Last Updated on October 4, 2022 by Dr. Alberto Solà

In the 1970s, cocaine was the party drug of choice. The immediate, intense rush of euphoria that cocaine provided made it incredibly seductive—and incredibly popular. It wasn’t uncommon to see people “doing lines” (snorting powdered cocaine) in bathrooms at nightclubs. For a quicker hit, some people just rubbed the powder over their gums. A liquid form of cocaine also could be injected directly into the veins. A stimulant drug, cocaine created a sensation of hyper-alertness and high energy—users felt their bodies and minds jolt into overdrive. As cocaine use spread from Hollywood to Wall Street, and many American cities in between, drug cartels sprang up to satisfy demand: By the mid-’70s, Colombia alone exported 4,000 grams of cocaine to the United States annually.

By the time the 1980s were on the horizon, there were two major developments that dramatically changed how cocaine was typically used and helped contribute to a growing drug epidemic: the rise of freebasing and the invention of crack.

What is Freebasing and What is Crack?

For many Americans, the first time they may have heard the term “freebase cocaine” was in 1980, when the comedian Richard Pryor accidentally set himself on fire while freebasing. While he didn’t die from his subsequent burns and injuries, the incident illustrated just how dangerous freebasing could be.

What is freebasing? It is the process of ingesting cocaine by smoking it. In order for powdered cocaine to be smoked, it first needs to be mixed with ammonia and then heated. This removes the compound hydrochloride from the cocaine; if hydrochloride is present, it prevents the drug from being vaporized so it can be smoked. Freebasing also has the added element of transforming cocaine into an almost completely pure state, which makes it more potent than the powdered form. The steps on how to freebase coke may seem simple, but, as the Richard Pryor case proved, it comes with inherent dangers.

While that answers the question, “How to freebase cocaine,” the second major cocaine-related development in the ‘80s made a huge impact on American culture. Crack is created when the freebase cocaine is produced by mixing it with water and baking soda to remove the hydrochloride. When dried out, it forms the rock shape and texture that gives crack one of its slang names, “rock.” Crack can be broken up into small pieces that are then smoked; as with freebasing, crack is usually smoked in a glass pipe. Like freebase cocaine, crack packs a powerful punch. The introduction of crack in America was incredibly destructive—because it was sold at more affordable prices than powdered cocaine, crack was accessible to more people. And because crack is more addictive than cocaine, it had the capability to ravage many people’s lives.

The Effects of Freebasing and Crack

Smoking cocaine, whether in freebase or crack form, can be detrimental to a person’s health. It is considered the most addictive form of cocaine because it reaches the brain more quickly than if the cocaine is injected, snorted, or dissolved in the mouth. On top of that, the high—already propulsive with powdered cocaine—is magnified, as is the crash when the rush wears off. The high from freebasing or smoking crack is brief, about five to 10 minutes, which is shorter than when cocaine is taken in other ways. This may cause people to binge on the drug to get a sustained high. Unsurprisingly, there is a similar elevated intensity in drug cravings when freebasing.

When cocaine hits the bloodstream, it triggers a flood of dopamine. This chemical activates the brain’s reward center, creating an association between taking the drug and a feeling of pleasure. This trains the brain to want more of the drug to get that pleasurable effect, and that’s when the cravings start to kick in. Unfortunately, as freebase cocaine use continues, the body and brain begin to adapt and more and more dopamine must be produced to get high, which means more cocaine needs to be consumed more frequently. Chronic cocaine use can eventually lead to addiction if left untreated.

It can also lead to many damaging short- and long-term health effects. There are immediate side effects that can be experienced during freebase cocaine highs. These include hypersensitivity, irritability, and paranoia. Chronic freebasing can also bring increased risk of nausea, sweating, sleep dysfunction, headaches, vision problems, depression or anxiety, and a feeling of restlessness. Illicit drug use also carries the danger of overdose. Cocaine or freebase overdose symptoms may include hallucinations, elevated blood pressure or body temperature, impaired breathing, unconsciousness, and heightened anxiety. An overdose may result in an irregular heartbeat, seizure, stroke, or death. These risks increase if freebase cocaine is mixed with another drug or with alcohol.

In addition, smoking cocaine also increases the likelihood of respiratory problems such as asthma, bronchitis, a persistent cough, breathing issues, and pneumonia, as well as certain types of cancers. Finally, because the freebase is vaporized by heating it, there is always the danger that a user could suffer burns on the face, arms, or fingers. You could sum up the answer to “What is freebasing?” in one word: dangerous.

End Your Freebase Cocaine Addiction Today

Freebase is extremely addictive, even more so than powdered cocaine, and users can quickly become hooked. Smoking cocaine also doesn’t provide as much control over how much of the drug is consumed, which can lead to overdose in the worst-case scenario. Quitting on your own is inadvisable because withdrawal can be taxing to the brain, impairing both its function and your mental health. To safely and effectively quit using freebase cocaine, you can rely on the innovative treatment program provided by our ibogaine treatment center. What is ibogaine? Ibogaine is the key component of our program, with the goal of giving clients a safe, effective, and gentle detox from drugs or alcohol. Our experienced medical team expertly customizes treatment plans for each client, and constant and compassionate clinical care ensures everyone’s comfort during their stay. Contact us today to get more information and learn how we can help.