Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism.
Learn about our editorial process
Updated on March 02, 2022
Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more.
Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more.
John C. Umhau, MD, MPH, CPE
Medically reviewed byJohn C. Umhau, MD, MPH, CPE
John C. Umhau, MD, MPH, CPE is board-certified in addiction medicine and preventative medicine. He is the medical director at Alcohol Recovery Medicine.For over 20 years Dr. Umhau was a senior clinical investigator at theNational Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholismof the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Learn about our Medical Review Board
Do you wonder what cocaine and crack cocaine look like? You may have seen these drugs depicted in film and television and wondered if you would recognize them if you were to come across them.
Cocaine is the second most commonly used illegal drug (following marijuana) in the United States. It's the fourth most commonly used illicit drug overall, coming in after prescription painkillers and prescription tranquilizers.
An estimated 0.7% of Americans, or 1.9 million peopleaged 12 or older, were using cocaine in 2019 according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).
This article includes photographs, many from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), of cocaine and crack cocaine in various forms and stages. It also explains how each type is used and the effects it can have on the body.
What to Know About Cocaine Use
Cocaine is astrong stimulantthat affects the body's central nervous system that is extracted from the leaves of the South American coca plant. People in South America have chewed the leaves or drank tea brewed from the leaves for a mild stimulant effect, much like the effect of caffeine in coffee, for thousands of years.
This photo shows bright green coca leaves from the Erythroxylum coca plant before they are harvested and dried.
To produce cocaine, the dried leaves are soaked in solvents like gasoline to extract the cocaine chemicals. The leaves are then drained and the liquid is mixed with sodium bicarbonate or ammonia to make a cocaine base.
In their natural state, coca leaves are a mild stimulant similar to coffee. It is only after going through an extraction process that involves the use of noxious chemicals, such as gasoline and ether, that it is eventually turned into a paste that can be further refined into cocaine.
Once cocaine is extracted from the coca leaves and formed into cocaine base, the base is filtered and dried before it is dissolved again with added chemicals and heated, a process that results in crystallization. This raw cocaine is known as cocaine hydrochloride crystal and is the key ingredient in both powdered cocaine and crack cocaine.
Because it has not gone through further processing, this raw cocaine is stronger, which means it poses a higher risk of causing heart damage if used in this pure form.
A common form of cocaine is a fine, white, crystalline powder. Powdered cocaine is the result of taking raw cocaine hydrochloride through additional purification and drying processes to remove excess solvents and create the fine white powder.
After the powder cocaine is produced, it's commonly cut with other substances such as sugar, cornstarch, vitamins, or even flour to stretch the product further. This dilution can occur as often as each time it changes hands along the illicit supply chain.
The final potency of powdered cocaine bought on the street, as well as the substances it's mixed with, is impossible to predict.
Powdered cocaine is often wrapped in plastic bags or condoms for ease of transport. When sold by street dealers, it is typically packaged in tiny baggies in the amount of the drug that the buyer can afford. Such baggies can be discretely exchanged and easily discarded.
Powdered cocaine can be snorted, but it can also be dissolved in water and injected, which is the most common method of use. Injecting the drug leads to an almost instantaneous high that produces a euphoric rush. Snorting cocaine produces a less intense high.
Cocaine is also often mixed with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is up to 50 times stronger than heroin. It is also extremely dangerous and is a major cause of both fatal and non-fatal overdoses.
Powdered cocaine can be snorted or injected. It is often mixed with a variety of substances, which can include other addictive and potentially dangerous substances such as fentanyl.
Crack cocaine, which became popular in the 1980s, looks like a small rock, chunk, or chip and it's sometimes off-white or pink in color. While it's the same drug as powdered cocaine with virtually the same effects, it can be smoked, which provides an immediate high. It is known as "crack" because of the crackling sound it makes when it's heated and smoked.
Crack cocaine results from dissolving raw cocaine hydrochloride in a mixture of baking soda and water and heating it until the cocaine forms an oily substance, which is then cooled into the rock-like substance.
Like powdered cocaine, crack creates a strong sense of exhilaration. People generally feel invincible, carefree, alert, euphoric, and energized.
Crack cocaine is often packaged in small baggies when it is sold by street dealers. The rocks are placed in a pipe and smoked. Like powdered cocaine, crack cocaine might be cut or diluted with other substances like ammonia or baking soda.
Crack is a rock-like form of cocaine that is smoked either alone or along with marijuana or tobacco.
A Word From Verywell
Cocaine is potent, and both the short-term and long-term health effects of cocaine are dangerous to your physical and mental health. The risk of seizure, stroke, cardiac arrest with respiratory failure, and even sudden death is equal whether you use cocaine once, on occasion, or if you use the drug regularly.
Using cocaine even once can also lead to stimulant use disorder (more commonly referred to as cocaine addiction). The more you use it, the more your body gets used to it, creating the need for bigger doses and using the drug more often in order to get the same effect.
If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.
For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 2019 National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) Releases.
Drug Enforcement Agency. Coca.
Drug Enforcement Administration. Drug fact sheet.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fentanyl facts.
Cleveland Clinic. Cocaine (crack).
Riezzo I, Fiore C, de Carlo D, et al. Side effects of cocaine abuse: Multiorgan toxicity and pathological consequences. Curr Med Chem. 2012;19(33):5624-46. doi:10.2174/092986712803988893
National Institute on Drug Abuse. Cocaine. National Institutes of Health.
By Buddy T
Buddy Tis an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism.
See Our Editorial Process
Meet Our Review Board
Was this page helpful?
Thanks for your feedback!
What is your feedback?