13 May The Health Effects of Powdered Cocaine Vs. the Health Effects of Crack Cocaine
Cocaine is an addictive stimulant produced mainly in the northern portions of South America and shipped illegally to the US and other countries throughout the world. Cocaine manufacturers typically ship the drug in a powdered form known as cocaine hydrochloride. Through a specific chemical process, drug distributors sometimes turn this powdered substance into another rock-like substance commonly known as “crack” or crack cocaine. While all cocaine produces roughly the same basic mind-altering effects inside the brain, cocaine hydrochloride and crack cocaine have a variety of different secondary effects that produce distinctive changes in human health.
Among chemists, the formal name for cocaine is benzoylmethylecgonine. When manufacturers refine the drug from coca leaves, the end product also contains a substance called hydrochloride. In its powdered form, cocaine hydrochloride can enter the body through direct contact with mucus membranes inside the nose, or through contact with similar membranes located at other body orifices. This form of the drug can also be swallowed or dissolved and injected into a vein. Crack cocaine is made by using baking soda to remove the hydrochloride content of powdered cocaine. This process produces smokable, rock-like nuggets that crackle or “crack” when heated. The smoke from this form of cocaine enters the body through the same lung pathways used for breathing in oxygen.
Speed of Absorption and Length of Effect
The body absorbs and uses crack cocaine and cocaine hydrochloride at significantly different speeds. According to Medscape Reference, the euphoric effects of crack cocaine take roughly seven seconds to appear and reach their peak of intensity in about one to five minutes. The second fastest form of cocaine is injected cocaine hydrochloride, which takes about 15 seconds to produce its initial effects and reaches peak intensity in approximately three to five minutes. Nasally inhaled cocaine takes effect in roughly three minutes and reaches its maximum intensity in approximately 15 minutes. Swallowed cocaine produces its first euphoric effects in about 10 minutes and reaches its peak effects in roughly an hour.
The euphoric effects of various forms of cocaine also last for different amounts of time. Crack cocaine has the shortest overall duration and produces some degree of euphoria for about 20 minutes. Injected cocaine hydrochloride produces euphoria for roughly 20 to 30 minutes, while the maximum duration for nasally inhaled cocaine ranges anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes. Swallowed cocaine produces some degree of euphoria for approximately an hour.
Specific Damaging Effects
All forms of cocaine can trigger serious or catastrophic effects on normal heart, lung, brain, nerve, or muscle function. However, each form of cocaine also produces additional risks for specific types of body damage. For instance, use of crack cocaine can lead to the onset of a condition called “crack lung,” which is actually one type of a lung disorder called hypersensitivity pneumonitis. Symptoms of this disorder include labored breathing, itching, chest pain, coughing that produces bloody sputum, fever, lung spasms, and infection. Other damaging lung effects associated with crack use include burned airways, bronchitis, emphysema, collapsed lung, and abnormal fluid buildup in lung tissue. In addition, crack cocaine users may have heightened risks for the onset of serious psychiatric problems such as delusions, hallucinations, paranoia, violent agitation, homicidal thoughts, or suicidal thoughts.
Nasal inhalation of cocaine hydrochloride can produce forms of damage that include a perforated nasal septum, nosebleeds, reduced or lost sense of smell, a form of sinus inflammation called sinusitis, hoarseness and ongoing swallowing difficulties. Health problems associated with injected cocaine hydrochloride include heightened risks for serious blood-borne infections like HIV/AIDS, and the onset of serious or potentially fatal allergic reactions. People who swallow cocaine can develop reduced gastrointestinal blood flow that results in severe forms of the tissue death disorder called gangrene.
Likelihood of Addiction
Crack cocaine users may have higher risks for cocaine addiction than users of cocaine hydrochloride. The underlying reasons for this potential difference are the rapid onset and short duration of crack’s euphoric effects. Crack users seeking to maintain these effects may end up using the drug more frequently; in turn, this frequent use may increase long-term chances for cocaine dependence and addiction. However, not all doctors and researchers believe that crack is significantly more addictive than cocaine hydrochloride. For instance, the National Institute on Drug Abuse does not differentiate crack addiction risks from cocaine hydrochloride addiction risks in any significant way. This is true, in part, because cocaine use in general carries a strong potential for addiction, as well as a strong potential for repeated relapses during the addiction recovery process.
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