Crack and cocaine are highly addictive stimulant drugs that are derived from the coca plant found in South America. Both drugs affect how the brain responds to dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for feeling pleasure and contentment. Instead of simply accepting and processing the dopamine, cocaine and crack cause a build-up of dopamine in the brain that causes the characteristic, euphoric high. Over time, larger amounts of cocaine are required to release enough dopamine to elicit the same high.

Cocaine hydrochloride is the chemical extracted from the leaves of the coca plant and is used to form the base of both cocaine and crack. Because they have the same base ingredient, they share many of the same short-term side effects such as euphoria, increased energy, mental alertness, anxiety, and paranoia. These sensations are produced in the brain’s reward system pathway and their short-term effects create a high potential for abuse and addiction.

Crack and Cocaine Statistics

The United Nations Drug Report estimates that there are 20 million cocaine users worldwide. Regarding the scope of cocaine use in the United States, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported 5.9 million people admitted to using cocaine in 2017.

The 2017 National Drug Threat Assessment reports that current estimated cocaine production is at the highest level ever reported. The widespread use of crack and cocaine not only represents a serious public health problem, it also indicates the need for education on these two drugs, their key differences, and inherent dangers.

Is Crack Worse Than Cocaine?

Although certain populations of South Americans have been chewing on the leaves of the coca plant for over 4,000 years, the active ingredient was only introduced to the United States in the 1900s. Its use in tonics, elixirs, toothache drops and even in the early formulation of Coca-Cola exemplified the public’s lack of knowledge concerning this powerfully addictive substance. Now known to negatively alter the brain’s structure, cocaine is classified by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration a Schedule II drug, only legally administered by a physician for certain procedures. Its recreational use is considered a crime.

A common perception is that cocaine is better or safer to use than crack is. This view is evident based on the numbers of people willing to try the drug from a 2017 SAMHSA report:

  • Cocaine: 40.6 million individuals admitted to at least one use
  • Crack: 9.6 million individuals admitted to at least one use

The perception is reinforced by the penalties associated with the two drugs. Crack-possession penalties are more severe than cocaine-possession penalties, with a ratio of 18 to 1. This imbalance means that 28 grams of crack will receive the same sentence as 500 grams of powdered cocaine. The disparity is highly controversial and often attributed to racial and economic bias rather than the relative harm of crack versus cocaine.

Regardless of how many people use which drug and what the penalties are for doing so, the truth of the matter is that both drugs are illegal, dangerous and highly addictive. Overdosing is a risk people take when they chose to use crack or cocaine.

Key Differences Between Crack and Cocaine

Making cocaine from coca leaves is a lengthy process requiring either a solvent, such as kerosene or acid, to extract the cocaine from the leaves. Once the cocaine is separated from the leaves it is then processed further to remove impurities and dried into a powder form known as cocaine hydrochloride, the basic street-form of cocaine. Crack comes from further processing of the cocaine. While the drugs are similar in their origination, there are some key differences between the two.


This powdered, water-soluble form of cocaine can be snorted, rubbed on the gums or dissolved in water and injected directly into the veins. Some street dealers cut the cocaine hydrochloride with another white substance such as talcum powder, cornstarch, flour or baking soda to increase their profits. According to the 2016 Drug Enforcement Administration report, a pure gram of cocaine was listed at $141 USD, while street prices for cocaine are around $93 per gram.

Depending on the route of administration, the effects of cocaine can set in quickly. After snorting the drug, the effects can be felt within 3 to 5 minutes with a high lasting for 15 to 30 minutes. When the powdered form of cocaine is injected intravenously, the high can be felt within 15 to 30 seconds.


Crack is made when cocaine hydrochloride powder is dissolved in water then mixed with baking soda. This mixture is then heated to remove the hydrochloride leaving behind a concentrated form of cocaine. This results in small, white, irregularly shaped rocks. Sold on the streets, the size of the rocks can vary but usually are around one-tenth to one-half of a gram. Rocks can sell for anywhere from $3 to $50 depending on the size.

When crack is smoked, the vapor is inhaled into the lungs and enters the bloodstream almost as quickly as the injected form of cocaine. Crack derives its name from the crackling sound it makes when smoked. The almost instantaneous high can last anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes.

Dangers of Mixing Crack and Cocaine

If someone were to inject or snort cocaine and smoke crack at the same time, the onset of symptoms would overlap and increase the chances of an overdose occurring.

The effects of each drug are intense, and in many cases, unpredictable. Both cocaine and crack are often cut with other substances, which can dramatically increase the risk of accidental overdose. Other dangerous potential side effects include:

  • Cardiac arrhythmias
  • Increased blood pressure and heart rate
  • Restlessness, irritability, anxiety, paranoia
  • Stroke
  • Insomnia
  • Sudden cardiac arrest
  • Seizures
  • Depression

Key Points: Crack and Cocaine

Crack and cocaine are two dangerous substances that, while similar, have their differences. Consider the following key points when comparing crack and cocaine:

  • Both crack and cocaine are derived from the coca plant
  • The United States Drug Enforcement Administration classifies cocaine and crack cocaine as Schedule II substances
  • Cocaine is generally more expensive than crack
  • More people admit to using cocaine than admit to using crack
  • The high from cocaine typically lasts longer than the high from crack lasts

If you or someone you know struggles with cocaine or crack use, reach out to The Recovery Village. Call today to speak with a representative who can help you find the treatment that works for you. Begin your healthier future today.

Richards, J.R., Le, J.K. “Cocaine Toxicity.” Stat Pearls, January 2019. Accessed April 28, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What is Cocaine?” May 2016. Accessed April 28, 2019.

SAMHSA. “Results from the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables.” September 7, 2018. Accessed April 28, 2019.

DEA Intelligence Report. “2016 National Drug Price and Purity Data.” July 2018. Accessed April 28, 2019.

Walker, L.S., Mezuk, B. “Mandatory minimum sentencing policies and cocaine use in the U.S., 1985-2013.” BMC International Health and Human Rights, November 29, 2018. Accessed April 28, 2019.

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. “Heroin and cocaine prices in Europe and USA.” 2016. Accessed April 28, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What are the short-term effects of cocaine use?” May 2016. Accessed April 28, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “How is cocaine used?” May 2016. Accessed April 28, 2019.

United States Drug Enforcement Administration. “Cocaine.” Accessed April 28, 2019. 

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