Crack Cocaine’s Effect on the Brain

Cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant extracted from the leaf of the Erthroxylum coca plant. Crack is a crude form of freebase cocaine and is derived from cocaine powder (hydrochloride salt) through a simple, but dangerous chemical process usually performed in illegal, homemade laboratories.

Crack derives its name from the sound it makes when heated to release mind and mood altering vapors, which are ‘smoked’ by inhaling them through small tubes, bottles, pipes, and other devices. Crack is the fastest acting and most addictive form of cocaine, and since there is no accepted medical use for the drug, manufacturing, marketing, and using are criminal offenses in the United States and many other countries.

How does Crack Cocaine Affect the Body?

Cocaine works on the pleasure centers of the brain, particularly as a reuptake inhibiter of the neurotransmitters norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine. Several antidepressants are serotonin reuptake inhibiters (Zoloft), and some slow the reuptake of both serotonin and norepinephrine (Effexor, Prestiq). However, cocaine’s effects are much stronger and more pronounced, causing an elevated sense of well-being.

Dopamine is released by the brain in response to pleasurable stimuli. It circulates through the appropriate body systems, then is retrieved by the neuron that released it, ending the pleasure effect. Cocaine interrupts this retrieval process, leaving large quantities of dopamine floating between neurons and sending an overload of mixed emotional and physical signals to the body, creating an overwhelming feeling of euphoria.

What are the Physical Effects of Crack Cocaine?

Cocaine-induced euphoria can last from minutes to a few hours, depending on how fast the drug reaches the bloodstream and the brain. Fast, strong hits are desired; however, the faster the ‘hit’, and the stronger the effects, the shorter the duration of the ‘high.’ To maintain the euphoria, abusers tend to ‘binge,’ that is, they repeatedly take increasingly higher doses of the drug as soon as the high passes its peak. This process is harmful to the body and can lead to a heart attack, overdose, and even death.

The euphoric high of cocaine/crack must eventually be interrupted, as the user must, at least for awhile, stop using the drug in order to eat, drink, physically function, and to allow the body to reset so the chemical can continue stimulating the brain. Stopping or slowing the intake of cocaine/crack initiates distressful withdrawal symptoms.

What does Crack Withdrawal Feel Like?

Crashing causes anxiety, depression, irritability, anhedonia (the inability to experience pleasure), and extreme fatigue. Abusers/users often take heroin or other drugs to minimize the extreme distress of crashing, thereby creating a different set of physical, mental, and emotional problems.

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