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The Difference Between Cocaine and Crack Cocaine

Plastic baggie of crack cocaine rocks  

Crack and cocaine are both potent and highly addictive stimulants that are popular in both adult and teen drug use. The active ingredient, processed from a plant that grows naturally in South America, is the same in each of these two substances. Both drugs are used to induce a quick and powerful euphoric mental state. While they are similar in many ways, there is more than one important difference between crack and cocaine, including the way they are prepared, how they are used and the legal consequences of using them.

Statistics: Who Uses Crack vs Cocaine?

Crack vs cocaine usage is influenced strongly by cost. Crack was created as a cheaper alternative to cocaine. This difference in street price has lead to demographic differences between people smoking crack cocaine and those injecting or “snorting” powdered cocaine.

Cocaine addiction and crack cocaine addiction affect all communities, but the phenomenon is not evenly distributed. In fact, from 2012-2015, cocaine overdoses claimed the lives of more black men than heroin overdoses, even amidst a growing opioid crisis.

Crack Statistics

Crack statistics show that it is less popular than cocaine, with about 3.9% of Americans over the age of 18 reporting having used the drug in their lifetime. Teen crack statistics from the same survey indicate that about 0.1%, or 31,000 individuals aged 12-17 have tried crack at least once.

Cocaine Statistics

By contrast, cocaine statistics indicate that 16.3% of adult Americans (over 40 million individuals) have used cocaine in their lifetime. The numbers for teens and cocaine indicate that in 2017, 0.7% of teenagers aged 12-17 have used coke.


There is quite a difference between cocaine and crack cocaine when it comes to their appearance.

What Does Crack Look Like?

The term “crack rock” comes from what crack looks like: it appears in its processed form as small, irregularly-shaped, whitish chunks.

What Does Cocaine Look Like?

“Cocaine powder” or coke is fine grain, white particulate matter. As a comparison, cocaine looks similar to the substances used to cut it, such as powdered sugar.

Methods of Administration and Effects

Since they are both essentially the same drug from a pharmacological standpoint, crack vs cocaine effects are very similar. The drugs are stimulants, meaning that users describe a feeling of alertness, power and energy, or perhaps feelings of anxiety and paranoia. The differences in the effects felt from a crack vs a coke high come from the method of ingestion. Smoking any drug typically allows it to affect the brain much more quickly.


Smoking crack is the typical method of administration, and is accomplished by heating up the solid rocks in a glass pipe and inhaling the results. The effects of smoking crack are instantaneous and last from five to ten minutes.


Cocaine in its powder form cannot be smoked. Powder cocaine is usually taken nasally, although more rarely it is consumed intravenously. Snorting cocaine simply involves inhaling the raw powder through the nose, while injecting cocaine involves dissolving the powder into water before injection. When taken these ways, the effects aren’t as instantaneous as seen with smoking crack, but can persist for longer, up to an hour if injected.

Ingredients & Cutting Agents

Both crack and cocaine can be prepared and packaged using various cutting agents intended to reduce the cost. Crack and cocaine cutting agents that are psychoactive or even toxic themselves can introduce further risks into the consumption of already highly addictive and dangerous drug. The effects of adult or teen overdose of cocaine are potentially deadly, and the inclusion of black market adulterants can increase that danger.

Crack Ingredients

The two basic crack ingredients are powdered cocaine and baking soda, mixed and then boiled to create a solid precipitate. The exact proportion of these ingredients varies according to the desired purity of the end product. In order to maximize their profit, many producers may decide to use too much baking soda in crack, decreasing the quality to a noticeable degree. In these cases, the producer may add in an additional cutting agent for crack. These adulterants could include less expensive stimulants or anesthetics intended to mimic the effects of purer crack or cocaine.

Cocaine Ingredients

There is a more complicated, scientific answer to the question “what is cocaine made out of,” but the simple answer is that “pure” powder cocaine consists only of the product of processed coca leaves. Therefore, the main ingredient in cocaine is just that, cocaine. However, it is common for suppliers and dealers to use cocaine cutting agents to increase their profit margin. These adulterants may range from fairly inert substances intended to simply increase the volume of the product sold, to more dangerous or even toxic active ingredients intended to increase the effects when consumed.

Penalty for Possession

For very complex and controversial historical reasons, there were and are different cocaine vs crack laws. The punishment for possession will depend on where you live, who you are and what the authorities think you might be doing with the substance. The consequences may be different for a minor in possession (MIP charge) when compared to someone who law enforcement thinks is a dealer. In the past, crack possession has been punished far more harshly than cocaine possession, but there are new crack laws in recent years intended to address this perceived unfairness.

Crack Laws

Though the penalty for possession of crack used to be even higher, there is still a hefty 18:1 sentencing disparity when compared to cocaine. These harsher crack penalties are still being debated in the legal community.

Cocaine Laws

Illegal possession of cocaine is a federal crime. Cocaine is a schedule II drug in the eyes of the American government, meaning that there are some current and historical medical uses of the substance, but the drugs highly addictive nature is recognized and it has been tightly restricted. Cocaine laws and enforcement may be more variable at the state level, but the substance is still taken very seriously at the federal level.

Key Differences Between Crack and Cocaine

To recap, there is a difference between crack and cocaine in:

  • Appearance and production
  • How it’s consumed
  • What it may be cut or adulterated with
  • How the law treats its possession

Beyond those, there really aren’t many differences when comparing crack cocaine vs cocaine. Functionally, they are basically the same drug. Signs of cocaine use in young adults would be similar to symptoms of cocaine use in adults.

If you or a loved one is using cocaine, help is available. Call the Next Generation Village to speak with someone about treatment options.

Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.


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