Freebasing: What are the Dangers When You Freebase Cocaine & Heroin?

What is Freebasing

Freebasing isn’t exactly a common term, so it wouldn’t be surprising if you hadn’t heard of it before. But if you have someone in your life who is dealing with drug addiction right now, perhaps you can benefit from understanding freebasing and the risks associated with it.

The use of illegal drugs is never encouraged but it is important to be aware of what things like freebasing are and the risks involved that you want to avoid:

What Is Freebasing?

The process of freebasing increases a substance’s potency. While the term ‘freebasing’ is often associated with the use of cocaine, the principle can also apply to other substances like morphine and nicotine.

Cocaine’s chemical structure doesn’t allow it to be smoked and heated. Freebasing changes its structure so that it can be consumed in those ways. Once it is smokable, though, its potency is significantly higher as well.

Freebasing, in recent years, have progressed from its beginnings in the 1970s into becoming a less flammable process as people started using baking powder so the hydrochloride from pure cocaine can be removed. The substance can then be smoked in its pure form.

Freebasing Cocaine and Its Effects

Freebasing this particular drug involves inhaling the vapor as heat is applied to base cocaine. It is not to be mistaken for smoking crack although they are somewhat similar, with the difference being that freebasing changes the cocaine’s chemical construction in the process.

As freebase cocaine is placed into a glass pipe, the user waits for it to boil into vapor and then inhales it. Copper is often added to make the cocaine boil faster.

As for its effects, freebase cocaine is known to enter the bloodstream and then the brain faster compared to other forms of this drug. Some claim the effect is faster than when injection is done. There are also people who say the effects or the “high” that they achieve from freebase cocaine is more intense.

Freebase Cocaine
Freebase Cocaine

Freebasing Heroin

Heroin is often distributed illegally in a freebase form, although many dealers dilute it with fillers to increase their profit margin. Users add acid and convert the heroin to its water-soluble salt-like form and inject it. Usually, mild acids like acetic acid or citric acid are mixed with the freebase form of heroin, then the mixture is warmed in either an aluminum foil or a spoon to turn it into a solution that can be injected.

Some who have dealt with addiction with this substance say the solution is often injected while hot as this adds a certain rush and is obviously felt through the body. This however makes it more dangerous. A cooled down solution—while still damaging, of course—is considered to be less dangerous.

Freebasing Other Types of Drugs

As mentioned above, cocaine is not the only drug that is freebased, though it is the most common, followed by heroin. Those drugs that may be freebased include nicotine and opioids. Like with cocaine, freebasing is done with these drugs to achieve their purest form and their most potent state.  Because both nicotine and opioids are available in smokable forms, those who still freebase them only aim to achieve a stronger potency.

When nicotine is freebased, it is much easier for the chemicals to get to the body’s membranes. If you aren’t aware of it yet, hundreds of thousands of people use freebased nicotine—cigarettes. Manufacturers of cigarettes add diammonium phosphate to nicotine, so that the drug reaches the brain and lungs faster.

In fact, what makes cigarette-smoking so dangerous to one’s health is that those cigarettes are not only made up of tobacco. The altered chemicals added to the cigarette is what makes it more potent and addictive.

What Are the Long-Term Effects of Freebasing on One’s Health?

Illegal drugs, no matter how they are taken, are harmful to one’s health. Freebasing often intensifies these health consequences. Additionally, freebasing gives an intense rush which affects the brain which ultimately leads to addiction. Aside from that, the user can possibly get serious health problems like Hepatitis or HIV. These diseases can be acquired because of the cracked pipes and face burns.

Unlike with snorting, smoking cocaine won’t have negative effects on one’s nasal passages. That said, smoking cocaine’s adverse effects are mainly on the lungs. Those who have been freebasing for an extended period are likely to experience these symptoms:

  • Asthma
  • Breathing problems
  • Chronic cough
  • Changed lung capacity
  • Higher risk of pneumonia
  • Acute lung injury
  • Other health risks that come with smoking

What Are the Short-Term Effects of Freebasing?

The effects of freebasing drugs can be felt about 10 to 15 seconds of inhaling the substance. In comparison, snorted coke’s effects kick in about one hour after taking it.

As mentioned above, a powerful and sudden rush comes with freebasing. But after that rush comes a long-lasting high that could feel like a warm sensation in the body.

These are some of the short-term effects of freebasing: 

  • Euphoria
  • Dilated pupils
  • Constriction of blood vessels
  • Hypersensitivity of senses
  • Increased energy
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Irritability
  • Mental alertness
  • Muscle twitches
  • Nausea
  • Paranoia
  • Profuse sweating
  • Restlessness

What Serious Health Risks Are There? 

Aside from the mentioned short-term and long-term effects, some serious health risks come with freebasing—most being similar to that of snorting or injecting the illegal drugs. 

Bloodborne Infections 

Smoking can cause open sores on the lips, as well as burns and cuts, all of which can cause users to unknowingly transfer blood to the pipe. Sharing that pipe with others means exposure to bloodborne infections like HIV and hepatitis. 

Heart Problems

Powerful stimulants like cocaine can cause serious heart problems, but especially if the user is already suffering from a heart condition or has high blood pressure.


With any drug, there’s always the risk of an overdose no matter how it is taken. It is especially more common with cocaine. In 2017, there were 70,237 deaths caused by overdose in the United States. Of that number, 13,942 were caused by cocaine.

The risk of overdose is higher with cocaine that’s been contaminated by the synthetic opioid fentanyl which is about 50 times more potent than heroin.

Other Serious Health Issues

Apart from heart problems, bloodborne infections, and overdose, long-term use or even short-term but heavy usage of cocaine can increase the risk for disorders like Parkinson’s disease, as well as cognitive impairment, memory loss, and permanent lung damage.

Recognize When It’s an Emergency

If you know someone who might be freebasing, it is important that you know what to look out for. You should call 911 immediately when you notice these symptoms:

  • Chest pain
  • Breathing problem
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures


Freebasing may not have some of the effects of snorting coke like nosebleeds but that doesn’t mean it’s less dangerous. In fact, it’s actually riskier because of its higher potential for drug addiction.

If you have concerns related to substance abuse, you can find a support group or speak with your healthcare provider. Rest assured that doctors follow patient confidentiality laws that prevent them from filing reports about such cases. There are also addiction centers that can provide you or your loved one with the necessary support to aid them through the process of recovery.