In The Know Zone

What is Cocaine?

Cocaine is derived from Erythroxylon coca, a densely-leafed plant native to South America. It is widely cultivated in Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Columbia, currently the source of some 80 percent of the world's cocaine. Cocaine is the world's most powerful naturally occurring stimulant.

Coca and its derivatives are usually used in one of four ways: - The leaves are sucked or chewed. - Coca paste is eaten or smoked, primarily in some South American slums. - Cocaine hydrochloride, or cocaine powder, a white crystalline powder with a bitter, numbing taste is sniffed or diluted and then injected. - Freebase or crack cocaine is made by cooking cocaine hydrochloride with ammonia or baking soda. Freebase was originally produced in an explosive, multi-step process. Crack is safer to produce - no explosions. Crack and freebase are smoked from pipes; burnt on a piece of tin foil; or mixed with tobacco or marijuana in a smokeable joint.

How is "crack" different from "cocaine?" For most of its history, cocaine has been abused in a powder that is sniffed or diluted then injected. Sniffed powder cocaine produces a high in about 15 minutes. The high lasts about half an hour. Powder cocaine has been abused by the wealthy and middle classes since the late 1800s, and has destroyed many thousands of those abusers. Some abusers have cooked cocaine with other chemicals to make a smokeable form of the drug that creates a quicker, more intense high. This process is called freebasing. Freebasing never became popular because it often caused sudden deadly explosions. In the early 1980s, drug dealers discovered a way to cook cocaine without the risk of explosions. Crack cocaine was born. Crack is actually a less pure type of freebase cocaine. It has the super-strong, quick high of freebase cocaine without the explosiveness. In addition, a dose strong enough for a huge high can be sold very cheaply. Suddenly cocaine, which had been a rich person's drug, became available to the poor. Drug dealers swarmed over the poorest inner-city neighborhoods selling this poison in the 80s and 90s, ruining hundreds of thousands of lives.

Here are some characteristics of cocaine hydrochloride, the powder form of the drug, and crack.

Powder Cocaine Crack
Very fine in texture, like flour. Chemically processed into rock-like chunks, about the size of peas.
Often mixed with other drugs or substances (amphetamine, caffeine, strychnine, talcum powder, etc.,) making it more toxic. Combined with ammonia or baking soda and may contain various impurities.
Is sniffed up the nose; may be rubbed on gums or other tissues. Is smoked in a pipe.
Takes 15-30 minutes to have an effect. Takes about 10 seconds to have an effect.
Has a "high" that lasts 15-30 minutes. Has a "high" that lasts less than 10 minutes.
Is very expensive per dose. Is not expensive by the dose.
U.S. MANDATORY MINIMUM prison sentence for possession = 5 years for 4 ounces (500 g.) US MANDATORY MINIMUM prison sentence for possession = 5 years for one-fifth of an ounce (5 g.)
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