Is crack “bad” for you?

Lately there has been a lot of talking about crack cocaine in the news. Crack has been described as an upper class drug. The media has linked it to many popular figures such as the singer Boy George, supermodel Kate Moss and Marion Barry, the mayor of Washington D.C.

But, how “bad” crack can be? Well, the famous stand-up comedian Richard Pryor almost killed himself when freebasing crack (by setting himself afire); the risks associated with using crack cannot be underestimated just look at the pictures of  Whitney Houston over time.

Let’s start from the beginning, what is crack? Crack is cocaine, it comes in little whitish crystals (like lumps of sugar) and can be inhaled or smoked. The name comes from the sound it makes when it is heated.

People who take crack report a “feeling good” sensation, believe to be more alert and above all experience a “rush.” The rush is caused by the fact than when crack allows a high quantity of cocaine to reach the brain quickly. The faster the absorption rate the higher the rush, but also the speed of the absorption causes a brief rush. The rush is usually short lived (few minutes) and it is generally followed by feeling down and outright symptoms of depression (cocaine interferes with the dopamine flow in the brain).

People using cocaine may become depressed, experience mood swings, or become restless and excitable. They may become irritable and anxious; the contact with reality may become loser and people who use crack may experience hallucinations.

Physically, crack increases the blood pressure therefore exerting more stress on the heart, (with increase risks of heart attack or cardiac arrest). The lungs become stressed which may cause shortness of breath, respiratory arrest or damage the lungs themselves; crack can cause seizures.

Cognitively, crack may cause confusion, short-term memory, concentration attention are also affected.

The behaviour of people who use crack may be erratic, bizarre, or violent; users may become aggressive and tend to be impulsive and prone to risk taking behaviours.

Current neuropsychological studies suggest a direct correlation between the frequency and length of use and the deleterious effects crack can have on cognitive, behavioural, physical and emotional functioning.

There is no doubt that crack is “bad”, but it is also important to know what crack does to the user and what could be the consequences for people close to the user; there is no such thing as a “victimless” addiction or a single victim; when people use illicit drugs, the whole community is affected.

Dr. Giorgio Ilacqua