What is the Difference Between Crack and Cocaine?

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Crack and cocaine are almost chemically identical. Both drugs are dangerous due to dependence, overdose, and death risks. However, there are some apparent differences between both substances.

If you or someone you love has been struggling with cocaine addiction, Guardian Recovery is available to help. We offer multiple levels of clinical care, from medical detox through intensive outpatient treatment and aftercare. Because cocaine addiction is not a one-size-fits-all medical condition, the most appropriate progression of addiction treatment looks different for each client. We are standing by to help you determine which recovery program best fits you and your unique needs.

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Crack vs. Cocaine

Although crack and cocaine may look different to the naked eye, they are almost identical on a chemical level. Cocaine is generally a white powder, while crack is most frequently found in a crystalized rock form. In addition, there are some differences in how each drug is taken. Cocaine can be snorted, gummed, smoked, or injected, and crack can only be smoked. Because there are many forms of using cocaine, it is often more expensive than crack.

There are some differences in societal stigmas between crack and cocaine. Because crack is less expensive than cocaine, it is associated with a lower socioeconomic status. Further, according to the National Library of Medicine, crack users are at a higher risk of arrest, and racial minorities are at low risk for powder cocaine use but are found to use crack more frequently. Higher education and higher family income were negatively associated with crack use, although they were sometimes risk factors for cocaine use.

How Are Crack & Cocaine Visually Different?

As mentioned previously, crack and cocaine are chemically identical. Cocaine, sometimes called “coke,” is made from a South American plant known as the coca plant. It is a white powder that is primarily used to snort for use. Crack is cocaine processed into a crystalized rock with baking soda or ammonia. Both drugs are dangerous stimulants that are highly addictive.

Chemical Makeup of Cocaine & Crack

Cocaine is extracted from the coca plant leaves found in South America. The molecular compound for cocaine is C17H21NO4. Cocaine was originally used as a local anesthetic. However, it has been discontinued due to its highly addictive qualities. Crack cocaine is produced by dissolving cocaine hydrochloride in sodium bicarbonate and water over high heat.

Purity, Additives, & Cutting Agents

Cocaine is dangerous on its own; however, buying cocaine from drug dealers can increase the risk as it is often cut with other agents to increase profits. Why is this dangerous? Because there is no ability to know what the drug is cut with, the consequences of using unknown substances can lead to overdose or sudden death.

Most cocaine purchased on the streets is cut with other drugs or substances. In 2017, the DEA reported the average purity level of seized cocaine was only 61.5%.

There are several different substances people use to cut cocaine. Examples include laxatives, caffeine, creatine, and laundry detergent. It is also possible drug dealers may decide to cut cocaine with other drugs such as marijuana, heroin, LSD, and PCP. This is dangerous as it can heighten cocaine’s effects or increase the likelihood of an overdose.

Price Differences Between Cocaine & Crack

It was widely believed that crack is less expensive than cocaine. This theory has been used to explain why crack was a worsening problem in the 1980s.  It was confirmed that crack is neither more nor less expensive than cocaine, which has been found true across cities in the US and over time.

Availability & Addiction Demographics

The rates of crack and cocaine use have fluctuated over the years. According to research, variables that impacted crack versus powder cocaine use included income, family religion, parent level of education, demographic, and residing with one versus two parents in the home.

Over the past decade, population levels of powder and crack cocaine use appear to have declined. In 2011 cocaine use among adults 18-25 decreased from 2.5% to 1.4%. Crack use within the year reduced from 1 million users to 67,000. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), there were 1.4 million current powder and crack cocaine users in 2011, ages 12 and older, in the US.

Crack & Cocaine Distribution & Prison Sentencing

In 2010, The Fair Sentencing Act reduced the crack-powder disparity in sentencing from 100:1 to 18:1. Lawmakers acknowledged that crack cocaine is no more dangerous than powder cocaine and is not more likely to cause a violent crime. Additionally, lengthy prison sentences for crack disproportionately affect people of color.

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Are the Effects of Crack & Cocaine The Same?

The effects of crack and cocaine are primarily the same. Both drugs are highly addictive, can quickly lead to overdose and sudden death, and can cause severe side effects if used. Adverse reactions to crack and powder cocaine include fetal dependency and birth complications, neurological and psychiatric problems, and pulmonary and cardiac problems. Two responses related to crack alone are lung infiltrates and bronchospasm.

Is Crack More Addictive Than Cocaine?

Because crack and cocaine are chemically identical, they are both equally addictive. Both drugs are dangerous and can cause severe side effects and sudden death. The faster a drug reaches the bloodstream and brain, the more rewarding and addictive the drug can be. Smoking may lead to a faster and more intense high than snorting cocaine. However, If a person smokes or injects cocaine into their bloodstream, it is the same as smoking crack cocaine.

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At Guardian Recovery, we remain dedicated to providing our clients with a comprehensive program of cocaine detox — one that focuses on much more than physical stabilization. In addition to emphasizing physical recovery, we tackle mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. While we prioritize a safe and pain-free cocaine withdrawal, we offer individualgroup, and family therapy sessions, case management services, relapse prevention training, and aftercare planning.

Contact us today if you or your loved one is ready to begin an entirely new way of life and commit to long-term recovery. As soon as you call, we start developing a plan of action that begins with an initial pre-assessment. This assessment helps us determine which level of care is the most appropriate for each unique case. We identify potential coverage options if our medically monitored detox program is a good fit. We work closely with most major regional and national insurance providers. Contact us today for a free, no-obligation insurance benefit check.


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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4533860/
  2. https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Cocaine
  3. https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.dea.gov%2Fsites%2Fdefault%2Ffiles%2F2020-01%2F2019-NDTA-final-01-14-2020_Low_Web-DIR-007-20_2019.pdf
  4. https://europepmc.org/article/med/9519487
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5066573/
  6. https://www.ussc.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/research-and-publications/backgrounders/profile_FSA_2010.pdf
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2038981/

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave


Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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