Freebasing is a process that can increase the potency of a substance. The term is typically used in reference to cocaine, though it’s possible to freebase other substances, including nicotine and morphine.

Due to its chemical structure, cocaine can’t be heated and smoked. Freebasing alters its structure in a way that makes it both smokable and more potent.

Here’s what else you need to know about freebasing, including what it feels like and the risks involved.

Healthline does not endorse the use of any illegal substances, and we recognize abstaining from them is always the safest approach. However, we believe in providing accessible and accurate information to reduce the harm that can occur when using.

Sort of.

Cocaine is made from hydrochloride and alkaloid, which is also known as “base.”

In the 1970s, ether was used to “free” the base — hence the name — from any additives and impurities that were in traditional coke. A heat source, like a lighter or torch, was then used to heat the freebase so you could inhale the vapors.

This process isn’t really a thing anymore because taking a lighter or blowtorch to ether, a highly flammable liquid, is a recipe for an explosive disaster.

After who knows how many freebasing accidents, crack cocaine entered the scene as an equally potent substance that’s safer to produce.

It’s made by using sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) to remove hydrochloride from cocaine. The end is crystal rocks that can be smoked in a pipe.

The name comes from the crackling sound the rock makes when it’s being heated.

Today, the terms “freebasing” and “smoking crack” are almost always used interchangeably (this is also what we mean by “freebasing” for the rest of this article).

Freebasing produces a very powerful rush, followed by a longer lasting high. Users report feeling a warm rush through their body as soon as they inhale it and often compare it to an orgasm.

People who opt for freebase over powder cocaine do it because the effects are more intense and come sooner.

The initial effects of freebasing are usually felt within 10 to 15 seconds of inhalation. The effects of snorted coke, for comparison, peak about an hour after consumption.

After that initial rush, the effects feel fairly similar to those of snorted coke.

Freebasing produces nearly all the same short-term effects as snorted coke, including:

  • euphoria
  • increased energy
  • hypersensitivity to sound, sight, and touch
  • mental alertness
  • irritability
  • paranoia

It can also cause physical side effects, including:

The long-term effects is where freebasing cocaine really differs. Unlike snorting, which mainly causes issues with the nose, smoking coke can seriously hurt your lung health.

The long-term effects of freebasing on your lungs can include:

  • chronic coughing
  • asthma
  • trouble breathing
  • increased risk of infections, including pneumonia

Freebasing carries almost all of the same risks as snorting or injecting cocaine.

Bloodborne infections

Smoking can cause burns, cuts, and open sores on your lips and transfer blood to a pipe. If you share a pipe with someone, this increases your risk for bloodborne infections, including hepatitis C and HIV.

Heart problems

Cocaine in any form is a powerful stimulant that can have serious effects on your heart and the rest of your body. This can be particularly dangerous if you already have high blood pressure or a heart condition.

Overdose

It’s possible to overdose on cocaine, regardless of how you take it.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), out of the 70,237 drug overdose deaths that occurred in 2017 in the United States, 13,942 of them involved cocaine.

Fentanyl warning

Cocaine in any form, including crack, may be contaminated with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that’s 50 times more potent than heroin.

Smoking crack that’s been tainted with fentanyl greatly increases your overdose risk.

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Long-term health issues

Long-term or heavy use of any form of cocaine can increase your risk for movement disorders, including Parkinson’s disease, and cognitive impairment, including memory loss and reduced attention span.

Freebasing can also result in permanent lung damage over time.

Snorting and injecting cocaine already have great addiction potential. Freebasing can be even more addictive because it results in effects that are more immediate and more intense.

If you’re going to freebase, there are a few things you can do to reduce certain risks associated with it:

  • Avoid sharing pipes.
  • Always wipe mouthpieces with alcohol first if someone else has used them.
  • Don’t use broken pipes.
  • Never use a pipe with visible blood on it.
  • Let your pipe cool before your next hit to avoid burns.
  • Keep only a small amount accessible to reduce overdose risk.
  • Use fentanyl test strips to check for contamination. You can purchase them and read more about how to use them at DanceSafe.

If you’re going to freebase or be around people who are, make sure you know how to recognize when things go wrong.

Call 911 if you or anyone else experiences any of the following:

Freebasing may spare you the nosebleeds associated with snorting coke, but it carries its own set of risks, including a higher potential for addiction.

If you’re concerned about substance use:

  • Talk to your healthcare provider if you feel comfortable doing so. Patient confidentiality laws prevent them from reporting this information to law enforcement.
  • Call SAMHSA’s national helpline at 800-622- 4357 (HELP) for treatment referral.
  • Find a support group through the Support Group Project.

Adrienne Santos-Longhurst is a freelance writer and author who has written extensively on all things health and lifestyle for more than a decade. When she’s not holed-up in her writing shed researching an article or off interviewing health professionals, she can be found frolicking around her beach town with husband and dogs in tow or splashing about the lake trying to master the stand-up paddle board.