November 16, 2023

What is Freebasing Drugs?

A woman stares out the window representing the effects of mixing cocaine and alcohol

What is freebasing? Freebasing is a technique utilized to heighten the potency of some addictive substances, most commonly cocaine.

Cocaine hydrochloride, due to its chemical composition, is not suitable for smoking when in its standard form. However, by transforming its structure, freebasing has the effect of rendering cocaine smokable. Freebase coke is also significantly stronger than powdered coke.

To illustrate why this method of consuming drugs is extremely dangerous, we explore the following issues:

  • What is freebasing cocaine?
  • What does freebasing mean?
  • What does freebasing cocaine mean?

What Does Freebasing Drugs Mean?

Freebase cocaine refers to the solid or base form rather than its powdered state.

The process of freebasing coke involves separating the base form of cocaine from its naturally occurring salt form (hydrochloride). Unlike crack cocaine, which is produced by combining cocaine with baking soda and water, freebase cocaine is extracted using an ammonia base.

With virtually no additive hydrochloride, freebase is essentially pure, resulting from the conversion of powdered cocaine to cocaine sulfate. Freebase drugs have a low melting point, making the substance suitable for smoking but introducing complications if the drug is injected.

Various techniques are employed for freebasing cocaine. A piece of heavy copper serves as the reduction base, allowing for the melting and vaporization of the cocaine, which is then smoked through a glass pipe.

A man in a deep looking out at scenery representing symptoms of freebasing cocaine

Is Freebasing Dangerous?

Powdered cocaine poses inherent dangers due to its impact on the CNS (central nervous system). Cocaine interferes with the body’s normal reuptake of dopamine, leading to elevated dopamine levels and the euphoric high associated with the drug.

Freebase cocaine, by contrast, lacks the stabilizing salts found in its powdered counterpart. Smoking freebase cocaine heightens the risk of addiction, as the rapid and intensified high affects the brain more swiftly.

When consumed through smoking, the impact of freebasing cocaine is nearly instantaneous. The drug is absorbed rapidly through the lung membranes, penetrating the bloodstream and brain within seconds. This results in a powerful feeling of euphoria that peaks after no more than 30 minutes.

While the high triggered by freebase is intense and near-immediate, it is also short-lived and followed by a comedown or crash period. As cocaine’s euphoric effects wane, people commonly experience anxiety, depression, irritability, paranoia, and extreme fatigue.

Short-term physical consequences of freebasing may include nausea, sweating, insomnia, constricted pupils,, headaches, and reduced sexual function. Prolonged freebase cocaine use can lead to persistent, irritability, mood changes, anxiety, depression, restlessness, paranoia, and hallucinations.

Smoking freebase cocaine can also lead to adverse health effects, including respiratory problems, lung and oral damage, and an elevated risk of developing various types of cancer. Chronic use can harm all bodily systems, including:

  • Heart complications like palpitations or heart failure
  • Strokes
  • Seizure
  • Respiratory complications like asthma

Further dangers of freebasing involve potential burns from pipes or ignition sources during consumption. Additionally, people may face an increased risk of injuries from accidents while under the influence of cocaine.

Why Do People Freebase Drugs?

Freebasing is a method of consuming drugs that involves converting them into their freebase form, typically to enhance their potency and produce a more intense and rapid high. While the process of freebasing drugs can be dangerous and associated with severe health risks, individuals may engage in this practice for several reasons, including:

  • Intensified effects: Freebasing drugs often results in a more rapid and intense high than other methods of ingestion. By converting a drug into its freebase form, individuals seek to maximize the drug’s psychoactive effects and experience an immediate and powerful euphoric sensation.
  • Enhanced bioavailability: Certain drugs, when freebased, have increased bioavailability, meaning they can more readily cross the blood-brain barrier and exert their effects on the central nervous system. This increased bioavailability can lead to a quicker onset of effects and a stronger overall impact.
  • Chasing a stronger high: For those struggling with substance use disorders, tolerance to the effects of a drug can develop over time, requiring larger doses to achieve the desired high. Freebasing is seen as a way to bypass this tolerance and achieve a more potent high without having to consume larger quantities of the drug.
  • Cultural and social influences: In some communities, freebasing has been glamorized or normalized within certain social circles or subcultures. Cultural factors, peer pressure, and the desire to fit in or be accepted within a specific group may influence individuals to experiment with or continue freebasing despite its associated risks.
  • Lack of awareness or education: In some cases, individuals may be unaware of the health risks associated with freebasing drugs. Limited access to accurate information about the dangers of this practice, coupled with a lack of education about the specific chemical properties of drugs, can lead some people to engage in freebasing without fully understanding the potential consequences.
  • Immediate gratification: The rapid onset of euphoria associated with freebasing can provide a quick and intense sense of pleasure or relief from emotional or psychological distress. This immediate gratification may lead individuals to prioritize the immediate high over the potential long-term risks and consequences associated with freebasing.

Understanding the motivations behind freebasing drugs can help inform targeted interventions and prevention strategies aimed at addressing the underlying factors contributing to this risky behavior. Education, harm reduction initiatives, and access to comprehensive addiction treatment can play important roles in reducing the prevalence of freebasing and promoting safer, healthier alternatives for individuals struggling with substance use disorders.

An image of the Gratitude Lodge facility, where treatment for cocaine addiction is available

Get Treatment for Drug Addiction at Gratitude Lodge

If you have been freebasing cocaine, we can help you fight back at Gratitude Lodge in Southern California. Access evidence-based cocaine addiction treatment at one of our pet-friendly facilities in Long Beach or Newport Beach, CA.

Although there are no medications to streamline cocaine withdrawal, our supervised detox program offers a safe and trigger-free environment in which you can withdraw from cocaine and move into ongoing inpatient treatment.

During our 30-day inpatient program, you will access a personalized mixture of holistic, behavioral, and pharmacological treatments to help you tackle stimulant use disorder (cocaine addiction). Call 800-994-2184 for immediate help with cocaine detox and addiction treatment in California.

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Joe Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been working in the addiction industry for half a decade and has been writing about addiction and substance abuse treatment during that time. He has experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.
Jenni Bussi

Jenni Busse MS, LPCC

Jenni Busse MS, LPSS is the Clinical Director at Gratitude Lodge. Jenni oversees the clinical program and the clinical team at Gratitude Lodge as a whole. Jenni has worked in treatment for almost 14 years. Her background as a licensed therapist and her passion for helping others intersected with addiction recovery when she started working primarily in detox residential treatment.

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