Meet Cocaine and Her Wicked Step-Child, Crack

Table of Contents

What’s the difference in cocaine and crack? If you’re like a lot of people, you know there is a difference between the two…you just don’t really know what that “difference” is.

Let’s take a look at what makes these two drugs similar, but decidedly distinct.

Ingredients and Refinement

Both drugs are made from the coca plant; the difference, however, is in their refinement.

Cocaine: This is the natural form of cocaine, made of the salt (hydrochloride) harvested from coca leaves. You may hear this referred to as “powder” cocaine.

Crack: A lower-purity product, crack is converted from salt form to its base form – referred to as “free-base.” Processed with a base like baking soda, the hydrochloride is removed.

Focus on Use

Because of their different physical forms, cocaine and crack are abused differently.

Cocaine: Since it’s a powder, cocaine is usually snorted, but it can also be melted or injected.

Crack: People who abuse crack usually smoke it. When heated, it makes a crackling sound, which is where the drug got its name.


Though both drugs come from the same source, they certainly don’t share much of a family resemblance.

Cocaine: In its pure form, cocaine is a white powder. When “cut” or combined with other ingredients, it turns an off-white or pinkish hue.

Crack: Crack rocks are off-white nuggets that look like hard brittle plastic. In less pure forms, it can be more yellowish or light brown and have a crumbly or oily texture.

What’s the Draw?

Cocaine is a stimulant that affects the central nervous system. It essentially speeds you up, providing a euphoric high. Both forms are highly addictive and poisonous to the body. However, because they are ingested differently, they so have slightly different effects when used.

Cocaine: Snorting powder cocaine results in a high that kicks in 1-5 minutes after use and peaks within half an hour. The high lasts 1-2 hours, depending on purity.

Crack: Smoking crack gives you an almost immediate high, which peaks in 3-5 minutes. The main difference in cocaine and crack is the length of the high. While coke can be felt up to two hours, a crack high lasts about 15 minutes. That short high is what leads people to use so often throughout the day.

The Takeaway Details

  • Crack and cocaine both produce feelings of euphoria. The high is quick, intense and doesn’t last very long.
  • Smoking or injecting cocaine achieves the most intense high and wears off the fastest. This often leads users to binge on the drug, seeking repeated highs.
  • Tolerance develops quickly, meaning the same amount of either drug no longer creates the same euphoric effects. This results in frequent and high-dose use, creating a deadly cycle of addiction and wreaking havoc on the body systems.


Learn more about the history and statistics of cocaine.

Image Source: iStock


American Addiction Centers logo
Begin treatment today

The content on is brought to you by American Addiction Centers (AAC), a nationwide network of leading substance abuse and behavioral treatment facilities.

Verify Your Insurance CoverageView Our Treatment Centers

Find a rehab center near you

    Related articles
    american addiction centers photo
    The editorial staff of is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers . Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed thousands of pages for accuracy and relevance. Our reviewers consistently monitor the latest research from SAMHSA, NIDA, and other reputable sources to provide our readers the most accurate content on the web.