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EAP - Addictions

Addiction – Crack, Freebase Cocaine

Crack is simply a smokable form of cocaine. Ordinary cocaine powder (cocaine hydrochloride) can be smoked but this is an ineffective and wasteful method of use. Cocaine powder is usually snorted up the noise or injected. In the USA in the early 1970's, cocaine users began to treat cocaine with chemicals, which freed the cocaine base from the hydrochloride and lowered the temperature at which the cocaine melted. This enables cocaine to be far more effectively and easily smoked. Cocaine treated in this way is known as "freebase" and the process as "freebasing". Crack is a ready to use form of freebase cocaine, which is easily and inexpensively produced. It needs no special apparatus and can be smoked in an ordinary pipe or heated in tin foil and the fumes inhaled. Crack gets its name because when smoked the baking powder residue left in it crackles.

What does it look like?

Crack comes in the form of small off-white 'rocks' or lumps.

What are the effects?

Freebase cocaine, of which crack is one form, takes effect within seconds of being inhaled. It is a very efficient way of delivering cocaine to the brain in a matter of seconds. There is an initial rush of immensely pleasurable feelings lasting for up to two minutes. An intense high lasting for about thirty minutes follows this. As the effects of the drug wear off there are some unpleasant after effects. It is common for the user to feel tired, depressed and anxious. The head and body may ache and there may be increased sensitivity to light and noise. Users may feel irritable, hungry and possibly experience panic attacks. In order to avoid these unpleasant feelings crack users often take more crack as one dose wears off. The physical effects of crack, like ordinary cocaine, are similar to adrenalin. It increases breathing, raises blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature, whilst suppressing sleep and appetite.

What are the side effects?

The special immediate problems of crack users include black phlegm, chronic cough and respiratory ailments like bronchitis. Crack use and other forms of freebasing are more likely to lead to overdose than cocaine snorting since the effects of crack often encourage users to use more of the drug than they would if they were snorting it. Excessive doses can cause death from respiratory or heart failure, but this is rare. Crack's immensely pleasurable high followed by the unpleasant after effects encourages repeated compulsive use, which can easily lead to dependency. Crack users are more likely to have problems with their drug use than those snorting cocaine and run into problems earlier in their drug use. In the USA cocaine snorters who reported problems with their drug use had usually been using cocaine for about two years. Those freebasing cocaine (which includes crack users) reported problems with their drug use after using the drug for an average of six months.

What is the legal position?

Crack is simply a form of cocaine and is therefore a class A drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. It is illegal to possess, supply or produce. It is also an offence to allow premises to be used for production or supply.

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