One drug that we rarely see in Australia is crack. With our steady diet of American movies and television, the term crack has become part of our vocabulary but in actual fact it is a drug that we hardly ever use. Currently in the UK they are experiencing great problems with this drug as there appears to be a greater supply and the price is dropping, thus making it accessible to a wider group.
Pure cocaine was first used in the 1880s as a local anaesthetic in eye, nose, and throat surgeries because of its ability to provide anaesthesia 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 USA in the mid-1980s due in part to its almost immediate high and the fact that it is inexpensive to produce and buy. Crack is a highly addictive form of cocaine that is typically smoked.
Crack cocaine, a form of cocaine base, is derived from powder cocaine. Unlike the processing of freebase cocaine, converting powder cocaine into crack cocaine does not involve any flammable solvents. The powder cocaine is simply dissolved in a solution of sodium bicarbonate and water. The solution is boiled and a solid substance separates from the boiling mixture. This solid substance, crack, is removed and allowed to dry. The crack cocaine is then broken or cut into rocks, each typically weighing from one-tenth to one-half of a gram. One gram of pure powder cocaine will convert to approximately 0.89 grams of crack cocaine. This is believed to be why we rarely see this drug in Australia, i.e. when you manufacture crack, you actually lose some of the cocaine. As we do not have a surplus of cocaine, manufacturers are not prepared to wear the waste and as a result crack is rarely, if ever, made.
Interestingly, the term crack refers to the crackling sound heard when the substance is heated, presumably from the sodium bicarbonate that is used in the production of crack.
Cocaine is a strong central nervous system stimulant. Physical effects of cocaine use, including crack, include constricted blood vessels and increased temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure. Users may also experience feelings of restlessness, irritability, and anxiety.
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. For example, the high from smoking cocaine may last from 5 to 10 minutes, while the high from snorting the drug can last for 15 to 20 minutes.
Evidence suggests that users who smoke or inject cocaine may be at even greater risk of causing harm to themselves than those who snort the substance. Cocaine smokers may suffer from acute respiratory problems including coughing, shortness of breath, and severe chest pains with lung trauma and bleeding.
Smoking crack cocaine can also cause particularly aggressive paranoid behaviour in users.