Research in the fields of drug1 abuse, pharmacology2 and psychology indicates that the period of time between the introduction of a drug into the body and its ability to produce euphoria or pleasure is important in the abuse potential of that drug. Cocaine produces its high within seconds when smoked as crack; but it takes several minutes to produce a high when snorted (see Figure 5). Furthermore, cocaine leaves the brain very quickly after smoking stops, so the cocaine high produced by smoking does not last very long. In fact, crack cocaine users often experience a depression or “crash”, so they repeat the process. This can occur many times (binging). When snorted, the cocaine enters the brain more slowly since it must travel throughout the circulatory system first. The high lasts longer because the cocaine enters the brain over a longer period of time compared to when it is smoked. The user does not repeat the process as readily and the potential for abuse or addiction3 is not as strong compared to the user who smokes the free base4. South American Indians obtain cocaine orally by chewing the coca leaf. As discussed above, relatively little cocaine reaches the brain and mild effects are produced slowly. The abuse liability of this form of cocaine is low.
Figure 5 The relationship between the mode of cocaine intake and the intensity and duration of its euphoric effects.
1 A substance that affects the structure or function of a cell or organism.
2 The study of the actions of drugs; a science that integrates biology and chemistry.
3 A behavior pattern that occurs when a person uses drugs compulsively, with a loss of control of their intake, despite negative consequences.
4 The unionized form of a weak base. With reference to cocaine, it is the smokable form.