The effects of crack cocaine

Crack cocaine can be devastating for people who use it. Here, we outline the most common physical and psychological effects of crack cocaine.

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Crack cocaine is a highly potent, addictive drug. Public Health England estimates that there are over 180,000 users in the UK, a figure that risen significantly throughout the 2010s.

Even after just a single use, crack cocaine can be a hugely damaging drug that can lead to addiction and many problems with your physical and mental health. In this article, we’ll outline the effects of crack cocaine and what you should do next if you think you’re addicted to the substance.

What is crack cocaine?

Sometimes referred to as ‘crack’ or ‘rock’, crack cocaine is a white or off-white rock-like substance. It takes its name from the characteristic cracking or popping noise it makes when it’s exposed to heat. When smoked, crack cocaine offers an intense feeling of euphoria. Crack cocaine is considered the most addictive form of cocaine, making it a highly dangerous substance.

What's the difference between cocaine and crack?

There are many differences between the form, method of consumption, and potency of crack cocaine and cocaine.

Both substances are derived from the coca plant. Whereas cocaine is a powdered substance, crack cocaine is a solid, rock-like substance, made by mixing baking soda or ammonia with cocaine.

Cocaine is generally snorted, whereas the usual method for consuming crack cocaine is by smoking. Both can also be injected, but this is a highly dangerous method of consuming any type of cocaine and can lead to serious harm. Some people rub it into their gums and, when used in association with sexual activity, some apply it to their genitalia.

Crack cocaine delivers a shorter and more intense high than powdered cocaine, kicking in almost immediately and beginning to diminish after only 5 to 10 minutes. When snorted, cocaine takes longer to produce a high but the effects can last up to 1 to 2 hours.

Both drugs are highly addictive substances and potentially dangerous for your short and long-term health. Given the euphoric highs you can experience when you take crack cocaine, some people become addicted after just one use.

Psychological effects of crack cocaine

Crack cocaine delivers a short-term high in which you’re likely to experience heightened feelings of:

  • Euphoria
  • Hyperactivity
  • Tension
  • Confidence

These sensations are short-lived, which is what makes crack cocaine such a dangerous drug. In order to keep experiencing the intense highs, people who use crack cocaine will need to take regular doses. This increases the chance of developing an addiction or doing long-term damage to your health.

After the initial effects have worn off, users will quickly move into a comedown phase. During a comedown, you might experience deep feelings of depression, anxiety and anger. The depth of these feelings can often drive people to use the drug again, deepening their dependence on it.

Drug dependencies often lead to people neglecting their daily responsibilities, leading to problems in relationships, social circles and professional life. Over time, regular use of crack cocaine can lead to developing mental health problems like depression or an anxiety disorder.

It’s also possible to develop psychotic symptoms from using crack cocaine regularly. You might experience hallucinations, delusions and paranoia for many hours or even days after your last use. Some people experience what’s known as ‘cocaine bugs’, a hallucination where you feel like something is crawling under your skin.

The effects of crack cocaine on the body

Due to the fact that crack cocaine is generally smoked rather than snorted, this substance can cause severe damage to your lungs, or just generally lead to respiratory issues. For example, users are at risk of acute injury to the lungs, sometimes referred to as ’crack lung’. , Crack lung is caused by crack cocaine preventing proper circulation, resulting in permanent damage to the lungs. This can lead to difficulty breathing and chronic chest pain.

Crack cocaine can have many other effects on your body, including:

  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Permanent damage to blood vessels
  • Seizures or convulsions
  • Disturbed sleep or insomnia
  • Nausea and headaches
  • Strokes
  • Heart disease and failure
  • Kidney failure
  • Liver damage
  • Sexual dysfunction and possibly infertility

Crack cocaine can cause physical damage after just a single use, but higher doses and more regular use will increase the risk of serious long-term damage to your physical health. Other factors, such as your size, any pre-existing medical conditions and the use of other drugs alongside crack, can further increase your risk of harm.

Withdrawing from crack cocaine

If it’s consumed regularly over a period of time, it’s possible that you’ll become dependent on crack cocaine. This is when your brain and body adapt to the presence of the drug in your system. If you go without the drug for a period of time, you'll start to experience a number of uncomfortable drug withdrawal symptoms as your body looks to rebalance.

Crack cocaine withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Restlessness
  • Muscle aches
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Changes in appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Nightmares

The length and severity of withdrawal symptoms will vary from person-to-person. Typically, you might expect to experience them a few hours after your last use, lasting days or even weeks for some.

During treatment for drug addiction, people will often undergo a drug detox in order to tackle their physical dependency. During a detox, withdrawal symptoms can be carefully managed, promoting relaxation and comfort in a supportive setting.

Treatment for crack cocaine addiction at Priory

The effects of crack cocaine can be debilitating, especially if you're struggling with addiction. Thankfully, a full recovery is possible with effective treatment for drug addiction.

At Priory, our expert teams can help you to overcome your crack cocaine addiction and get back on track. Our inpatient treatment programmes, delivered across our network of UK rehab facilities, can help you regain control of your life. Get in touch today for a free addiction assessment and discover how we can help with your struggles with addiction.

Blog clinically reviewed by Dr William Shanahan, Medical Director (Private) and Clinical Director of Addictions (BAO, BCh, DCH, D'OBS, FRCPsych, MB), Priory Hospital Roehampton  

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