Freebasing Cocaine


To understand why addicts want freebasing cocaine, there are a couple of key points. The first is about chemistry and the second has to do with the goals of the addict.

Cocaine naturally occurs as an alkaloid. When cocaine is extracted from the plant, this “base” is converted to a salt. The salt form is more stable and water soluble – both of these are advantages for some uses. Being more stable, “regular” cocaine (the salt) has a longer shelf life and is less sensitive to heat. The salt form is meant to be inhaled or injected – both of these require the product dissolves in water, either to make a solution for injecting or to be absorbed in the mucus membranes of the nose. Mucus is largely just water.

From the addicts point of view, injecting gives one of the fastest and most intense experiences but comes with risks of infection and disease transmission (HIV from shared needles). They would prefer to smoke it instead. Although called smoking, it is really just inhaling cocaine vapors. Again, chemistry drives the issue. Cocaine salts only vaporize at high temperatures and there is a risk that the cocaine itself will be destroyed by the high heat. It also “tastes” nasty when smoked in the salt form.

Freebasing cocaine is an attempt to circumvent the two problems – to get as high as possible as quickly as possible without injecting, and to maximize the amount inhaled so as not to waste any drug.

Cocaine salts can be converted back to cocaine base for freebasing cocaine in a simple process. The two common ways to do this yield the same product, commonly known as crack cocaine. Typical crack is a form of freebasing cocaine with impurities, although it is still much purer than the original salt meant for inhalation. Another process yields a very pure product dissolved in ether, but both are cocaine base.

So, smoking crack or inhaling cocaine base dissolved in ether are both properly called freebasing cocaine. Both require a conversion of cocaine salt (the normal, powdered form) back into the alkaloid. Freebasing cocaine with the ether method gives a purer product but is more expensive and dangerous (ether is highly flammable) – most addicts simply buy the more convenient crack. Both ways of abusing cocaine are extremely addictive.

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