1 minute read



By the late 1970s, cocaine addiction in the United States had reached epidemic proportions. In the mid-1980s people started smoking cocaine after "freebasing" it, that is, dissolving the cocaine alkaloid from its white powder base to create a smokable form of pure cocaine. Ether is used to remove the hydrochloride base, which does not burn. The smoked cocaine goes straight into the bloodstream and gives a quicker and stronger high. Free-basing with ether can be dangerous because if any ether remains in the freebase cocaine, it can quickly ignite into flames when smoked. The comedian Richard Pryor, to mention one of the more famous cases, was severely burned when he freebased cocaine.

Besides freebase cocaine, there is another form of smokable cocaine, called "crack," which also gives a fast and potent high. Crack is safer and easier to obtain than freebase cocaine because baking soda is used instead of ether to remove the hydrochloride. The baking soda produces pure forms of cocaine in small pellets that can be smoked in a pipe (where it makes the crackling sound that gave this form of cocaine its name). The cost of crack is so low that anybody, even a child, can afford it, and the drug soon began to wreak its devastations on the working classes. The widespread use of crack cocaine has led most visibly to rising crime rates, with gang wars erupting over control of territory and with users resorting to theft, prostitution, and other crimes to support their habits. Other consequences have been impaired workplace performance, new public health problems including such phenomena as crack babies, and a host of other social and economic evils.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Cluster compound to ConcupiscenceCocaine - History, Introduction To The West, Coca-cola, Early Drug Laws, After The 1960s