Cocaine is classified as a stimulant drug, meaning it increases energy and alertness while also creating intense feelings of happiness. It comes in two forms: a hydrochloride salt, which is the powdered version that people snort, and a base form. People can turn this base form into “crack,” a smokable form of cocaine. Crack is created by dissolving the base form in water, mixing it with baking soda or ammonia and heating it. 

Smoking cocaine can give the user a powerful high, but it can be more addictive, more dangerous and more risky than snorting cocaine (which is already a highly risky behavior). 

Differences between smoking and snorting cocaine

When smoked, cocaine gives one of the most powerful highs. However, it’s also one of the most dangerous ways to abuse this drug.

Faster drug absorption rates

Smoked cocaine enters the bloodstream through the lungs very quickly. By passing through the membrane of the lungs, cocaine can reach the brain within just a few seconds. This makes smoking cocaine more addictive than snorting it — the more rapid the onset of a high, the more addictive the drug typically is. 

Short-lived high & risk of overdose

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the high from smoking crack cocaine tends to last just 5 to 10 minutes. This means that people may smoke crack over and over in order to maintain the intense and pleasurable high. Some people report becoming addicted after smoking cocaine only one time. 

On the other hand, the high from snorting cocaine lasts about three times as long (15 to 30 minutes). This means that people are more likely to binge when smoking crack cocaine as opposed to snorting it, as they want to avoid “coming down” and experiencing negative effects like fatigue and depression. This cycle of binging when smoking cocaine can increase the risk of toxicity and overdose.

Physical Effects of Smoking Crack

Beyond being addictive, there are also risks associated with the damage cocaine can cause to the lungs and the arteries. Smoking crack cocaine increases the risk of pneumonia, asthma and respiratory distress. 

Additionally, cocaine use in general is associated with irregular heart rate, elevated blood pressure and even heart attack. Regardless of whether the cocaine is smoked, snorted or injected, it can cause these negative side effects. Given the fact that crack cocaine users may smoke large quantities of the drug to stay high, these risks are elevated along with the risk of overdose. These risks are further amplified because cocaine is almost always cut with other substances, some of which are highly toxic. When these substances are introduced to the lungs and blood vessels, they can cause blockages and damage throughout the body.

Long-term effects of using cocaine can include malnutrition, a higher risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, paranoia and long-lasting psychological symptoms. There’s also the possibility of developing cocaine psychosis. This is most likely to occur in heavy or long-term users of the drug. When someone is experiencing cocaine psychosis, they may lose touch with reality, become aggressive and violent or experience hallucinations and paranoia

Summing Up

Cocaine is always dangerous, but smoking cocaine tends to be even more dangerous than snorting the powder form of the drug. Smoked cocaine goes straight from the lungs to the heart and brain, causing a rapid and extremely addictive effect. Even smoking cocaine once can lead to addiction, adding to the risks.

If you or a loved one struggle with cocaine addiction or are using cocaine recreationally and want to stop, it’s time to seek professional help. The Recovery Village provides care to those struggling with addiction to cocaine or other drugs. Reach out to one of our knowledgeable representatives today to learn how you can start on your path to recovery.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.