Drug Facts - Crack


Pure cocaine was first used in the 1880s as a local anesthetic in eye, nose, and throat surgeries because of its ability to provide anesthesia as well as to constrict blood vessels and limit bleeding. Many of its therapeutic applications are now obsolete due to the development of safer drugs.

Approximately 100 years after cocaine entered into use, a new variation of the substance emerged. This substance, crack, became enormously popular in the mid-1980s due in part to its almost immediate high and the fact that it is inexpensive to produce and buy.

Cocaine is a powerfully addictive stimulant drug. The powdered, hydrochloride salt form of the drug can be snorted or dissolved in water and injected. Crack is cocaine that has not been neutralized by an acid to make the hydrochlorida salt. This form of cocaine comes in a rock crystal that can be heated and its vapors smoked. The term "crack" comes from the crackling sound made when it is heated.

Extent of Use

According to the 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), approximately 8.4 million Americans aged 12 or older reported trying crack cocaine at least once during their lifetimes, representing 3.4% of the population aged 12 or older. Additional 2008 NSDUH data indicate that approximately 1.1 million (0.4%) reported past year crack cocaine use and 359,000 (0.1%) reported past month crack cocaine use.

Results of the 2008 Monitoring the Future survey indicate that 2.1% of eighth graders, 2.3% of tenth graders, and 3.2% of twelfth graders reported lifetime use of crack cocaine. In 2006, these percentages were 2.3%, 2.2%, and 3.5%, respectively.

Approximately 67.9% of eighth graders, 76.5% of tenth graders, and 65.2% of twelfth graders surveyed in 2008 reported that taking crack cocaine occasionally was a "great risk."

Approximately 1.3% of college students and 3.9% of young adults (ages 19-28) surveyed in 2007 reported lifetime use of crack cocaine.

Health Effects

Cocaine is a strong central nervous system stimulant. Physical effects of cocaine use, including crack use, include constricted blood vessels and increased temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure. Users may also experience feelings of restlessness, irritability, and anxiety.

In addition to the usual risks associated with cocaine use, crack users may experience acute respiratory problems, including coughing, shortness of breath, lung trauma, and bleeding. Crack cocaine smoking also can cause aggressive and paranoid behavior.

The duration of cocaine's immediate euphoric effects depends upon the route of administration. The faster the absorption, the more intense the high. Also, the faster the absorption, the shorter the duration of action. The high from snorting is relatively slow in onset, and may last 15 to 30 minutes, while that from smoking may last 5 to 10 minutes. Smoking crack delivers large quantities of the drug to the lungs, producing effects comparable to intravenous injection. These effects are felt almost immediately after smoking, are very intense, but do not last long.

Cocaine is a powerfully addictive drug. A tolerance to the cocaine high may be developed and many addicts report that they fail to achieve as much pleasure as they did from their first cocaine exposure.

Of an estimated 113 million emergency department (ED) visits in the U.S. during 2006, the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) estimates that 1,742,887 were drug-related. DAWN data indicate that marijuana was involved in 290,563 ED visits.


From 1997 to 2007, the number of admissions to treatment in which crack was the primary drug of abuse decreased from 174,900 in 1997 to 167,914 in 2007. The average age of those admitted to treatment for crack cocaine during 2007 was 39 years.

Arrests & Sentencing

During FY 2004, cocaine was the primary drug involved in Federal drug arrests. There were 12,166 Federal drug arrests for cocaine in FY 2004. The DEA made 7,082 arrests for powder cocaine and 3,921 arrests for crack cocaine during FY 2004.

During FY 2008, there were 6,168 Federal defendants sentenced for crack cocaine-related charges in U.S. Courts. Approximately 95.9% of these cases involved crack cocaine trafficking. Approximately 0.5% of the crack cocaine cases involved simple possession.

The Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM) II program is designed to gather information on drug use and related matters from adult male offenders within 48 hours of arrest. ADAM II serves as a critical source of data for estimating trends in drug use in local areas, understanding the relationship between drugs and crime, and describing drug market activity in the adult male arrestee population in 10 U.S. sites during 2008. ADAM II self-report data indicate that crack cocaine use is highest in Atlanta and Chicago where approximately 23% of arrestees admit prior 30-day use and lowest in New York where approximately 7% of arrestees admit to prior 30-day use.

Production & Trafficking

Crack is cocaine that has been processed from cocaine hydrochloride to a free base for smoking. Crack cocaine is processed with ammonia or sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and water. It is then heated to remove the hydrochloride producing a form of cocaine that can be smoked.


Cocaine (all forms) was first Federally-regulated in December 1914 with the passage of the Harrison Act. This Act banned the non-medical use of cocaine; prohibited its importation; imposed the same criminal penalties for cocaine users as for opium, morphine, and heroin users; and required a strict accounting of medical prescriptions for cocaine. As a result of the Harrison Act and the emergence of cheaper, legal substances such as amphetamines, cocaine became scarce in the U.S. However, use began to rise again in the 1960s, prompting Congress to classify it as a Schedule II substance in 1970.

Schedule II substances have a high potential for abuse, a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States with severe restrictions, and may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence. While cocaine can currently be administered by a doctor for legitimate medical uses, such as a local anesthetic for some eye, ear, and throat surgeries, there are currently no medical uses for crack cocaine.

Street Terms
Common Terms Associated with Crack:

Term Definition
Bingers Crack addicts
Oolies Marijuana laced with crack
Geeker Crack user
Rooster Crack
Jelly beans Crack
Tornado Crack
Moonrock Crack mixed with heroin
Wicky stick PCP, marijuana, and crack

Taken from the Office of National Drug Control Policy Website.