WHAT IS COCAINE?
Cocaine is a stimulant drug with a long history of use. As a naturally-occurring chemical found in the leaves of the South American coca plant, it has been used by ancient civilizations for its euphoric, stimulating and numbing effects for centuries. When the Europeans arrived in South America, they too recognized the medicinal and recreational value of the coca plant and began experimenting with the substance. Chemists were eventually able to isolate the active ingredients and create high purity cocaine, acclaimed as a “wonder drug” before its addictive properties were fully understood. It was used in everything from eye drops to toothache medicine and even included in early formulations of Coca Cola. As recreational use of cocaine rose in the early 20th century and it became clear that the drug was highly addictive, non-medical use was banned in 1914. Despite being outlawed, cocaine use continued and was often glamorized. Its popularity peaked in the 1970s and soon after, crack cocaine emerged, becoming prominent in low-income areas and creating an epidemic that left many neighborhoods devastated.
Today, cocaine remains one of the world’s most abused drugs. In 2017, the United Nations reported that approximately 17 million people across the globe had used cocaine within the past year. Cocaine’s high potential for abuse and addiction puts many of these individuals at risk of developing a substance use disorder, which becomes increasingly harder to overcome as time goes on.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN COCAINE AND CRACK?
Cocaine and crack are different types of the same drug. Chemically speaking, powdered cocaine occurs as a salt: cocaine hydrochloride. In this form, it’s ideal for snorting because it is water-soluble and readily absorbed through mucous membranes. It vaporizes at very high temperatures, however, making it unsuitable for smoking. Crack cocaine is cocaine converted into a base so that it can be smoked, usually by adding baking soda. It resembles a rock-like structure and crackles when heated, giving the drug its name. Both forms of cocaine affect dopamine in the brain and trigger the reward pathways associated with addiction, but crack enters the bloodstream much more rapidly. This produces an intense, short-lived high that encourages frequent re-dosing and increases its addictive potential.