Crack vs. Cocaine

Cocaine is an illicit stimulant that can be mixed with ammonia or baking soda to create crack. Crack, the most powerful type of cocaine, differs from powder cocaine in a number of ways.
Topics On this page
| | 13 sources

Cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant that typically comes in powder or solid form. Both crack and powder cocaine can lead to a host of physical, psychological and behavioral problems, including addiction. But the drugs differ from each other in a variety of ways.

Powder cocaine causes a rush of energy and feelings of euphoria and happiness. Crack, which is derived from powdered cocaine, is a rock-like form of cocaine that can be smoked to achieve a high. The drug causes short but intense euphoric effects.

In the 1980s, crack use created an epidemic that affected thousands of people in poor urban communities in the United States.

Differences Between Crack and Powder Cocaine

Powder and crack cocaine differ in appearance, side effects, duration of effects, demographics and incarceration rates. Despite these differences, both drugs can have devastating effects on a person’s health.


Cocaine is derived from the coca plant, which is indigenous to South America. The drug comes in a fine, white crystalline powder.

Crack is produced by dissolving powdered cocaine in a mixture of water and ammonia or baking soda. The result is a yellowish-white rock that can be broken into smaller rocks weighing a few tenths of a gram.

Method of Administration

Powder cocaine users often use a straw or rolled-up dollar bill to snort cocaine through the nose, but it can be used in other ways.

Cocaine in powder form can be:

  • Swallowed
  • Snorted
  • Dissolved in water and injected into a vein
  • Sprinkled on tobacco or marijuana and smoked
  • Rubbed on the gums in the mouth

Crack, on the other hand, is most often smoked to achieve a high. People generally smoke crack using a water pipe or glass pipe. Although crack can be crushed and snorted or injected, this practice is not common.

Street Price

The street price of crack and cocaine differ significantly, and costs vary by location. In 2002 in Texas, a gram of powdered cocaine cost $50 to $100 in Dallas, $80 to $100 in Houston and $50 to $60 in El Paso, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. In contrast, crack sold for $20 per rock, which is one-fifth to one-quarter of a gram.

During that same time in Florida, the DEA reported that powder cocaine cost $20 to $110 per gram, and crack cost $5 to $20 per rock.

Drug Effects

Both powder and crack cocaine produce excess amounts of dopamine, a brain chemical that affects how people feel pleasure. The pleasurable effects of powder cocaine can last from 15 to 30 minutes when snorted. The effects of smoking crack last from five to 10 minutes.

The pleasurable effects of cocaine last for a longer period of time than the effects of crack. But crack stays in your system for a similar amount of time as cocaine stays in your system.

The physical effects of using powder cocaine or crack last between one and two hours. They include:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Decreased appetite
  • Restlessness
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Anxiety

Long-term health problems associated with repeated cocaine use include hallucinations, convulsions or seizures, heart disease, stroke, respiratory failure and death by cocaine overdose. With repeated use cocaine addiction can develop.

Crack is the most potent form of cocaine. Its physical effects include:

  • Increased rate of breathing
  • Hyperstimulation
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Depression
  • Sudden death caused by overdose

After the high subsides, people often have a more intense desire to reuse the drug. This can lead to drug dependence. Using crack one time can cause addiction to the drug. Prolonged use of the drug can cause mood disturbances, psychosis, heart attack, brain seizures and death. Long-term crack use can lead to a substance use disorder.

Powder Cocaine vs. Crack Cocaine
Powder Cocaine Crack Cocaine
Appearance White, crystalline powder Yellowish-white rock
Method of Administration
  • Snorted (Primary)
  • Smoked
  • Injected
  • Ingested
  • Rubbed onto gums
  • Smoked (Primary)
  • Injected
  • Snorted
Street Price $100 to $125 per gram $5 to $30 per rock
Physiological Effects
  • Dilated pupils
  • Decreased appetite
  • Restlessness
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Anxiety
  • Increased rate of breathing
  • Hyperstimulation
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Depression
  • Sudden death caused by overdose
Duration of the High 15 to 30 minutes when snorted Five to 15 minutes when smoked
U.S. Demographics (2016)
  • Nearly 89,000 white cocaine users
  • Nearly 53,000 black users cocaine
  • 216,000 white crack users
  • 156,000 black crack users
Average Prison Term (2009) 87 months 115 months


According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 1.9 million people aged 12 or older were cocaine users in 2016, including about 432,000 crack users. People aged 18 to 25 had the highest percentage of current cocaine users, and the group of people aged 26 or older had the highest percentage of crack users.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health indicated that more whites used crack than blacks or African Americans in 2016. But blacks or African Americans used crack more frequently in the past month, according to the report.

Incarceration Disparities

A 2015 study published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence examined the socio-economic disparities among powder cocaine users and crack users.

Using federal data, researchers discovered that:

  • Crack users were at a higher risk than powder cocaine users for reporting multiple recent arrests or a lifetime arrest.
  • Racial minorities were at low risk for powder cocaine use, but Hispanics were at low risk to use crack.
  • African Americans had a high risk for lifetime and recent crack use, and blacks who used powder or crack cocaine typically engaged in use at higher frequencies.
  • Higher education and higher family income were negatively associated with crack use, and full-time employment increased the chances of using powder cocaine.

In 2010, former President Barack Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010. This law was enacted to reduce the statutory penalties for crack offenses. It also ended the mandatory minimum sentence for simple possession of crack and increased statutory fines.

Sentences for Crack Possession

Before the Fair Sentencing Act:
  • 5-year minimum sentence for 5 grams
  • 10-year minimum sentence for 50 grams
After the Fair Sentencing Act went into law:
  • 5-year minimum sentence for 28 grams
  • 10-year minimum sentence for 280 grams

Before this law was passed, the United States had a 100-to-1 crack-to-powder cocaine sentencing disparity. Since the law went into effect, the ratio dropped to 18-to-1.

Crack vs. Coke Addiction Treatment

Seeking rehab for cocaine or crack addiction is an important step toward achieving sobriety. At rehab, trained addiction specialists can help clients properly taper off cocaine and avoid reusing the drug.

Therapy and support group meetings, such as Narcotics Anonymous, can help people learn the underlying causes of their cocaine use. These resources can also teach people ways to avoid triggers and cravings that lead to relapse.

If you are addicted to cocaine, consider calling a cocaine hotline. These confidential and toll-free helplines can provide useful information about the effects of cocaine and the importance of sobriety. They can also connect you with a nearby rehab center that addresses your specific needs.

Medical Disclaimer: 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.

Matt Gonzales
Content Writer,
Matt Gonzales is a writer and researcher for He graduated with a degree in journalism from East Carolina University and began his professional writing career in 2011. Matt covers the latest drug trends and shares inspirational stories of people who have overcome addiction. Certified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in health literacy, Matt leverages his experience in addiction research to provide hope to those struggling with substance use disorders.

Was this article helpful?

How helpful would you rate this article?

    loading logo

    Thanks for helping us make our website better for visitors like you!

    View Sources

    Ready to make a change?

    Get cost-effective, quality addiction care that truly works.

    Start Your Recovery
    We're here to help you or your loved one.
    Question mark symbol icon

    Who am I calling?

    Calls will be answered by a qualified admissions representative with Advanced Recovery Systems (ARS), the owners of We look forward to helping you!

    Question mark symbol icon

    Who am I calling?

    Phone calls to treatment center listings not associated with ARS will go directly to those centers. and ARS are not responsible for those calls.