The Dangers Of Using Crack Cocaine Intravenously
Cocaine is nature’s most powerful stimulant and is used by nearly 14 million people worldwide. In the 1980s, people began to use baking soda to strip away the hydrochloride from powder cocaine. This process produces a yellow-white, rock-like crystal, also known as crack.
Originally, crack was only intended for smoking, however, in the mid-1990s people began to mix crack with weak acids, such as lemon juice, to make an injectable form of the drug. This way, the drug can be directly injected into the bloodstream. There are many risks that come with the practice of injecting crack cocaine.
Dangers of injecting crack cocaine intravenously include:
- polluting the blood with weak acids
- increased risk of blood-borne diseases
- negative impact on heart function
- increased risk of fatal overdose
Polluting The Blood With Weak Acids
Making crack into a soluble form for injection involves combining it with a weak acid. Some of the common household items people report using include kool-aid powder, sour salt, white vinegar, lemon/lime juice, pickle juice, and soda pop.
Weak acids wreak havoc on the circulatory system. In addition to causing possible skin abscesses, acids like lemon/lime juice and white vinegar are not good for veins, as they blacken them and cause them to become inflamed. Lemon juice has also been associated with infections, such as fungal endocarditis and endophthalmitis.
Increased Risk Of Blood-Borne Diseases
Shooting crack cocaine can increase the risk for certain diseases. Repeated needle use increases the risk of contracting blood-borne diseases, such as HIV and hepatitis. It also increases the risk of participating in risky behaviors and using other intravenous drugs, like heroin. Often, people who are injecting crack are mixing it with heroin to form a combination referred to as a “speedball.”
In an effort to prevent infection from the injection, needle exchange programs are now giving out citric acid to people taking needles in order to help them avoid using other household items associated with an increased risk of infection.
Negative Impact On Heart Function
Injecting crack cocaine may negatively impact the heart and cardiovascular system. One study reports that the acute effects of injecting crack on the pulmonary system in habitual crack smokers include an increase in the cardiac index. This means that there is excess stress put on the heart for it to continue to function properly. This study theorizes that this excess stress doesn’t go away in habitual crack injectors even when they stop using the drug.
Increased Risk Of Fatal Overdose
Shooting crack cocaine can increase the risk of fatal overdose. It can be difficult to tell how pure the substance is before it is diluted. Once mixed, it typically looks like yellow-brown water, depending on which acid was used.
Although fatal overdose can occur on the first use, it can also occur randomly from then on. This puts chronic users at serious risk of overdose because their bodies crave larger and larger doses of the drug.
Possible symptoms of crack cocaine overdose include:
- visual or auditory hallucinations (acute psychosis syndrome)
- hypertension (high blood pressure)
- tachycardia (rapid heartbeat)
- arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat)
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Why Is Crack Cocaine Used Intravenously?
A theory suggests that the increased number of people injecting crack is due to the decreased amount of powder (water soluble) cocaine in many areas of the U.S. Also, people who have misused crack cocaine in this way report that it gives them a stronger high that lasts much longer, compared to the high from smoking the substance.
Others have also reported that different acids produce different “highs.” Healthcare professionals believe this may be because some weak acids are stronger than others. For example, lemon juice is a less potent weak acid and may not break down as much of the crack as white vinegar would, resulting in less potent desired effects.
The Effects Of Injecting Crack Cocaine
Is injecting crack cocaine more or less addictive than smoking crack? Research has shown that how quickly a drug’s effects are felt can be related to how addictive that substance is. And when someone injects cocaine it reaches the blood-brain barrier much faster than when it is smoked.
The acute high from shooting the substance only lasts 15 to 30 minutes, however, the residual effects can last for over an hour. The length and potency of the effects depend on the purity of the crack and the tolerance of the person using it.
Effects On The Brain
Shorty after someone injects crack into their bloodstream, the drug enters the brain and interacts with dopamine-releasing cells. Typically, when dopamine is produced in the brain naturally, it is passed back and forth between neuron synapses and then dissipates. Cocaine blocks this dissipation and causes a major flood of dopamine in the reward/punishment center of the brain.
Chemically, dopamine plays a vital role in regulating a range of bodily functions, including attention span, learning, memory, movement, and physical and emotional tension and relaxation states.
Many individuals who shoot crack have cravings for more of the drug soon afterward. These cravings are a sign that the brain has begun to rebalance the abnormally high levels of dopamine. As this happens, someone may feel irritable, paranoid, or anxious while still maintaining the desired effects of the drug.
Someone who has injected crack cocaine repeatedly may also experience less pleasure from survival behaviors, such as eating or having sex. This reflects important changes in the brain’s communication signals, as the brain begins to need cocaine to function normally, which is a major indication of addiction.
Physical Effects And Binging
Due to the cravings felt shortly after injecting crack, it is often used in a binge pattern. When someone binges on crack cocaine they repeatedly take the substance over a short period of time. Injecting crack frequently can lead to a range of negative effects, including:
- sexual dysfunction
- erratic behavior
- auditory hallucinations
- chest pain (angina)
In addition to these negative side effects, injection sites can become very damaged. This can cause people to try shooting into smaller veins in their hands, which is particularly dangerous because if the crack has not been fully dissolved, it may cause a blockage. These blockages may cause foreign contaminants in the blood and lead to problems with the heart.
Withdrawing From Intravenous Crack Cocaine Use
Crack cocaine works on the brain’s reward and punishment system, so it is possible that withdrawal symptoms can be felt as soon as the drug starts to wear off. When someone stops using cocaine, they may go through unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, which can include:
- slow movements and thoughts
- trouble sleeping (insomnia)
- trouble staying awake (hypersomnia)
- increased appetite
- severe cocaine cravings
- inability to feel pleasure
- depression and anxiety
- suicidal thoughts or behaviors
It is not uncommon for people to continue injecting crack in order to avoid uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.
Treatment For Cocaine Addiction
Cocaine is an addictive substance, crack cocaine even more so. Crack may become more addictive when injected. The best way for someone to stop using crack cocaine intravenously is to participate in an inpatient drug rehab program.
Residential treatment programs for crack cocaine can provide the resources necessary to stop using. Certain medications can be provided to ease uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms and behavioral therapies can provide mental support as well.
For more information on the dangers of using crack cocaine intravenously, contact us today.
- National Center for Biotechnology Information—Crack Cocaine Injection Practices and HIV Risk
- CHEST Journal—Acute Effects of Intravenous Cocaine on Pulmonary Artery Pressure and Cardiac Index in Habitual Crack Smokers