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Effects of Crack Cocaine

Effects of Crack Use

The term “crack” refers to cocaine that has been processed with baking soda or ammonia to produce a “rock” form that can be smoked.1

Crack cocaine is a powerful central nervous system stimulant that can result in euphoria, heightened energy, increased breathing and heart rate, aggressive and paranoid behavior, and a rapid build-up of tolerance. It has a very high abuse and addiction potential.1

What Happens When You Smoke Crack?

The effects of smoking crack can be felt almost immediately and last between 5 and 15 minutes.1 Because the effects wear off so quickly, many users crave more of the drug, which can result in a dangerous pattern of abuse and, ultimately, addiction.

The crack effects that a user may experience will vary based on the individual’s tolerance to the drug, their physical condition, and the purity of the batch. It is even possible for a first-time user to overdose on crack.

What Are the Effects of Crack Cocaine on the Brain?

Crack exerts its effects, in part, by affecting dopamine, a brain chemical related to pleasure, movement, and reward.1 Crack increases the amount of dopamine in the brain by blocking its reabsorption.3

Crack exerts its stimulant effects by inhibiting catecholamine reuptake. 5

Some evidence shows that cocaine use, including crack use, can cause neuronal cell death, leading to brain damage.2

Further, the dopamine reward system in a user’s brain can be severely altered due to crack abuse.3

Short-Term Effects

The increased activity of several neurotransmitters – including dopamine – contributes to crack’s short-term effects, which include:1, 3

  • Euphoria.
  • Mental alertness.
  • Increased talking and extroversion.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Reduced need for sleep.

Side Effects

Central nervous stimulation involves increases in various life-sustaining processes like heart rate and blood pressure. Crack side effects reflect the danger of this stimulation as these processes are taken to extremes, which can lead to cardiovascular dangers and, in rare cases, sudden death.1

Crack side effects can include:1, 3

  • Dilated pupils.
  • Constricted blood vessels.
  • Rapid heartbeat.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Anxiety.
  • Paranoia.
  • Depression.
  • Aggression.
  • Sudden death (you can overdose the first time you use crack).

Long-Term Effects

As a person falls into a pattern of crack abuse and uses the drug over long periods of time, they may become dependent on the drug to avoid withdrawal and feel “normal.” The development of crack dependence can further lead to the development of crack addiction, which can affect a user’s entire life as well as the lives of those that care about them.

Crack can have a damaging impact on the user’s cardiovascular system, mental health, sense of pleasure, and control over their own movement.3

The long-term effects of crack can include:1, 3

  • Preoccupation with obtaining and using crack cocaine.
  • Failure to meet responsibilities at home, work, or school.
  • Psychosis.
  • Mood disturbances.
  • Reproductive damage.
  • Sexual dysfunction.
  • Stroke.
  • Respiratory failure.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Heart attack.
  • Heart disease.
  • Seizures.
  • Tolerance.
  • Increased risk for developing Parkinson’s disease.4
  • Withdrawal.



Get Help for Crack Addiction

Has crack cocaine use affected you or someone you love? It’s never too late to get help and stop the cycle of abuse and suffering.

If you are ready to recover from crack abuse, dependence, or addiction, call to discuss treatment options and get the assistance you need to recover.

[1]. University of Maryland Center for Substance Abuse Research. (2013). Crack Cocaine.

[2]. Guha, P., Harraz, M. M., & Snyder, S. H. (2016). Cocaine elicits autophagic cytotoxicity via a nitric oxide-GAPDH signaling cascade. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(5), 1417-1422.

[3]. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). DrugFacts: Cocaine.

[4]. Lloyd, S., Faherty, C., & Smeyne, R. (2006). Adult and in utero exposure to cocaine alters sensitivity to the Parkinsonian toxin 1-methyl-4-phenyll-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine. Neuroscience, 137(3). 905-13.

[5]. Schwartz, B., Rezkalla, S., and Kloner, R. (2010). Cardiovascular Effects of Cocaine. Circulation 122:2558-2569.