What Is Freebasing?

Crack Cocaine
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"Freebase" refers to the smokable form of cocaine, which comes in the form of crack cocaine, a hard, rock-like substance. Smoking the freebase form of cocaine is called "freebasing." While freebasing is more commonly applied to cocaine, it is also possible to freebase other drugs such as morphine, ephedrine, and nicotine. 

People who become addicted to smoking crack are commonly called "crackheads" or "baseheads." These words are some of nearly 2,000 street terms that refer to specific drug types compiled by the Drug Enforcement Administration.

This article discusses the origins of the term basehead and how cocaine is administered via freebasing. It also covers the effects and risks of this method of drug administration.

What Is Freebase Cocaine?

Powder cocaine is actually cocaine hydrochloride, which is a water-soluble salt form of the drug. Because it's a salt, powder cocaine can be absorbed into the body, which means that it can be snorted or injected. Powder cocaine can be smoked, but smoking is not an effective method of using the drug.

Due to the fear of using infected needles, people who use cocaine began treating powder cocaine with chemicals to free the cocaine base from the hydrochloride. The result was "freebase" cocaine, a hard rock or lump of crack cocaine that was more easily smoked.

This form of cocaine is not soluble in water, so it can't easily be melted in order to inject the drug. However, because it has a low melting point, it can be smoked ("freebasing") more readily.

What Is a Basehead?

The slang term "basehead" is sometimes used to describe a person who smokes freebase crack cocaine.

Effects of Freebasing Cocaine

When a person snorts or injects cocaine, the effects can take a few minutes to kick in, but smoking crack cocaine or freebasing produces an almost immediate high. After smoking freebase cocaine, it quickly enters the bloodstream and reaches the brain. Intense feelings of euphoria typically begin within 10 to 15 seconds of administration.

While the high from powder cocaine lasts 15 to 30 minutes, smoking crack cocaine will typically create a shorter, 5- to 10-minute high.

After the rapid high that people experience when freebasing, the effects are generally similar to those of other methods of administering cocaine.

The pleasurable effects of crack cocaine wear off quickly; more quickly than when powder cocaine is snorted or injected. As the high wears off, the person begins to experience some very unpleasant after-effects, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Depressed mood
  • Fatigue
  • Head and body aches
  • Hunger
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Panic
  • Paranoia
  • Sensitivity to light and sound

In order to avoid these unpleasant effects, people may use more of the drug. This cycle of using to avoid the unpleasant effects of the drug wearing off can contribute to addiction.

Recap

Freebasing cocaine leads to a rapid high, but feelings of euphoria tend to wear off quickly. After use, people may feel anxious, depressed, exhausted, irritable, and paranoid. They may also experience headaches and difficulty sleeping.

Risks of Freebase Cocaine

In addition to the short-term effects people often experience after freebasing cocaine, there are also a number of long-term health risks. Freebasing poses many of the same risks of injecting or snorting powder cocaine, including: 

  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Neurological problems
  • Parkinson's disease and other movement disorders
  • Seizure
  • Stroke
  • Weight loss and malnourishment

Smoking can lead to cuts, sores, burns, and other injuries. People are also more prone to injury while they are using cocaine. Studies also suggest that long-term cocaine use can cause cognitive damage including impairing attention, memory, decision-making, and impulse control.

Because freebase cocaine is a very pure form of the substance, there is a chance that people may overdose. Signs of cocaine overdose include rapid heart rate, convulsions, rapid breathing, trouble breathing, hallucinations, chest pain, and seizures. If someone is exhibiting these symptoms and you suspect they have been using cocaine, you should call 911 immediately.

Recap

Freebasing cocaine carries many of the same risks as injecting or snorting cocaine. Long-term risks of cocaine use include heart problems, stroke, neurological conditions, seizures, and gastrointestinal problems. Smoking freebase cocaine can also lead to overdose.

Dependence, Addiction, and Withdrawal

The after-effects of smoking crack are so unpleasant, people who use crack cocaine often immediately smoke more of the drug to keep from coming down. This repeated, compulsive use can easily lead to chemical dependency.

Although the idea of becoming addicted after one use is mostly a myth, people who smoke crack cocaine can develop problematic use fairly quickly. Experimenting with crack cocaine often leads to addiction and related problems. Roughly one-third of people who try crack develop a physical dependence on cocaine within two years.

Recap

People often continue using cocaine to avoid its unpleasant after-effects. This can lead to physical dependence and addiction. When a person becomes physically dependent on cocaine, they will experience symptoms of withdrawal if they try to quit.

A Word From Verywell

Freebasing cocaine leads to a faster high than snorting or injecting but carries many serious risks. It can lead to addiction, withdrawal, and overdose. If you are concerned about your cocaine use, you should talk to a healthcare provider for advice about treatment.

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.

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7 Sources
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.
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