The Difference Between Cocaine and Crack

Ancient cultures have chewed the leaves of the coca plant for centuries as a remedy for pain and as a gateway to the divine. In countries like Bolivia, Columbia and Peru, certain cultures consider the plant sacred, an integral part of their social, cultural and religious rituals. But since the mid-to-late 70s, cocaine as an export has grown exponentially, due to high demand for the illicit drug.

The two most popular forms of the drug, powdered cocaine and crack cocaine, start with the same coca leaves, but the production, use, effects and target markets of those two drugs are radically different.

A Cash Crop

cocaine and cashAlthough cocaine consumption in the U.S. has fallen over the past decade, Columbia, Peru and Bolivia are the largest exporters of cocaine to the U.S., increasing production by more than 44% in 2014.Drug cartels plant huge crops of coca plants, carefully selecting varieties that are known to produce potent leaves in a short period of time. When those leaves reach maturity, manufacturers harvest the leaves and allow them to dry. It takes an astonishing amount of coca leaves in order to produce even a small amount of cocaine. Therefore, the drying facilities are quite vast and heavily guarded around the clock.

When the leaves are dry, they’re soaked in a strong solution of water and acid, which can extract the active ingredient from the leaves. The sticky, tacky substance that remains at the end of this process can then be processed in one of two ways. One method produces powdered cocaine, and the other produces crack.

Production Risks and Results

In order to produce powdered cocaine, manufacturers mix the cocaine paste they’ve extracted with a variety of chemicals, such as sulfuric acid, hydrochloric acid and potassium permanganate. The mixture must be tightly controlled and repeated to remove as many impurities as possible. When all goes as planned, a powdery substance results. This powder must be dried in an oven or in a microwave. If manufacturers haven’t completed the process precisely, the powder can explode or catch fire. Overall, the process to produce power cocaine is extremely delicate and extremely expensive. But trafficking cocaine through the U.S. creates billions in profit,2 that negates any potential risks to manufacturers.

Crack cocaine is slightly easier to make, and it allows dealers to stretch a small amount of powdered cocaine into a large amount of a product that can be sold at a profit. These dealers combine powdered cocaine with water and baking soda, and apply heat to the mixture. Chemical reactions form, and the remaining product is soft and slightly off-white in color. As this product dries, it forms crystalline rocks. The drug gets its name from the cracking or popping sound it makes when it’s heated for smoking.

Common Uses and Prices

cocaineIn the U.S., powdered cocaine averages $100-$150/gram for consumers, and purity is always suspect.Dealers increase their profits by mixing cheap additives like cornstarch, talcum power, sugar and lactose into their cocaine. And the average user is rarely provided with the opportunity to test the purity of the purchase before the sale is complete, and since the drug is considered illegal, a user will have no legal recourse if the drugs purchased are impure or somehow tainted. These users usually take the drugs as soon as they’re purchased, typically by snorting the drugs into their nasal passages. Some users mix cocaine with water and inject it, which is especially dangerous and more likely to result in overdose. 4

It seems logical that crack cocaine would be sold at lower prices, when compared to powdered cocaine, as crack is easier to produce. However, current research suggests that powdered cocaine and crack cocaine are sold for nearly the same street price. Once thought of as a “rich man’s drug,”the price of cocaine and crack can vary from city to city, but the costs between the two forms of cocaine are similar within the same drug market.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), cocaine use has remained relatively stable since 2009, with an estimated 1.5 million cocaine users aged 12 or older nationwide.

The Impact

Although the chemical makeup of crack and cocaine are slightly different, the chemical affects on the body are the same, according to clinical pharmacist Jenni Stein. “Because inhalation and injection get the user higher (more drug is delivered all at once), and the high happens faster and wears off faster, the behavior is highly self-reinforcing,” she says. “This lends itself to repetition, or binges, where the user will use or hit over and over to repeat the high that wears off quickly. This pattern of use makes users that inhale or inject more vulnerable to the addictive effects of the drug.”3

Either way it’s used, it impacts every organ of the body. Smoking crack impacts the lungs as snorting cocaine impacts the mucous membranes of the nose/sinuses.

As a central nervous system stimulant, Stein adds, cocaine not only stimulates in the way caffeine does, but it releases a huge amount of adrenaline that produces feelings of euphoria or intense pleasure, which is the reinforcing element of the action.With ongoing use of cocaine, the brain adapts to a higher level of stimulation and reduces the number of receptors for the ‘feel good’ chemical that biologically exists in the brain synapses. Then it takes even more of the drug to achieve the same high. 3

The biggest difference between crack and cocaine can be seen in how both are regulated, classified and criminalized. Cocaine is a Schedule 2 drug, classified as such due to its acceptable medical uses, while crack is a Schedule 1 drug, possession of which is 18x more likely to result in prison time. And while this 18:1 sentencing disparity is an improvement over the previous 100:1 crack vs. cocaine sentencing statistic, thanks to the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, many people feel sentencing laws unfairly targets crack users, who are more likely to be black, low-income and less educated.6

Treatment Programs

cocaine addiction treatment centerAt The Canyon, we address the physical side of cocaine addiction with medical detox upon entry. After diagnosis, a treatment plan is developed that includes gentle exercise, yoga and meditation, and organic, healthful meals. Cocaine addiction takes a toll on the body, and helping you create habits that support your physical wellbeing are an important part of healing your mind.

We believe the best cocaine rehab program is one that is personalized to meet your specific needs and circumstances. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all treatment, because drug addiction is both a psychological and physical issue. Everyone’s alcohol use is different and because of that, your alcohol rehab program must address your individuality if it is going to be effective in helping you heal as an individual.

If you or a loved one struggles with cocaine addiction, we are here for you. Our admissions coordinators are available 24-hours a day. If you would like to learn more about our alcohol rehab here at The Canyon, contact us now.


1 Nick Miroff. The Washington Post. “Columbia is Again the World’s Top Producer of Coca.” November 10, 2015. Accessed January 1, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/in-a-blow-to-us-policy-colombia-is-again-the-worlds-top-producer-of-coca/2015/11/10/316d2f66-7bf0-11e5-bfb6-65300a5ff562_story.html?utm_term=.64beee09375f

2 Scott Stewart. Business Insider. June 27, 2016. Accessed January 2, 2017.From Colombia to New York City: The Narconomics of Cocaine. http://www.businessinsider.com/from-colombia-to-new-york-city-the-economics-of-cocaine-2015-7

3 Emma Bracy. Attn. “Crack Vs. Cocaine: Here’s the Real Difference.” August 9, 2015. Accessed January 2, 2017. http://www.attn.com/stories/2643/crack-vs-cocaine

4Canyon Malibu. Accessed January 2, 2017. http://thecanyonmalibu.com/drug-addiction/injection-drug-addiction-dangers/

5 NIDA. Accessed January 2, 2017. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/cocaine/what-scope-cocaine-use-in-united-states

6 Elizabeth Kulz. Vocativ. How Crack Vs. Cocaine Sentencing Unfairly Targets Poor People. February 22, 2015. Accessed January 3, 2016.  http://www.vocativ.com/underworld/drugs/crack-vs-coke-sentencing/

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