Cocaine and Crack

Shlomo Hoffman
Medically Reviewed by
Dr. Jefferey A. Berman MD, DFASAM
Last Updated
March 9, 2023

Part of the complete guide to understanding addiction

Table of Contents
  1. What is Cocaine?
  2. What are Cocaine and Crack Called on the Street?
  3. Appearance, Smell, and Taste
  4. How are Cocaine and Crack Abused?
  5. How do Cocaine and Crack Work?
  6. Symptoms and Physical Consequences
  7. Overdose and Fatality Rates
  8. Detox Treatment
  9. Sources

What is Cocaine?

Cocaine, a derivative of the coca plant native to western South America, is a naturally occurring stimulant 1. The coca plant was traditionally used to overcome hunger, fatigue, and pain, as well as playing a primary role in Andean and Peruvian religious ceremonies.

German chemist Albert Neiman first isolated cocaine from the coca plant in 1859. It gained widespread acceptance in the medical community as an anesthetic some twenty years later, with Sigmund Freud as one of its chief proponents. Freud himself used the drug extensively and went as far as to call it a “magical” substance in his 1884 paper “Uber Coca” (“about coke”) 2 shortly before the appearance of coke in coca cola.

As use of cocaine grew and its harmful effects became increasingly evident, efforts began at the federal level to criminalize its sale and possession. By the 1950’s the cocaine battle was considered over, and its use faded to a niche background.

And then Hollywood made it relevant again.

Cocaine became associated with the entertainment community in the 70’s and gained renown as a “glamour drug” used and abused by the rich and famous. Although initially restricted to the party lifestyle of wealthy celebrities, due to prohibitive costs, it eventually trickled down to the general population. With the advent of crack – a base form of cocaine which is far cheaper to produce – it became accessible to even the impoverished. The American cocaine epidemic was underway, and has ebbed and flowed ever since. Recent statistics have shown rising coke abuse, leading some observers to sound the alarm on a modern-day cocaine resurgence.

Back to top

What are Cocaine and Crack Called on the Street?


  • Coke
  • Blow
  • Big C
  • Dust
  • Line
  • Rail
  • Snow
  • Powder
  • Stash
  • Pearl
  • Bump


  • Candy or rock candy
  • Base
  • Ball
  • Rocks
  • Nuggets
  • Grit
  • Hail
  • Dice
  • Sleet
  • Chemical
  • Tornado

Back to top

Appearance, Smell, and Taste

Cocaine is most commonly produced as a white-ish powdery substance. Many dealers will dilute cocaine with sugar or local anesthetics, both to increase profits and vary potency. Crack, on the other hand, comes in a rocklike form.

Coke has a natural floral fragrance, but smells metallic and bitter due to the chemicals used to extract it from the coca plant. Crack can smell like burnt plastic or rubber when smoked.

A cocaine abuser will often place the drug into their mouth not to taste-test, but to ascertain its level of purity. As mentioned, much of the cocaine on the market is “cut” to raise profit margins or lower potency 3.

Back to top

How are Cocaine and Crack Abused?

Cocaine is most commonly snorted or rubbed on the gums. It can also be dissolved in water and injected, or in the case of crack, smoked. When smoked, it reaches the brain in mere seconds and creates intense and instant euphoria, known as a “rush” in drug abuse parlance. Its “high” has a relatively short lifespan and can last less than 10 minutes.

When snorted or rubbed, cocaine’s journey to the brain is slower 4, and the euphoria it induces is milder and longer-lasting. Initially, it can cause increased energy and alertness and a reduced need for sleep. It will invariably lead to heightened irritability, paranoia, and many other debilitating repercussions.

A common sport in drug circles is that of combining cocaine with heroin. Known on the street as “speedballing”, this practice is particularly dangerous and consistently causes tragic outcomes.

In a desperate effort to maintain the rapidly cycling euphoria, the cocaine addict will binge while continuously increasing dosage levels. The crash comes hard on its heels and is characterized by complete mental and physical exhaustion and strong depression. Eventually, the crash runs its course, acute cravings follow, and the vicious cycle begins anew. Cocaine’s strong addictive properties have earned it its reputation as a hard drug.

Back to top

How do Cocaine and Crack Work?

Dopamine is a pleasure-inducing chemical naturally produced in the human body and transported throughout the brain via the nervous system. Among other things, it provides attraction and motivation towards activities which provide the reward of pleasure.

Cocaine triggers the release of dopamine to the brain at an unnatural speed and in abnormal quantities. This creates sudden feelings of euphoria and stimulation, and in turn triggers an intense physical craving to recreate that enormous overload of pleasure.

This drug raises the body’s tolerance and threshold for dopamine, causing it to require ever-higher levels of the chemical to reach euphoria, and eventually to just feel normal. In a cruel irony, cocaine heightens the level of dopamine necessary for basic living, while simultaneously inhibiting natural dopamine production. Particularly at times of abstinence, this causes severe depression.

The brain has now rewired its dopamine process and the user has moved from recreation to full-blown addiction.

Back to top

Symptoms and Physical Consequences

There are many signs of cocaine abuse which one can be alert for, especially if a loved one is struggling with Substance Use Disorder (SUD). They include:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Long periods of wakefulness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Overconfidence
  • Over-excitement
  • Paranoia
  • Runny nose or frequent sniffling
  • Depression
  • White powder around nostrils
  • Legal issues
  • Consistent absence or lateness to work
  • Financial problems
  • Mood swings
  • Irritability

Health-related side effects of cocaine abuse include increased risk of heart failure, stroke, severe migraines, lung damage, convulsions, seizures, and bowel decay. Additionally, it can harm the nerve receptors in the nose and result in a loss of the sense of smell if snorted regularly.

Learn more about Cocaine side effects

Back to top

Overdose and Fatality Rates

Overdose deaths involving cocaine continue to spiral upwards. The most recent statistics (May 2019) released by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported that in 2017 there were 13,942 cocaine-abuse linked deaths, a staggering increase of over 34% from just the year before. Fatality rates rose in every age, ethnic group and region in the United States. The most notable spike occurred in females aged 15 to 24.

A common and tragic drug-dealing practice is the lacing of cocaine with potent opioids such as Fentanyl. It has led to users ingesting substances without knowing what they contain, heavily contributing to the skyrocketing overdose numbers. Nearly three-quarters of cocaine-related deaths in 2017 involved an opioid combination.

Back to top

Risk Factors for Cocaine Addiction

Anyone can become addicted to cocaine at any stage of life. However, these factors can increase your chances of developing an addiction.

A. Genetics

If you have a family history of cocaine addiction, this puts you at a higher risk of developing it yourself. Or you can develop an “addictive personality” through your family experiences. For example, if your parents are alcoholic, you might choose not to drink but instead use other habit-forming substances, like cocaine.

B. Environment

On a related note, our environments also influence our addiction risk. Children and teens experiencing parental neglect or abuse are at a higher risk of using drugs to cope. Peer pressure can also result in addiction.

C. Age at First Use

Using cocaine at a young age can not only impair brain development but also lead to mental health disorders in adulthood. Compared to alcohol or marijuana, cocaine is already more addictive for adults, so the long-term health consequences for children are magnified.

Detox Treatment

Entering a detox facility is the first step for the cocaine user to get clean. Withdrawal can cause painful physical symptoms such as nausea, fever, altered heartbeat, depression and heightened stress levels. In some cases, hallucinations and extreme paranoia has been exhibited by recovering users. Understandably, it is imperative that detox be overseen by competent medical professionals.

Once the residual toxins of the drug have left the system, the addict must enter treatment. It is vital to investigate your options well and find a trustworthy rehab provider. Most health plans today cover treatment for drug rehabilitation; identify the facility that works best with you and for you.

The industry is rife with opportunistic, greedy merchants who view your loved one as a chance to make a quick buck. Keep your eyes open and ask questions; be wary of those offering a quick fix or a two-week vacation. Your loved one’s life is at stake.

To learn more about cocaine, including how much is a 8 ball of cocaine and what is pink cocaine, read our online resources.

Back to top






Back to top

Contact us or call now!
1- 888-683-0333
  • Hidden
  • Hidden
  • Hidden
  • Hidden
  • Hidden
  • By submitting this form. I am providing express written consent to contact me by SMS at the phone number provided.

Get help now

Call 24/7 888-683-0333

Enter your information below and one of our outreach coordinators will contact you immediately.

  • Hidden
  • Hidden
  • Hidden
  • Hidden
  • Hidden
  • By submitting this form. I am providing express written consent to contact me by SMS at the phone number provided.

I'm standing by
ready to help you

Brooke Abner,

Motivational Coach