Crack Cocaine’s Effect on the Brain (Simple Animation)

“Crack is whack” – that much is widely understood and accepted. But, what exactly is crack? How is crack different from cocaine? Is it possible that crack gets a bad rap, or is it as lethal as it seems?

AsapSCIENCE breaks down what we need to know about this illicit drug in Your Brain on Crack Cocaine. Or, in their own words: “Is it really as whack as it’s portrayed to be?”

Cocaine comes from the leaves of a coca plant. Crack is also derived from the same plant, but crack is a different form of cocaine that is created by mixing powder cocaine with a weak base, such as baking soda (Gahlinger, 2004). During this chemical reaction, the substance changes shape from a powder to a solid. The new solid resembles a rock, hence the term “crack rock.”

Why do people smoke crack, and how does the drug interact with the body when it’s absorbed through the lungs? Because crack has a low melting point, users are able to add fire—which causes the rocks to make “crackling” sounds—and inhale the chemicals directly into the blood stream and up to the brain, resulting in a quick, powerful high.

Whether the user snorts cocaine powder through the nostrils or smokes crack rocks through the lungs, once they hit the brain, “crack and cocaine are effectively identical,” although crack is more potent (Gahlinger, 2004). The user gets a rush of energy, alertness and an increased awareness of their senses, all thanks to the release of dopamine in the brain. But, this euphoric state is short lived – lasting for only 10 minutes.

Despite its reputation for being a poor man’s cheap alternative to cocaine, particularly attractive to and destructive for the African American population, addiction doesn’t discriminate. Many wealthy and talented celebrities from varying backgrounds have used crack cocaine.

Whitney Houston may have famously coined the phrase “crack is whack” during an interview with Diane Sawyer, but the powerhouse singer was known to use crack, and she eventually lost her life to drug abuse and heart disease in 2012. Rob Ford, who many people blatantly refer to as the “crack-smoking mayor of Toronto” shocked Canada and the rest of the world when a video of him smoking crack surfaced, went viral and made headlines for months.

More celebrities who have allegedly smoked crack in the past include successful actors Robert Downey Jr. and Samuel L. Jackson, media moguls Oprah Winfrey and Aaron Sorkin, former Washington D.C. mayor Marion Berry, and Brooke Mueller, the ex-wife of Charlie Sheen, who has had his own share of drug scandals and is no stranger to the crack pipe.

Watch the full video to learn more.


Gahlinger, P. (2004). Illegal Drugs: A Complete Guide to Their History, Chemistry, Use, and Abuse. Second Edition. New York, NY: Plume.

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