what does crack look like
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Would You Know It if You Saw It?

Pure cocaine is a white powder. The “crack” form, produced by boiling cocaine powder with baking soda or another “base” substance, comes in the form of crystals (rocks).

Crack rocks, like powdered cocaine, are naturally white—but, also like powdered cocaine, are frequently mixed with “filler” substances, so buyers of illicit “cocaine” or “crack” are rarely sure what they’re actually getting. Where crack contains additives or impurities, it may look yellow, brown, or even pink.

(Click here for sample photographic images of crack and cocaine in various forms.)

Should you find any mysterious crystals of unknown origin, the first thing not to do is sniff, taste, or touch the substance in any attempt to identify it definitely: if it is crack or another toxic substance, you could get a dangerous dose that way. Instead, inform law enforcement authorities and follow their instructions. (Don’t, however, panic if you touch a suspicious substance inadvertently: the odds of actually getting high or overdosing through casual contact are extremely low with any drug. Just clean your hands promptly, and avoid touching your face until you can inform first responders of what happened.)

What Does Crack Paraphernalia Look Like?

If someone in your household is using crack, you may notice clues apart from the discovery of actual rocks. One definite red flag is the presence of drug paraphernalia, especially narrow smoking pipes (ready-made or crudely assembled) with round bulbs and black burn marks.

Crack pipes can also be improvised with straws, or small rocks may be rolled into cigarettes with tobacco or marijuana—in which case white crystals will be visible amidst dark residue. And crack smoking may be in progress if you detect an odor like burning plastic or rubber, or if you hear mysterious “crackling” sounds.

What Does Crack Addiction Look Like?

If crack is used regularly, a user may develop active addiction, which has its own telltale symptoms:

  • Frequent bursts of intense energy and euphoria (often alternating with crashes into apathy or depression)
  • Sudden mood swings and/or chronic jitteriness
  • Bloodshot eyes and dilated pupils
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Rise in blood pressure
  • Burned fingers
  • Blistered lips
  • Frequent sore throats and hoarseness
  • Decaying teeth
  • Coughing up blood.

Of course, addiction also means withdrawal symptoms if regular doses are missed. Crack or cocaine withdrawal may induce aching muscles, severe depression, panic attacks, or even thoughts of suicide. (With any form of cocaine, withdrawal symptoms tend to be more mental–emotional than physical—which does not make it any safer to detox without medical supervision.)

Convincing someone to get help for an addiction—or even convincing them that they have an addiction—is rarely easy. The first step is to avoid enabling the problem (no “lending” money, no starting arguments, no rescuing anyone from negative consequences of crack use). Also, seek advice from a counselor experienced in dealing with addiction in the family. If things continue to get worse, consult an intervention specialist for advice on confronting the problem directly.

What Does Crack Overdose Look Like?

With or without contributing addiction, too large or strong a dose of crack can mean overdose—and possible seizure or heart failure. A person experiencing crack overdose will exhibit several or most of the following symptoms:

  • Gasping for breath
  • Shaking all over
  • Accelerated pulse (often accompanied by pain or “heaviness” in the chest)
  • Clammy skin
  • Enlarged pupils
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Hallucinations or delusions.

If overdose effects continue to worsen, the person may pass out, and breathing and heart rate may drop to dangerously low levels. If you even suspect someone has overdosed on crack or any other drug, don’t wait to be sure: call for emergency medical help, give them all the details, and follow their instructions.

Finally, remember that definitely recognizing crack or its effects is less important than recognizing when someone needs help. Don’t hesitate to broach the subject or consult a professional any time you suspect something is wrong. Don’t worry about “being paranoid”: you may be saving a life.

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