The Difference Between Cocaine and Crack
A Bolivian man, interviewed by The Guardian had this to say about the coca plant: “What the Americans do not understand is that this leaf is a gift from mother Earth to our people, an ancient tradition. They do not understand its sacredness. They think it is all about drugs.” This man makes a valid point. While ancient cultures have chewed the leaves of the coca plant for centuries as a remedy for pain and as a gateway to the divine, chemists hoping to tap into the market for drugs in European countries have developed sophisticated methods that can strip the active ingredients out of coca leaves and create incredibly powerful drugs that can be snorted, injected or smoked. The two most popular forms of the drug, powdered cocaine and crack cocaine, start with the same coca leaves, but the production, use, effects and target markets of those two drugs are radically different.
A Cash Crop
Cocaine plants require hot and dry conditions, and the plants typically require at least one year of growth before they produce leaves that can be harvested. The United States doesn’t provide ideal settings for the growth of these plants, as the climate conditions aren’t ideal and law enforcement agents typically frown on large crops of drugs growing out in the open. Latin counties, on the other hand, do provide ideal growing conditions, and some countries have poor control over the drug-related activities that happen within their borders.
Mexico and Columbia provide the vast majority of cocaine that enters the United States, according to the National Drug Intelligence Center. Drug cartels plant huge crops of coca plants, carefully selecting varieties that are known to produce potent leaves in a short period of time. When those leaves reach maturity, manufacturers harvest the leaves and allow them to dry. It takes an astonishing amount of coca leaves in order to produce even a small amount of cocaine, so these drying facilities may be quite vast, and the facilities might be guarded around the clock to ensure that no theft takes place. When the leaves are dry, they’re soaked in a strong solution of water and acid, which can extract the active ingredient from the leaves. The sticky, tacky substance that remains at the end of this process can then be processed in one of two ways. One method produces powdered cocaine, and the other produces crack.
In order to produce powdered cocaine, manufacturers mix the cocaine paste they’ve extracted with a variety of chemicals, such as sulfuric acid, hydrochloric acid and potassium permanganate. The mixture must be tightly controlled, and steps are performed more than once, allowing impurities to be removed. The solvents used in the process can be expensive, and they can also be difficult to obtain and difficult to handle safely. When all goes well, a powdery substance forms, but this mixture must be dried in an oven or in a microwave. If manufacturers haven’t performed their steps just right, the powder can explode or catch fire. Overall, this process is extremely delicate and extremely expensive.
Crack cocaine is slightly easier to make, and it allows dealers to stretch a small amount of powdered cocaine into a large amount of a product that can be sold at a profit. These dealers combine powdered cocaine with water and baking soda, and apply heat to the mixture. Chemical reactions form, and the remaining product is soft and slightly off-white in color. As this product dries, it forms crystalline rocks. The drug gets its name from the cracking or popping sound it makes when it’s heated for smoking.
Common Uses and Prices
Powdered cocaine is typically sold by the ounce, and according to information released by the Clark County Prosecutor in Indiana, prices vary from $80 to $100 per gram. Dealers who want to increase their profits and make a small amount of cocaine stretch to even more consumers add less-expensive substances to their cocaine, such as:
- Talcum powder
The average user is rarely provided with the opportunity to test the purity of the purchase before the sale is complete, and since the drug is considered illegal, a user will have no legal recourse if the drugs purchased are impure or somehow tainted. These users usually take the drugs as soon as they’re purchased, typically by snorting the drugs into their nasal passages. Some users mix the drug with water and inject the pure cocaine into their veins.
Crack cocaine is typically smoked, and the process can be both smelly and dangerous. The user puts the tiny rocks of crack inside a pipe and places a small filter above those drugs. When the crystals are heated, they exude a vapor that the user then inhales. The vapor can be incredibly toxic, and many people who smoke crack cough, wheeze or even sneeze while they’re taking in the smoke from crack.
The U.S. Department of Justice reports that 1.2 million people reported using powdered cocaine in 2000, compared to 265,000 people who reported the use of crack cocaine. This means that roughly five times more people use powdered cocaine than crack cocaine. It’s hard to know why this specific preference is so prevalent, but it’s clear that powder has a strong appeal that the crystal version simply cannot match.
People who use powdered cocaine can come form all walks of life. The stereotypical powdered cocaine user is young, wealthy, white and a success in his/her career. This is the image that’s shown, over and over, in television shows and movies, and it seems to have stuck within the public consciousness as a result. There are plenty of other people who do not fit this description who use powdered cocaine, however. Young people, older people and low-income people might also use powdered cocaine.
Crack cocaine is typically abused by people who are young, and those who use other addictive drugs, according to research published in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse. Crack cocaine is also considered to be a major issue in urban areas, including major cities in which people live in very compact neighborhoods. In the 1990s, when crack cocaine use was on the rise all around the country, inner city neighborhoods were hit particularly hard by the epidemic, and vacant lots and empty buildings became holding places for people who were addicted to crack. These so-called “crack houses” often featured fetid air, choked with smoke, along with people who were unresponsive due to their use of the drug.
Law Enforcement Action
As crack cocaine use became more and more common in the 1990s, lawmakers passed a series of very strict laws that were designed to choke off the trade and remove the drug from the street. Even though more people were using powdered cocaine, rather than crack cocaine, lawmakers felt that crack was a simply more dangerous drug, as people who had abused crack were also more likely to commit crimes. In a review of the issue, PBS reports that defendants caught with 500 grams of powdered cocaine were handed down the same sentence as were people caught with only 5 grams of crack cocaine. Those laws were enacted in 1986, and weren’t amended until 2010. Now, the ratio between powder cocaine and crack cocaine stands at 18 to 1. That’s a huge improvement over the 100 to 1 ratio that stood on the books for so many years.
The law enforcement action in the future might be further amended as research continues to highlight the terrible damage that cocaine addictions can cause. It’s becoming more and more clear that people who abuse cocaine, especially people who smoke cocaine or inject the drug, endure so many chemical changes within their brains that they’re simply unable to stop abusing the drug without help. It becomes an issue of incapacity, rather than an issue of crime.
The Impact of Drug Use
Drugs that take effect quickly, and cause huge changes while they are in place, tend to rank higher on scales of addictiveness when compared to drugs that come on slowly and only cause the user a mild series of sensations. When put this way, powdered cocaine is more dangerous than crack cocaine. According to research in the Journal of the American Medical Association, when cocaine is smoked or injected, it has a greater abuse liability and a greater ability to cause dependence.
Cocaine works by travelling to the brain and interrupting the way the brain processes the neurotransmitter dopamine. Typically, a cell releases dopamine when something pleasurable is taking place.
Dopamine might flood the brain when the person:
- Eats chocolate cake
- Sees a laughing child
- Pets a beloved dog
- Hears a favorite song on the radio
In time, the brain begins to behave as though the amendments were simply normal and not unusual. Without access to cocaine, the brain might feel bereft.
An amended brain like this calls out for cocaine, and the person might feel completely unwilling or unable to stop abusing cocaine as a result.
The treatment programs for powdered cocaine and crack cocaine addictions are quite similar, as the type of damage caused by the two types of drugs is quite similar. The programs might provide different types of social support, however, as people who abuse crack cocaine might also have difficulty in finding safe housing and decent employment. Those who use powdered cocaine might have the same issues, of course, and those issues can lead to a relapse to drug use, but since crack cocaine is often tied to poverty, these social programs have an increased importance in crack rehab programs.
At The Canyon, we provide customized programs that can help people overcome addictions. We treat the whole person, not just the addiction, allowing people to develop a deeper understanding of the factors that led them to abuse drugs. With our help, you may be able to stop abusing drugs for good. Please call our toll-free line to speak to a counselor.