Last updated: 02/8/2019
Author: Addictions.com Medical Review
Reading Time: 3 minutes
Cocaine is a strong stimulant that has dramatic cocaine side effects on the central nervous system. Cocaine is abused in different ways including taking orally, sorting, smoking and injecting, all of which cause the drug to enter the bloodstream and take effect within seconds.
Crack cocaine is a crystallized form of cocaine mixed with other chemicals that is hardened into a rock-like object. When a person uses crack cocaine as their drug of choice, they smoke the rock in a pipe. When the rock is heated, it makes a cracking sound, which is why this form of cocaine is called ‘crack.’
Understanding the short-term and long-term effects of crack cocaine is important for a person thinking about using the drug, who is already addicted to the drug, or who is the a loved one of cocaine users.
Crack Cocaine Side Effects on the Brain
Since crack is smoked, the drug reaches a user’s brain incredibly quickly, stimulating the user’s reward system and rapidly increasing dopamine levels in their brain, which causes a potent rush of energy, confidence, and euphoria. This artificially high level of dopamine reinforces crack use as an important behavior, to be prioritized even over survival behaviors like eating and sleeping. When combined with a quickly developing tolerance that will drive the user to smoke larger and larger amounts of crack to feel the same effects, the user will easily become addicted within a short period.
Addiction is a chronic brain disease that will result in the user compulsively seeking out and using crack despite the terrible consequences that are happening because of their drug use.
Crack Cocaine Effects on the Body
Crack cocaine will have a variety of effects on a user’s body. First and foremost, the high begins seconds after the drug is inhaled and will last about 5 to 15 minutes. Effects of crack include hyperstimulation, euphoria, fever, and increased heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure. The unnatural increases in heart rate and blood pressure put enormous strain on the cardiovascular system, leading to heart and blood vessel damage. Crack also damages the immune system, making the user more vulnerable to disease.
Crack use will cause a user’s pupils to dilate and will make them restless and jumpy. As the high lasts a relatively short time, a person will keep repeatedly using to maintain their high, which can lead uncontrollable twitching movements known as “tweaking.” Using crack cocaine can cause a person to forget to eat and drink, resulting in malnutrition and rapid weight loss. Crack can cause the sensation of bugs crawling under the skin, which will lead users to pick at their skin until they have wounds, which can easily become infected. Crack abuse also causes users to lose sleep, which leads to a range of negative mental and physical consequences, including preventing the rest a person would need to recover from the damage being done throughout the brain and body.
Medical complications will soon develop from using crack. Heart attacks, strokes, and seizures may occur even after just one or two uses and can lead to coma and sudden death. This danger increases when the user combines alcohol with crack cocaine, which amplifies the cocaine side effects.
Long Term Effects of Crack Cocaine
Since crack cocaine is one of the most addicting drugs, it is often the hardest for a person to stop taking altogether. When a person keeps on using crack, their brain will trigger them to have tremendous cravings, causing them to want to take the drug more frequently and in higher doses. When the exposure is repeated, the brain will start to adapt, leading to an inability to feel pleasure from normal levels of dopamine. This causes a depression that can only be relieved by more crack.
When the user starts to smoke crack cocaine in “binges,” the drug will start to cause severe irritability, panic attacks, and paranoia. It is also common for the person to experience psychosis that causes them to lose touch with reality altogether. These psychotic episodes can easily reoccur with repeated crack use.
Once a user has quit crack cocaine, their chance of relapsing is higher than almost any other drug, as it takes a long time for the brain’s pleasure and reward center to heal and normalize. This is why professional help is critical for recovery from crack addiction, and why continued therapy and peer support meetings are essential for long term success.