Freebasing Cocaine: How Does It Work (& Is It Safe?)

Medically Reviewed

Cocaine is one of the most commonly used illicit drugs in the United States. This powerful stimulant enhances the feeling of excitement, exhilaration, power, and confidence. Addiction to it, however, is a serious problem. After producing a short-lived, powerful high, the drug produces an uncomfortable comedown that may include anxiety, paranoia, general discomfort, and insomnia.

To stave off the uncomfortable side effects, users often take several doses in a row to continue the otherwise short-lived high. Binging cocaine is potentially dangerous, and it may be even more dangerous depending on how you take the drug. Freebasing cocaine allows the drug to be taken in a way that is different from how you would take powder cocaine.

Freebasing cocaine is associated with many negative health outcomes. Freebase cocaine, known as crack, is associated with more severe legal consequences than powdered cocaine.

What is freebase cocaine? How does freebasing cocaine change how the drug affects you? Learn more about cocaine and its freebase form.

What Is Freebasing Cocaine?

Recreational cocaine is usually sold as powdered crystals that can be crushed and snorted. Due to its high melting point, powder cocaine can’t be smoked because it’s very difficult to burn. But this is where freebase cocaine comes in. Using an additive like baking soda can allow you to convert crack to a freebase form of cocaine. The melting point of cocaine is lowered in this form, making it easier to burn and smoke. Crack is the common name for the freebase form of cocaine.

Crack cocaine and powder cocaine are essentially different forms of the same drug. Their effects on the brain are similar, and they share the same side effects. In spite of this, their different routes of administration cause a few differences between the two substances. How you take the drug, called routes of administration, can make a difference when it comes to the length of time it takes for the drug to take effect. Smoking crack often begins working faster than snorting powder cocaine, though they both work fairly quickly.

History of Cocaine

Cocaine is a stimulant known for making people feel increasingly alert. It first appeared in the 1900s as scientists discovered compounds in the coca leaf they hoped to turn into medications for various ailments, according to Psychology Today.

In the U.S., cocaine began as an innocent ingredient in items such as Coca-Cola, but it was made illegal without a prescription in 1914. People stopped using cocaine as much until it became popular once again in the 1960s.

Powdered cocaine was more common, but freebase cocaine (commonly known as crack) also proliferated.

Cocaine is usually snorted, but freebase cocaine can be smoked. Smoking cocaine causes it to reach the brain more quickly, and the experience is more intense.

Is Freebasing Dangerous?

Powder cocaine itself is dangerous because of the effects it has on the central nervous system. Psychology Today mentions that cocaine gets in the way of the body’s normal reuptake of dopamine. This allows dopamine levels to rise, and it results in the euphoric high associated with cocaine.

Freebase cocaine does not contain the salts that stabilize powdered versions of cocaine.

Smoking cocaine (freebase) is associated with an increased risk of addiction. The high affects the brain much faster, and it is more intense.

The Canadian Respiratory Journal published a paper in April 2015 stating that freebase cocaine is created by boiling the drug (cocaine hydrochloride) and obtaining the leftovers. This remaining ingredient is now stable enough to be smoked, and that is called freebasing.

How and Why People Freebase Cocaine

A November 2017 report from The Conversation states that freebase cocaine is becoming more popular.

  • The availability of freebase cocaine is high, and its price has decreased by an average of 13 percent since 2007.
  • The pure form of freebase cocaine is becoming easier to find.
  • No substitute drugs are available for people who want to quit freebase cocaine, unlike with opioid addictions where people can be given methadone or other substitutes.

It is also hard to track fatalities caused by freebase cocaine. In autopsies, both freebase and powdered cocaine show up as similar elements. Freebase cocaine is usually smoked, but some people are known to inject it.

Dangerous in All Forms

Many of the side effects of powder cocaine and crack cocaine are the same. You may experience anxiety, paranoia, physical discomfort, agitation, racing thoughts, heart palpitations, and the sensation that something is crawling on your skin when you use stimulants. It is also possible to experience stimulant psychosis as a result of the misuse of stimulants. Delusions and hallucinations are characteristic of this condition. Psychosis caused by stimulants is more likely to occur in people with schizophrenia or a predisposition to conditions that cause psychosis. Binging the drug and staying awake for long periods of time may also make it more likely. 

Chronic cocaine misuse can increase one’s risk of stroke and heart attack, among other health problems. It is also possible to develop depression and anhedonia from long-term cocaine use. As a result of cocaine’s powerful euphoric effect, other healthy activities can seem less enjoyable. As a result of cocaine comedowns, you may feel depressed, despairing, and worthless. These depressive symptoms can sometimes cause suicidal thoughts or actions that require immediate professional attention. 

Snorting crack and smoking freebase cocaine can cause some differing symptoms. As a result of snorting powder cocaine, side effects include sinus infections, nosebleeds, and nasal damage. Smoking-related symptoms, such as lung disease, can occur with crack cocaine. Lung damage and respiratory problems can be caused by both. 

Cocaine is not safe in general, and both its powdered and freebase forms come with risks.

Short-Term Effects

Cocaine causes your pupils to dilate and increases your heart rate. Your temperature could also rise, and you may even behave bizarrely or violently if you take large quantities of cocaine

Long-Term Effects

Using cocaine in any form regularly puts you at risk for misusing cocaine. Your moods may also change, and you may experience hallucinations or paranoia

Binge cocaine users also put themselves at risk of becoming paranoid or restless. People who binge on cocaine may not use it regularly, but they take large quantities that may cause them to develop psychosis.

Different health risks are associated with powdered and freebase cocaine. In 2015, Vox mentioned that freebase cocaine is known to cause severe mental harm, even though other drugs are more deadly, such as heroin.

Risks Associated With Different Methods of Use

Powdered cocaine is usually snorted. It is associated with many health consequences, such as losing your sense of smell, a runny nose, and inflammation of the nostrils.

Cocaine use is linked with interruptions in appetite, so you may lose weight or fail to get adequate nutrition.

Freebase cocaine is used differently, and its health risks vary depending on the method of use.

Smoking Freebase Cocaine

This allows the high to be more intense and can increase the likelihood of addiction.

Crack cocaine rocks next to a strawPeople who smoke freebase cocaine are two to three times more likely to depend on it compared to people who use powdered cocaine.

People generally smoke freebase on a pipe, and people around them may also suffer from inhaling secondhand smoke.

The Canadian Respiratory Journal states that some people can develop lung problems, such as pneumonia from the buildup of water in the lungs and die of pulmonary tissue.

Ingesting (Swallowing) Cocaine

Some people choose to swallow cocaine. This usually happens when people use powdered cocaine, but it can occur with crack. Ingestion causes blood flow to decrease. This makes you susceptible to gangrene in the bowel area.

Injecting Cocaine

All forms of freebase cocaine abuse are dangerous, but injecting it is possibly the most dangerous practice. Injecting cocaine (powdered or freebase) can cause allergic reactions to ingredients that have been added to the drug. Allergic reactions can be fatal if not treated.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also mention other risks associated with injecting drugs, such as:

  • Risk of HIV infection. If you are HIV-negative, you are at a much higher risk of contracting the virus if you share needles with someone who is HIV-positive. Needles could trap blood and other bodily fluids that vastly increase your odds of exposure.
  • Other diseases. It is easy to contract diseases such as hepatitis A or B if you share needles with other users.

Parents who use freebase cocaine may also be exposing their children to harmful chemicals. A 2011 case study from the Journal of Medical Case Reports looked at the danger to children who were exposed to secondhand smoke from freebased cocaine. The case study examined a 2-year-old child whose parents smoked freebase cocaine, and traces of the drug were detectable in her hair.

Legal Consequences

Freebasing cocaine has many health consequences, but there are also many legal consequences you could face if you are caught buying freebase cocaine or if authorities find some in your possession.

An NYU study from February 2015 found that adults from disadvantaged backgrounds were more likely to use freebase cocaine.

They were also more likely to be targets of law enforcement agencies and more likely to be arrested for this infraction.

A Final Word

Freebase and powdered cocaine are both dangerous. They both have a vast potential for misuse, and people who use them are likely to experience health and/or legal consequences if caught.

If you have freebased cocaine, it’s a clear sign of a problem with substance abuse. There are many avenues available for you to get help.

Tap to GET HELP NOW: (844) 899-5777