Crack cocaine, which is usually just shortened to crack, is a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant and a more powerful form of cocaine. Crack gets its nickname from the crackling sound it makes when heated and smoked.
Cocaine is often combined or laced with other substances and drugs in a process known as “cutting.” Drug manufacturers, suppliers, and dealers cut the drugs to stretch their cocaine supply and make more money. Because crack is just a differently processed form of cocaine, the fillers that cocaine is cut with also affect crack as well
Street cocaine and crack are almost never just that and can contain anything from caffeine and laxatives to arsenic and other lethal poisons. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the different substances used to cut crack and cocaine is equal to three times the weight of the drug itself, meaning there are more additives in a given dose of cocaine than actual cocaine.
How Is Crack Made?
There are many ways to take cocaine, and one of the most dangerous and addictive forms in which cocaine can be ingested is by smoking it, known as freebasing. Crack cocaine is a solid form of cocaine that is the most commonly used form of freebased cocaine. Crack is chemically the same as cocaine, just much more concentrated, which makes for a more potent and intense high.
Freebased cocaine is the result of converting cocaine powder to cocaine sulfate, which filters out additives and makes it almost completely pure, which, in turn, gives it a melting point low enough to no longer be water soluble, which is why users can smoke it.
Crack is made by taking cocaine in its powdered form and boiling it down in water and a binding agent, often baking soda, until it has solidified. At that point, it is broken into pieces, which are referred to as “crack rocks” that are heated and smoked.
Common Substances Used to Cut Crack and Cocaine
The substances used to cut cocaine and, by extension, crack, are as wide-ranging as they are dangerous.
Some substances are fillers that do not contribute any psychoactive effects to cocaine or crack but are mainly used for their visual and tactile similarity to cocaine as a means to stretch the product to be able to sell more. These include common household products such as:
- Laundry detergent
- Talcum powder
- Powdered milk
- Baking soda
While you obviously would not want some of these substances in your body, most are essentially harmless on their own. However, when mixed into cocaine, depending on how the drug is administered, they can have potentially lethal effects, especially in the form of crack cocaine.
As previously mentioned, crack is made by dissolving cocaine in water in a process that most commonly involves additives like baking soda and other powders listed above, such as cornstarch. However, some of these additives are not water soluble, which means that when someone smokes crack and the vapor gets inhaled into the lungs and then absorbed into the bloodstream, these filler substances can clump together to clog blood vessels and arteries, which can lead to blockages in the heart, liver, and brain.
Smoking crack that has been cut with these fillers can also cause a disorder called hypersensitivity pneumonitis, which is an inflammation of the lungs that can greatly decrease lung functioning.
Other times, drug dealers and manufacturers will cut crack and cocaine with other drugs to compensate for a lack of potency due to using other fillers, which also allows them to sell smaller doses. These drugs are also often cheaper or easier to obtain or manufacture than cocaine, especially fully synthetic substances like opioids, fentanyl and carfentanil, which are not only cheap but incredibly powerful.
Other drugs frequently used to cut crack and cocaine run the gamut from over-the-counter to prescription to illicit:
- >Creatine (a supplement used by bodybuilders and athletes)
- Quinine ( a medication used to treat malaria)
- Crystal meth
- Local anesthetics like Novocaine and lidocaine
Some of these drugs, such as caffeine and creatine are used because they are easy to obtain and carry similar, if much less potent, stimulant effects. Laxatives are used for the same reason as substances like flour and talcum powder, in that it looks like cocaine and has no added effects.
The reason local anesthetics are often used is that, like cocaine, they have a specific numbing effect. Anesthetics like lidocaine are a cheap way to give the impression that a given cut of cocaine is of a much higher quality and purity level than it actually is.
Lidocaine, in particular, is used so often that, according to a study of diverted dental anesthetics done by The American Dental Association (ADA), about 66 percent of seized cocaine samples contained lidocaine. The presence of lidocaine in cocaine or crack can lead to heart and nervous system failure as well as a potentially fatal overdose.
Meth and other amphetamines are used to increase potency, making a given dose of crack or cocaine much more dangerous, as an unaware user can experience a lethal overdose just by taking the amount they normally would.
This is even more likely in the case of fentanyl, which is 50-plus times more powerful than heroin and virtually undetectable in a given dose of cocaine. Between 2012 and 2016, overdose deaths involving cocaine in combination with synthetic opioids like fentanyl have increased by a factor of 23, largely due to the rising trend of cutting cocaine with fentanyl.
In comparison to the other substances used to cut crack and cocaine, poisons are, for the most part, relatively rarer. However, cutting cocaine with different poisons is still practiced and is incredibly deadly, to the point where someone can potentially die from a single hit.
Poisons used to cut cocaine and crack include:
- Boric acid
- Strychnine (rat poison)
- Levamisole (meant to kill parasites in animals)
Arsenic can be fatal if consumed in large enough amounts, and even in small doses, it can cause severe damage to blood vessels and blood cell production, as well as arrhythmia, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Boric acid is incredibly toxic and is mainly used in pesticides. It is also often added to cocaine as a means of amplifying the effects of cocaine. Strychnine, the main chemical used in rat poison, is used to cut cocaine for the same purpose as boric acid but also can magnify the negative effects associated with crack use, including agitation and panic attacks, as well as muscle spasms.
Levamisole is a “deworming” medication for cattle that is illegal in the United States because of its extremely high toxicity. In the past 10 years, there has been a significant rise in the use of levamisole as a cutting agent in crack and cocaine. In 2005, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reported finding levamisole in about 2 percent of all cocaine seized. By 2011, 73 percent of seized cocaine contained levamisole.