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Cocaine Vs Crack - What’s the Difference?

Cocaine usage stats infographic

Cocaine and crack are almost chemically identical. They are also equally dangerous, and using them carries the same risk of dependency, overdose, and death. So why do they each come with their own stigmas and associations in our society? Though they produce very similar effects, these two forms of the same drug each have their own histories, price points, and user demographics. Per the National Center for Health Statistics, 5.5 million people used cocaine in 2018. Of these, 757,000 used crack.


Cocaine is a powerful, highly addictive stimulant that goes by many different names. Specifically, Coke, Crack, Snow, and Blow are some of the most common, and often refer to the way the cocaine is processed and used. A white crystalline powder derived from the South American Coca plant, it can produce intense confidence and energy for a short period of time (usually less than an hour, and sometimes only a few minutes). Immediacy and length of a high is one of the most noticeable differences between cocaine and crack.

Cocaine is usually snorted through the nose, although it can also be smoked or injected. It is frequently mixed with other serious drugs such as methamphetamines or opioids like heroin and fentanyl, often without the cocaine user’s knowledge. Chemical dependency can also develop more quickly with cocaine than with other drugs. In some cases, cocaine and crack users can develop an abuse disorder after just a few uses.

What Makes Crack Different?

Crack Cocaine is the “rock” version of cocaine. A derivative of cocaine, which is a powdered hydrochloride salt, crack is created when pure cocaine (or a mix of cocaine and other fillers) is processed into a solid using baking soda and water. It is then broken into chunks and smoked with a crack pipe. The name “crack” refers to the crackling sound that occurs when these are smoked.

Several factors differentiate crack from cocaine:

  • Length and Immediacy of Effect
    Crack produces an immediate but much shorter-lasting high than pure powder cocaine. Snorting or orally ingesting cocaine takes a few minutes for the high to set in, which then lasts anywhere from 10-30 minutes. When crack cocaine is smoked, the effects kick in almost instantaneously and usually last under ten minutes.
  • Price Point
    Cocaine is notoriously associated with corporate America and has been called the “rich man’s drug.” It is especially expensive because the high it creates is so short-lived. Crack gained popularity in the 1980s as a less-expensive substitute for Cocaine. Because of its lower price point, it became prevalent in low-income areas throughout the U.S. It also gained a reputation for high use in minority groups, though this is not necessarily the case.
  • Sentencing differences for Cocaine vs Crack Possession
    For the last several decades, crack and cocaine possession have been treated very differently in court. A common belief that crack was more dangerous and addictive than cocaine developed during the height of the War on Drugs era, causing much harsher sentences to be levied on crack users. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, the sentencing disparity between powder cocaine and crack was 100-1 until 2010 (Currently, the disparity is 18-1 nationally).

Because of crack’s presence in low-income areas, this sentencing disparity means that impoverished people and people of color are much likelier to receive harsh sentences for drug possession.

Side effects infographic

Risks and Side Effects of Cocaine and Crack

Our culture tends to view cocaine and crack as two separate drugs, and the U.S. court system administers very different repercussions. However, the physical and psychological risks are very closely related. Neither drug is universally dirtier or more dangerous to use.

Side Effects include:

  • Numbness of the mouth, nose, or site of injection
  • High blood pressure
  • Hypersensitivity
  • Paranoia
  • Decreased appetite
  • Headaches
  • Mood disorders
  • Risk of Hepatitis and HIV (if injected)
  • Nosebleeds and nasal problems (if snorted)

Because users generally smoke crack, frequent users potentially develop lung and respiratory problems. One side effect unique to crack use is coughing up blood or black phlegm. This is more likely to happen the more someone smokes crack, and is a sign of serious internal damage.


Death from cocaine overdose is a real possibility with each use, even the first time. It becomes a stronger risk the more tolerant someone becomes of the drug, as they find themselves needing to use more to feel the same effect. While tolerance of cocaine high builds over time, the body is less and less able to handle its side effects.

Overdose symptoms sometimes include:

  • Convulsions
  • Acute anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Nausea
  • Coma
  • Heart attack
  • Seizure
  • Stroke
  • Psychosis (a loss of connection with reality)>

Withdrawal for Cocaine vs Crack

Symptoms of withdrawl infographic

Just as Crack and Cocaine produce a similar high and range of side effects, the withdrawal process between the two is nearly identical.

Symptoms of cocaine withdrawal include:

  • Intense cravings for the drug
  • Insomnia
  • Apathy and drowsiness
  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Poor cognitive function

Withdrawal symptoms begin shortly after last use, and for someone who is dealing with addiction, it is possible to last for months in varying forms and intensity. Cocaine cravings, for instance, are more likely to appear weeks to months after someone quits than in the initial withdrawal phase.

Treatment and Recovery

If you or someone you know is struggling with cocaine or crack abuse, get help now. Contact us today and get more information on our programs here.

It is our mission to compassionately empower every client who walks through the door of Mountain View Recovery Center. Our vision is to provide support and structure in a community-based, clinical setting using evidence based practices. Our purpose is to break the stigma of addiction and show our clients a united way to lifelong recovery.