Meet Cocaine and Her Wicked Step-Child, Crack

Do you know what makes crack different from cocaine?

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.

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