Crack-cocaine, a stimulant that is generally referred to simply as crack, is cocaine that has been concentrated by combining it with water and a binding agent, typically baking soda, and boiling it until it becomes a solid. This solid is then broken into pieces so they can be heated and smoked. This practice is known as freebasing.
Although crack is chemically the same as cocaine, it has a more intense high due to its concentrated form and the way the body absorbs it. Because of this, it poses a higher threat of abuse and addiction than its powdered counterpart. Crack also has a higher risk of overdose due to a brief high that causes users to take multiple large doses within a very short span.
People might be under the impression that because a crack high is so short that you can take it and pass through a drug test undetected just a short while later. However, crack is an unpredictable drug that each user may experience differently depending on the purity of the dose as well as other important factors that affect how long it stays in their system.
And unlike the high, the process of crack withdrawal is anything but quick and easy. Crack users can experience difficult, uncomfortable symptoms that can last for weeks at a time.
When you smoke crack, cocaine vapor gets absorbed into your bloodstream through your lungs, which means you will feel the effects much faster than if you snorted it. It also means a much shorter high, typically beginning about five minutes after use and peaking in about 10 minutes, as opposed to a cocaine high, which can last for at least 30 minutes.
Because of this, crack has a much shorter half-life, which means that in as little as 15 minutes after using, only half of the dose taken would be detectable in your system and that you could potentially be experiencing withdrawal symptoms in as little as an hour.
Obviously, if you have been smoking large amounts of crack on a regular basis for a significant period, a good deal of crack will have built up in your system, which means it will take much longer for it to be fully metabolized and flushed from your system.
Liver function is key to how long crack will remain in your system, as it is the chief organ involved in breaking down the substance in your body. If you have liver problems and cannot metabolize crack efficiently, it will remain in your system longer.
Crack is frequently used in combination with other substances, most commonly tobacco, marijuana, heroin, and amphetamines. Depending on the substance, there could be a significant impact on how long it would take for crack to leave your system.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA), there are six main methods of drug testing, the most commonly used of which are:
Each one has its own advantages and drawbacks. Urine tests are quick and easy to administer but can be easily tampered with and often give false positives. Saliva is also very quick and typically more accurate but has a smaller window of detection than urine.
Blood and hair are both extremely reliable, but require a lab to analyze the results properly. Also while hair has a 30- to 90-day window of detection and cannot be tampered with, it can only show that someone was using during that time and cannot provide an account for someone’s current state of intoxication.
Again, these are the general lengths of time these tests can detect crack in your system. Actual times will vary based on the previously mentioned individual factors.
Typically, crack is present and detectable in a user’s urine for about four days. However, depending on the potency of the drug, it can remain detectable in a urine test for more than two weeks.
Crack hits the bloodstream fast and leaves nearly as quickly. Depending on the amount of crack taken, it is detectable in the blood for two to eight hours. Because of this brief window, blood tests are not typically implemented to test for crack.
Saliva’s window of detection for crack is not much wider than the one for blood. Crack is typically present in saliva for about 12 hours to 24 hours.
Crack can be detected in hair for even longer than the one- to three-month average, sometimes even up to years, depending on the length of someone’s hair.
Since crack is essentially just a different form of cocaine, there is a fair amount of overlap between the symptoms of cocaine withdrawal and those associated with crack.
However, while the majority of the withdrawal symptoms of cocaine are largely mood-based, meaning they have far more of an effect on the mind than the body, crack has several physical withdrawal symptoms that cocaine generally does not.
The symptoms that crack shares with cocaine usually will be more intense with crack because of the severity of addiction caused by crack’s highly concentrated form. Also important to keep in mind is that drug manufacturers will often cut cocaine with other additives so that it is cheaper to produce.
This can include anything from laundry detergent and boric acid to the incredibly potent synthetic opioid fentanyl. Because of this, users have no way of knowing how much of what they’re smoking is even cocaine or crack, once it has been synthesized until it is too late.
This unpredictability of a given dose of crack’s purity and chemical composition makes it very likely for someone in withdrawal from crack to experience atypical and potentially more dangerous withdrawal symptoms.
As previously mentioned, the timeline in which someone will experience crack withdrawal is subject to wide variation. Generally speaking, the standard for the stages and timeline of crack withdrawal is again very similar to cocaine, and is as follows:
The first stage of crack withdrawal can start in as little as an hour after the last use, with early symptoms including intense paranoia and agitation, as well as increased appetite. This initial stage can last up to several days, depending on the amount of crack someone has been taking.
During this phase, symptoms of exhaustion, insomnia, anxiety, and depression will appear and reach their peak strength, along with the physical symptoms of withdrawal, including muscle pain, nausea, vomiting, and uncontrollable shaking.
After the crash stage, the physical withdrawal symptoms will have passed or at least weakened significantly. Mood-based symptoms such as depression and anxiety will have lessened and been replaced with mood swings, agitation, restlessness, and an intense, overwhelming craving for crack.
Unfortunately, the length of time that someone will spend in the cravings stage is the most difficult part of crack withdrawal to predict with any accuracy. It can last anywhere from one week to more than two months depending on the aforementioned factors. If someone was regularly using large amounts of crack for an extended time, they are likely to have a much longer craving phase than someone who was using less for a shorter period.
In this final stage of crack withdrawal, the majority of the symptoms of withdrawal should have disappeared, although random bouts of strong cravings for crack as well as some mood-based symptoms may linger for as long as six months.
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If crack has taken over your life and you want it to end, the best why is by getting addiction treatment and getting clean. This starts with medical detox to safely flush the crack from your system. It is followed by a recovery treatment program to help ensure long-term sobriety.
At Pathway to Hope, our dedicated and experienced team of doctors and staff can help you get through the symptoms, stages, and potential complications involved in crack withdrawal.
Detox should be followed by ongoing care in an addiction rehabilitation program, where we give you the guidance, support, and tools needed for a successful recovery from crack addiction.
It’s time to take action, take back your life, and be able to take a drug test with confidence that it will come back clean.
If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction to crack, take the first steps toward a substance-free future and call 844-311-5781 any time, day or night, for a free and confidential consultation with one of our knowledgeable and compassionate specialists.
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National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, July). Drug Facts: Cocaine Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/cocaine
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015, October 22). Drug Testing. Retrieved from https://www.samhsa.gov/workplace/resources/drug-testing