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What Is Freebasing Cocaine? Effects And Risks Factors

Medically reviewed by

Joseph Sitarik, DO

April 2, 2019

Freebasing cocaine is a when cocaine is turned into a heat-stable form and smoked. Ingesting cocaine this way can be dangerous and put people at an increased risk for negative effects and risks.

Freebase or freebasing cocaine is one way that cocaine is consumed. Freebasing involves turning the cocaine powder into a heat-stable form, making it possible to smoke it.

Cocaine is an illicit and incredibly addictive stimulant drug. It is illegal to use and not approved for use in medical settings. Cocaine is responsible for thousands of deaths each year — in 2014 alone, cocaine overdose killed more than 5,000 people.

Using cocaine in any form is dangerous and can lead to abuse and dependence. Freebasing cocaine is one of the most harmful ways in which to consume the drug. It also puts people at an increased risk of addiction and the negative side effects associated with cocaine use.

What Is Freebasing Cocaine?

Freebase cocaine is the drug in its “base” form, or the solid, foundational form of the drug. Cocaine is typically found in salt (powder) form. Freebasing cocaine involves separating the base form from the salt form.

Freebase cocaine is made by using ammonia to remove the base of the drug. Ether is then used to remove the cocaine by dissolving it. Using either in this setting is extremely dangerous and is the cause of a number of drug lab explosions.

This form of the drug is essentially produced by turning the original cocaine powder into cocaine sulfate. This produces a much purer cocaine product. Freebase cocaine also has a lower melting point, making it possible to smoke.

The term “freebasing cocaine” typically refers to smoking the freebased drug. People often do this by melting and boiling the cocaine into a vapor and then smoking it with a glass pipe.

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What Are The Effects Of Freebasing Cocaine?

Regardless of how it is ingested, cocaine is a dangerous and highly addictive drug. As a central nervous system stimulant, it produces an intense and pleasurable high. This high doesn’t last long — typically only around 15 to 30 minutes.

When someone freebases the drug, the effects are felt almost immediately. The enters the bloodstream through the lung membranes and reaches the brain in as little as 10 seconds.

Immediate effects of cocaine include more energy, alertness, increased self-confidence, and heightened motivation. Many people feel invincible when using cocaine. However, once this initial high wears off, people are at risk for experiencing a “crash” and other negative side effects of the drug.

Short-term side effects of freebasing cocaine may include:

  • insomnia
  • headaches
  • excessive sweating
  • anxiety
  • paranoia
  • irritability
  • pinpoint pupils
  • sexual dysfunction
  • extreme fatigue
  • depression

When someone freebases cocaine for an extended period of time, he or she is at a higher risk of other negative effects. Long-term effects of freebasing cocaine include:

  • restlessness
  • depression
  • hallucinations
  • mood changes and disorders
  • anxiety
  • paranoia
  • heart problems

Because freebasing cocaine involves smoking the drug, people are at a higher risk for other types of health problems. Over time, damage to every part of the body can develop.

Risk Factors Of Freebasing Cocaine

Freebasing cocaine is one of the most dangerous ways to use the drug. Health problems that can arise from freebasing cocaine range from lung and mouth damage to an increased risk for certain cancers.

Other health risks include:

  • seizures
  • stroke
  • respiratory problems such as asthma and trouble breathing
  • heart conditions like heart failure and palpitations

People who freebase cocaine are also at risk for a number of other dangers. These may include:

  • Lab explosions — creating freebase cocaine is a dangerous task and can result in fire or explosions.
  • Burns — people who freebase cocaine are at an increased risk for burns on themselves and others.
  • Other injuries — Freebasing cocaine can make people aggressive and more likely to partake in risky or dangerous activities. This can lead to injuries, property damage, and even death.
  • Overdose — The risk of overdose is much higher when someone freebases cocaine. This is especially true when people binge on freebase cocaine, or use the drug repeatedly in a short period of time.

Freebasing cocaine also puts people at an increased risk for dependence and addiction. Tolerance can quickly build up, especially when the drug is freebased. This results in people using more of the drug to experience the same effect.

Withdrawal And Overdose Risks

An addiction to freebasing cocaine can happen fairly quickly, especially when people binge on the drug. When someone is addicted to a substance, he or she is more likely to experience withdrawal symptoms when stopping the drug.

Withdrawal symptoms will depend on a number of personal factors, including how much and how often the drug is used. Common symptoms of freebase cocaine withdrawal include:

  • extreme fatigue
  • muscle aches or pain
  • depression
  • agitation
  • increased appetite
  • vomiting
  • upset stomach
  • suicidal thoughts

As mentioned earlier, overdose is also much more likely to occur when freebasing cocaine. Overdosing on freebase cocaine can cause a number of life-threatening conditions, including deadly lung injuries.

Signs that someone may have overdosed on freebase cocaine include:

  • convulsions
  • stroke
  • high body temperature and blood pressure
  • rapid heartbeat
  • psychosis
  • tremors

If you believe someone has overdosed, seek immediate medical attention. Not doing so can result in death.

Getting Help For Cocaine Abuse And Addiction

If you or a loved one is addicted to using cocaine in any form, getting help is the best way to overcome addiction.

Quitting freebasing cocaine on one’s own is hard and sometimes feels impossible. That’s why many people choose to begin their treatment with a medically monitored detox program.

Once a detox program is successfully complete, a formal treatment program may be needed. This may include a stay at an inpatient rehab center for an extended period of time.

To learn more about the effects and risk factors of freebasing cocaine and getting help for cocaine addiction, contact our treatment specialists today.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration - Drug Abuse Warning Network, 2011: National Estimates of Drug-Related Emergency Department Visits

National Institute on Drug Abuse - Overdose Death Rates

National Institute on Drug Abuse - Cocaine

Center for Substance Abuse Research - Crack Cocaine

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