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  • In the words of music legend Whitney Houston 'Crack is Whack'. But with all the extra attention

  • lately, thanks to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford - what exactly is crack-cocaine? Is it really as

  • 'whack' as it's portrayed to be?

  • Crack is simply another form of cocaine, which comes from the leaves of a coca plant. After

  • mixing powdered cocaine with a weak base, such as baking soda, it changes composition

  • and a solid is produced, often referred to as 'rocks'. This solid has a much lower melting

  • point than cocaine (90C vs 190C) allowing it to be smoked, as opposed to snorted. In

  • fact, it's called 'crack' because of the sound it makes when heated. But why smoke it? Well,

  • the lungs are an extremely quick and effective way of getting something into the bloodstream.

  • Those with asthma, for example, use inhalers to quickly put a drug directly into their

  • system. When smoke meets the large surface area in your lungs, it too slips right through

  • the membrane, and heads straight to your brain, in as little as 8 seconds. This is much faster

  • and more intense than the effects of snorted cocaine which generally takes around 10 minutes

  • to reach the brain.

  • However, once in the brain, crack and cocaine are effectively identical. Initially, users

  • feel energized, alert and much more aware of their senses. In the brain, crack acts

  • on the Ventral Tegmental Area, releasing large amounts of dopamine - the chemical often associated

  • with feelings of pleasure and euphoria. This dopamine travels between brain cells - called

  • neurons - and binds to receptors that trigger the good feelings. Now, normally, this dopamine

  • would be reabsorbed back into the neuron by a dopamine transporter; however, crack alters

  • this process. It attaches to the transporter, and blocks the reabsorption, allowing dopamine

  • to build up and continually stimulate the receptors. As a result, you feel - well - really

  • good for around 10 minutes.

  • But soon after, the dopamine levels in the brain plummet, causing an extreme low and

  • often feelings of depression. Which is why many users typically smoke more, hoping to

  • reach that high again. Unfortunately, these dopamine levels can take a long time to naturally

  • replenish, contributing to physical and psychological dependence or addiction, as well as increased

  • irritability, restlessness and paranoia.

  • In some cases, crack or cocaine abuse can lead to something called Delusional Parasitosis

  • - the feeling that bugs or insects are crawling under the skin. This often leads to self-destructive

  • behaviour, like scratching or biting, in an effort to get rid of the imagined bugs. In

  • the most serious cases, crack's impact on the heart can cause heart attacks, strokes,

  • or even stop the heart altogether, leading to death.

  • Simply put, on the extreme end of things, crack can get pretty whack!

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  • Grisham's sequel to "A Time to Kill". You can download this audio book or another of

  • your choice, for free, at audible.com/asap. Then use audibles free app to listen on your

  • apple, windows or android device. Special thanks to audible for making these videos

  • possible and for offering you a free audio book of your choice at audible.com/asap. And

  • subscribe for more weekly science videos.

In the words of music legend Whitney Houston 'Crack is Whack'. But with all the extra attention

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Your Brain on Crack Cocaine

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    Paul Huang posted on 2014/02/09
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