last, cocaine has a longer-lasting effect. Users say snorting or injecting themselves on cocaine get them “high” for about an hour.

For crack users, on the other hand, despite it being fast-acting, they say the euphoria lasts for only about 5 minutes. In terms of dosage, cocaine users say they take more of the drug than crack users.

Both groups of users, however, have reported feeling an energy rush, sexually active and high upon taking the drugs.

Negative feelings reported upon taking high dosages of both the cut and uncut cocaine include mood swings, heart palpitations, agitation, anger and flushed skin.

Some users admitted that snorting cocaine really did damage their nose.

While crack users reported burnt fingers and respiratory problems, both groups reported weight loss, addiction and nausea as side effects.

Public Perception of Cocaine vs. Crack

The reason only half of the drug users switch between crack and cocaine has to do with the stigma associated with crack usage. Crack usage has a history of usage by the urban poor.

Cocaine, on the other hand, is associated with the affluent. Just take a look at the Wolves of Wall Street flick, and you’ll understand what I’m talking about.

A study published in the US National Library of Medicine website (NCBI), reveals that crack users are highly stigmatised [1].

They are viewed as homeless people who lack family and employment and thus cast from society.

The report goes on to say that crack usage is associated with violent criminals and that the idea is constructed from the 80s and 90s ghetto drug raids.

Cracking down on the crack usage has even been used as political agendas by cynical politicians to vilify black people and earn those sympathy votes.

Prosecutors have also been known to prosecute crack users 18 times more than cocaine users. Crack addicts are therefore unlikely to receive help from society; dehumanised, they end up living in desperate situations.

Statistics on Crack vs. Cocaine

According to the National Survey on Drugs and Health, approximately 21 million people in the US admitted to using cocaine compared to 9.4 million people who admitted to bingeing on crack.

In terms of percentage [1], this is 12 per cent for cocaine vis a vis 4 per cent for crack.

Such findings do call for the review of the differential sentencing that exists between cocaine and crack users.

States have been known to crack down on crack users more with an 18 times chance of being incarcerated compared to 1 for cocaine users.

1.  Race and Age

In terms of age and race, the 18-25 cohort had the highest percentage of cocaine users. The highest percentage of crack users were those of age 26 and above. White people reported more use of crack than black people. But the same survey shows that black people who use crack do so frequently and are more likely to develop an addiction.

2.  Sex

In terms of sex, males are more likely to use cocaine or crack compared to females. However, the same survey shows that females who use cocaine or crack do so more frequently. In terms of income and education, the survey shows that those with a high amount of income are less likely to use crack. So is the same for those with high educational attainment. Crack users, on the other hand, tend to be of low income.

3.  Incarceration Disparities [5], [6]

Both crack and cocaine offences attract statutory penalties. Crack users, however, are more likely to face multiple arrests and even life incarceration.

For there decades, since the 1980s, the rate of imprisonment for crack offences was 100 times more that of cocaine offences. Possession of 5-g of crack attracted a 5-year minimum sentence. For 50-g, the conviction was double that.

Enter the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act

In 2010, the Obama administration reviewed and made changes to reduce the rate of incarceration for crack offences. For simple possession, the fines were increased, but the minimum sentence was dealt away with.

Additionally, to be incarcerated, the amounts went up at 28-g for a 5-year minimum sentence and 280-g for the 10-year minimum conviction.

However, even after the Fair Sentencing Act, the rate of incarceration for crack vs powder cocaine offences is still lopsided at 18:1.

Crack and Cocaine Addiction Treatment

In terms of addiction and relapse, both powder and crack cocaine are highly addictive, with high chances of relapse. But of the two, crack is more problematic than powdered cocaine with 68% of rehab admissions for cocaine use being for smoked-cocaine. [7]

Those who choose to withdraw from cocaine say they experience side effects such as cravings, depression, anxiety and even suicidal ideation on the worst. Those who relapse during and after treatment site reasons such as emotional pain, stress and proximity to triggers.

Rehabilitation services play an essential role in helping addicts recover from drug use, get confidence back and live a healthy life. Statistics indicate that rehab centres help about 600,000 American cocaine addicts aged 12-years and above to break away from addiction [7].

The same report [7] says that cocaine addicts are 40 times more likely to get addicted to prescription pills.

In truth, however, our loved ones are important than mere statistics, don’t rely on such gloomy figures for hope, call our free hotline for help, and you will be connected with resources to help out with your addiction.