Cocaine is either snorted (sniffed), swallowed, injected, or smoked. Habitual snorting can result in serious damage to the nasal mucous membranes; shared needles put the user at increased risk of HIV infection. The street drug comes in the form of a white powder, cocaine hydrochloride. The hydrochloride salt and the cutting agents are removed to create the pure base product "freebase." Freebase is smoked and reaches the brain in seconds. "Crack" cocaine, also called "rock," is a form of freebase that comes in small lumps and makes a crackling sound when heated. It is relatively inexpensive, but must be repeated often.
Crack cocaine magnifies the effects of cocaine and is considered to be more highly and more quickly addictive than snorted cocaine. It causes a very abrupt increase in heart rate and blood pressure that can lead to heart attack and stroke even in young people with no history of vascular disease, sometimes the first time the drug is used. It also crosses the placental barrier; babies born to crack-addicted mothers go through withdrawal and are at a higher risk of stroke, cerebral palsy, and other birth defects.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.