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Crack Cocaine & the Body: What You Should Know 

Addiction devastates users' relationships, their finances, and their bodies. Every addictive drug poses risks to long-term health, and most can have lethal consequences.

Addiction devastates users’ relationships, their finances, and their bodies. Every addictive drug poses risks to long-term health, and most can have lethal consequences. However, crack cocaine stands apart for the severity and variety of ways it can damage vital organs. 

Exposure to crack over time, thanks to cocaine addiction, harms the brain, damages the skin, strains the heart and lungs, can shut down the liver and kidneys, and even cause infertility. The longer someone stays submerged in crack addiction, the more severe the damage can become. 

What is Crack Cocaine and How Does it Work? 

To make crack cocaine, drug users or dealers combine cocaine powder with ammonia or baking soda and water. As the water dissolves, the remaining powder solidifies to form crystals. These crystals range from transparent to white, cream-colored, or even pink or yellow.

No matter how users ingest it, cocaine acts as a stimulant. These powerful drugs boost energy, concentration, and wakefulness. They may also increase anxiety or the users’ libido, leading to paranoia or risky sexual activity.

Stimulants, including crack cocaine, cause all these effects by accelerating messages between the body and brain. The more messages can fly across the nerves, the faster the body can seek out and process new stimuli.

What Happens Right After You Take Crack? 

Most people who use crack cocaine break it into smaller pieces and smoke it in a pipe. The smoking method gives the user a powerful and immediate rush that other forms of ingestion, such as snorting cocaine, don’t provide. 

A potent high follows the rush, lasting anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes. 

While high, a user experiences increased alertness and excitement. The user may feel hungry, even if they ate not long ago. The pupils enlarge, the heart rate spikes, and the user craves another dose as the high starts to lose effect. Many crack users will smoke more to start a second high as soon as the first lessens. This binge maintains the high and avoids a “crash” but can increase the short-term risks. 

Whether or not the user binges, cocaine remains in the body for a significant period of time. 

How Long Does Crack Cocaine Stay In Your System? 

Even though crack gives its users a short high, it lingers. Testing can detect cocaine in different body parts over time, as shown below: 

  • Blood: Less than 8 hours
  • Saliva: 24 hours 
  • Urine: 3-5 days 
  • Hair: up to 6 months, in some cases, for years 

A chemical that lingers so long in the body has ample time to create damage. Repeated use increases the danger of severe health problems as cocaine accumulates in the body. The lasting damage from cocaine can persist for months or years after a user gets clean.

Short-Term Risks 

Concerns about long-term risks assume someone addicted to crack cocaine will survive long enough to experience those risks. The short-term effects of crack pose great danger, especially to people with pre-existing cardiovascular problems or who are already involved in risky environments. 

The constricted blood vessels, increased blood pressure, and increased heart rate all put the user at higher risk of seizure or heart attack. Aggression or paranoia can put the user in dangerous and unnecessary conflicts. Coughing and shortness of breath can also manifest, which cause severe problems when combined with other cardiovascular impairments. 

Even if the user is able to function without issues, crack addiction exposes the body to harmful chemicals over long periods. Chronic use has severe repercussions for many of the body’s vital systems. 

Long-Term Effects of Crack Addiction 

Crack cocaine causes many long-term health effects that significantly and permanently impact an addict’s quality of life. 

Increased Tolerance 

As with any drug, repeated exposure builds to a higher tolerance, which refers to the body’s desensitization to the chemical mechanisms of the drug. The decreased sensitivity means the user must use more of the drug to achieve the same high. 

Higher demand for the drug can devastate the user’s finances and increase the risk of severe side effects as they ingest larger doses of the toxic chemical.


The most serious side effects of crack cocaine occur in the brain. Crack addiction coincides with mood disorders like depression and can cause delirium and difficulty sleeping (insomnia). Crack addiction increases the risk of seizures and convulsions, which can kill in certain situations, such as driving.


Side effects of crack cocaine that manifest in the brain can have results that appear on the body. 

Crawling In the Skin 

In “formication,” the user hallucinates phantom insects on or underneath their skin. The crawling sensation of these “coke bugs” makes the skin irresistibly itchy. When combined with the altered state of mind during or after use, crack cocaine users compulsively pick and scratch at their skin to get the “bugs out.”

This skin damage can do harm well beneath the surface. The initial consequences are painful, albeit superficial, but additives included in most crack cocaine can make these wounds lethal.

Burned Lips 

Users smoke crack through a glass pipe. Glass transfers heat through anything it contacts, including the lips, as the user inhales the vapors. Chronic users who smoke crack regularly are exposed to abnormal hot surfaces that create blisters, cracks, and sores on or around the lips.


Crack cocaine damage appears deep within the mouth, too. Since crack cocaine can increase infection risk, cocaine users are more likely to experience tooth decay and broken teeth. Smoke exposure also increases the yellowing of teeth.

Heart & Lungs 

Regular stimulant use puts added strain on the heart. Irregular heartbeat, artery spasms, and other abnormal activity induced by cocaine abuse increase the odds of a heart attack.

Lung damage from crack smoking is so common that it has its own street name—“crack lung.” The smoke and additives can cause bleeding of the delicate globules in the lungs that exchange CO2 for oxygen, create internal air pockets in the body outside the lungs, and other severe conditions. 

Liver and Kidneys

Crack is a toxin that enters the bloodstream and circulates through the liver and kidneys. Science remains unsure of the extent of organ damage, but it may be due to the liver’s attempts to break down the toxin and digest it, turning it into a substance just as toxic

With little warning, crack ingestion can kill kidney tissue and shut down the kidneys. 

Reproductive Issues 

Cocaine is responsible for damage to non-vital organs as well. A brain stimulated by cocaine changes the way it produces and outputs hormones. Hormones regulate almost every aspect of our biology, and the altered hormone levels from cocaine devastate sperm production. Experiments show that cocaine may even collect inside the testicles, where sperm can transmit it into the egg and deliver the drug during fertilization. 

Cocaine also has a potent effect on the female reproductive system. Crack cocaine reduces the number of follicles in the ovary, which produce and release eggs. Without eggs, couples must seek alternatives to natural conception. Cocaine’s presence in the ovary and eggs disrupts cell division, reducing the chances a fertilized egg can grow into a fetus. 

Regardless of sex, cocaine use before and during adolescence disrupts proper pubescent development in the sex organs and throughout the body. 

Other Risks of Crack Cocaine 

Crack cocaine dealers often “cut” the drugs with additives that intensify the effect or enhance the drug’s effects for a lower cost. Dealers can create more product volume for little (if any) additional cost and sell the “larger” batch at full price.

Cut or not, crack’s manufacturing process guarantees it will have additives. Manufacturers mix cocaine with water and ammonia or baking soda to form crystals—crack is inherently less pure than powder cocaine. The process often cuts the crystals with other powders, such as powdered milk, sugar, or more baking soda.

Most crack cocaine seized and tested by the DEA contains levamisole, a dewormer used to treat livestock. Cocaine purity tests fail to detect levamisole, which is advantageous for dealers. This substance harms the immune system. Longtime users may experience a significant decrease in their overall white blood cell count, the cells that destroy pathogens in the blood. 

Crack users who often ingest crack cuts with these materials experience increased and frequent infections, even from minor abrasions—users who hallucinate crack bugs scratch and pick at their skin in fruitless attempts to remove the insects. The open skin and weakened immune system allow otherwise harmless bacteria to easily enter the body, bypass its defenses, and wreak havoc. 

Call Purposes Recovery’s Toll-Free Number To Get the Help You Need

Our luxury medical detox program in LA offers treatments for alcoholism, cocaine, heroin, co-occurring diagnoses, and more. Finding a recovery center in Los Angeles that works for you is difficult. Our lines are open 24/7 to offer assistance and guidance or check you in to get the help you need. Call us for more information or to schedule a treatment. 


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