The Risks of Freebasing Cocaine

Most people think of snorting lines of cocaine when they think of cocaine abuse because it’s by far the most common way to ingest the drug. However, some people choose to process the powder and then freebase, or smoke, the drug it instead—often with deadly results.

Smoking cocaine produces much faster high. Snorting cocaine requires the drug to travel from the nose to the heart, through the lungs and then back to the heart before traveling to the brain. However, when a user freebases cocaine, the drug only has to travel from the lungs to the heart to the brain and is able to bypass the additional steps.1

Unfortunately, the faster the drug gets to the brain, the more likely it is to become abused. As cocaine is already very addictive, for those who freebase cocaine, addiction often develops even more quickly.

Respiratory Issues

Because freebasing includes smoking the substance, it can lead to several lung function and respiratory disorders. These may include the following:

  • Acute respiratory symptoms like chest pain, coughing, black sputum
  • Blockage to airflow in the large airways
  • Abnormalities in lung function like impaired diffusing capability of the lung
  • Life-threatening acute lung injury

These respiratory risks do not replace other risks associated with cocaine use but only compound them making the risk greater for those who freebase.

Cardiovascular Effects

Doctor and woman with chest painCocaine use leads to many potential health risks, including cardiovascular symptoms. In fact, cocaine use is the leading cause of emergency room visits involving drug abuse, and many patients go in with cardiovascular complaints.2 Common cardiovascular symptoms related to cocaine use include the following:

  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased myocardial demand for oxygen
  • Decreased coronary blood flow

When decreased coronary blood flow occurs as the myocardial demand for oxygen is increased, the result can be a number of deadly issues, including cardiac arrhythmias, pulmonary edema, myocardial infarction and other medical emergencies. Other potential cocaine related issues include the following:

  • Hemorrhagic stroke
  • Aortic aneurysm rupture
  • Endocarditis
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Myocarditis

Long-Term Effects of Cocaine Abuse

When someone freebases cocaine regularly for a long period of time, there are a number of risks that are likely to become reality. These include the following:

  • Extreme changes in the brain, especially a decrease in dopamine
  • Higher tolerance for the drug
  • Extreme cravings for the substance
  • Increased sensitivity to the anxiety, panic, and paranoia caused by the drug
  • Panic attacks
  • Full-blown psychosis3

Cocaine Treatment: A New Tomorrow

Although the effects of cocaine use can be scary, it is always the best idea to pursue treatment as soon as possible. Medical and therapeutic interventions are being constantly honed and developed to help patients recover from the effects of the drug and to stay sober over time. If you or your loved one also suffers from a co-occurring mental health disorder, it is important to understand the connection with cocaine addiction and how each can exacerbate each other.

We offer specialized treatment for cocaine addiction as well as co-occurring mental health disorders and would love the privilege of helping you regain your health. Learn more about the treatment services that are currently available and how we can help you or your loved one to recover from cocaine abuse or addiction here at The Oaks at La Paloma today. Please call our 24-hour, toll-free helpline now.


1“Snorting vs smoking cocaine: different addictive liabilities.” National Institute on Drug Addiction, January 2007.

2 Havakuk, O, et. al, “Cardiovascular Effects of Cocaine.” American College of Cardiology, June 27, 2017.

3What are the long-term effects of cocaine use?” National Institute on Drug Addiction, May 2016.