Crack pipe bottle – plastic bottle with the top covered in tin foil with a few holes in it, fastened by a rubber band.
Photo: Roger Parkes / Alamy Stock Photo

What It's Like to Smoke Crack, According to People Who Know

“That particular night, I got so fucked up, I couldn’t leave.”
Marie Pilette
Brussels, BE

This article originally appeared on VICE Belgium.

A few months ago, I was at a pretty mediocre party, when a friend confessed that he’d once tried crack at an afterparty in Brussels. That was a shock: I didn’t expect someone I knew to have smoked a drug so heavily associated with devastating addiction.

Crack is a close relative of cocaine – they’re almost identical from a pharmacological standpoint. While cocaine is an extract of the coca plant refined into a powder, crack is created by turning that powder into rock to make it more smokable. The process also makes it more concentrated than cocaine. On top of that, the fact that it’s smoked rather than snorted heightens its effects and makes them more short-lived.


“The effects of crack change from person to person,” says Dr Félix Hever, a toxicologist at the Brugmann University Hospital in Brussels. Basically, crack activates your sympathetic nervous system by releasing dopamine, noradrenaline and serotonin. This system is mainly in charge of your fight or flight response, so you’ll experience similar symptoms as if your body was under stress – rapid heartbeat, sweating, hypervigilance. 

“In short, it’s as if your body is preparing for a huge physical effort,” Hever says. “On a psychical level, you experience a state of wakefulness and intense stimulation – that’s something we associate with euphoria, self-confidence and disinhibition.” 

Cocaine and crack might be chemically almost the same, but the social stigma attached to them couldn’t be more different. Crack addiction has always been seen as an issue affecting poor communities of colour, while cocaine is seen as glamorous and upscale – almost a status symbol.

Nevertheless, Herver says he’s seen an increasing number of well-off patients using crack because of its strong effects. “But the addiction risks are considerable, and the psychological and physical impacts can be devastating,” he adds. To name just a few, there’s pulmonary disease, heart attacks, strokes, psychosis, depression and hepatitis C, due to shared pipes and lip sores.


“Maybe that won’t dissuade anyone,” continues Hever, “but in my opinion, some drugs are much more dangerous and devastating than others, and crack is one of them.”

I spoke to a few more people I know who’ve tried crack. Their names have been changed to avoid legal repercussions. My main takeaway? It’s much more common than you might think.

‘It’s a small miracle I don’t feel the need to start again’

“I tried crack about five years ago. I was pretty unhappy and had just finished work, so I headed to Soho to buy some coke and get high. I asked a homeless guy if he knew anyone who’d sell me some – he was super excited and convinced me to give him the money to get it. I immediately felt like an idiot because I thought he’d just tricked me, but five minutes later, he came back with a baggie. 

I took out my credit card and the guy stopped me right away, saying there was a better way to do it – all I needed to do was put it in a cigarette and light up. I took a puff, and saw the guy take out a bottle and punch a hole in it. It was only then that I realised I wasn’t doing coke at all.

I’d just taken this giant puff and started feeling the effects very quickly. Suddenly, everything around me slowed down – it was pretty cool and nice. I have to admit, it was one of the best trips of my life, although it was short. After 15 minutes, I felt basically normal again and went home.


I thought long and hard about it and decided not to do it again. I’d describe myself as someone with an addictive personality, so it’s a small miracle I don’t feel the need to do it again.” - James, 25, London

‘I heard a sort of muffled whistling and realised what I’d taken was really strong’

“I was only 20 and had just moved to Berlin. I started hanging out and getting really close to one guy – he did my first tattoos and eventually started taking me to a bunch of parties. I tried out a few drugs with him for the first time.

I’d always thought crack would be a big no-no from me, but one evening I went to this guy’s flat. He lived with his girlfriend, who was also a big party animal, and we started doing lines – then he told me he was going to a club to sell drugs. I was talking to his girlfriend and everything was going pretty well until I started noticing weird stuff.

Before leaving, the guy had taken a plastic bottle and poked a hole in it to make a sort of pipe. I asked what was inside, and both he and his girlfriend said they smoked it to “remember their life from before”. We kept talking, and soon enough I had it in my hands – I didn’t really ask any questions, I just smoked. I heard a sort of muffled whistling and realised what I’d taken was really strong. After that, I had a huge headache.


Whenever I spent the night with this couple, I’d do drugs way too much – it was really worrying, actually. That particular night, I got so fucked up, I couldn’t leave. That experience is part of my life now, but I don’t have good memories of it – and I’m not going to go back to that state, ever.” - Alexandre, 23, London

‘The comedown is really bad – it had me all depressed and confused about my life’

“The first time I tried crack, I was 20. I was partying in London and looking for an excuse to prolong the evening, when I met a group of people who invited me to an afterparty at their place.

As the evening went on, people started smoking something in aluminium foil. I was intrigued and started asking questions, because I’d never seen that before. They straight up told me it was crack and offered me some. I didn’t think about it, I just immediately grabbed the thing. A few minutes later, I had some kind of allergic reaction – my lips got very swollen and rashes appeared on my forehead. It was terrible and it took a week to heal up.

After that evening, I didn’t try it for a long time – until three months ago when I moved to Bangkok. This time, I was completely sober before taking it and it was incredible: I felt happy and confident all at once. I didn’t sleep at all – I only remember taking a ten-minute nap – and I didn’t want to eat or drink water. But then, 12 hours later, I was totally brain dead. I couldn’t even have a normal conversation with my best friend, I just wanted to be alone.

A month later, I tried it again and had exactly the same experience. The comedown is always really bad – it had me all depressed and confused about my life. Lots of people [in my circle] in Thailand smoke crack, so I decided to stop hanging out with the locals who’d offered it to me. They smoke it almost every day, even though they look all together.” - Kevin, 27, London/Bangkok

‘One guy handed me what looked like an artisanal pipe made from a plastic bottle. I smoked it without a second thought’

“It happened last summer when I was with a buddy at the Kiosk in Brussels [a community radio live-streaming from a park]. We’d met this group of extravagant people who looked like they knew how to party and as the sun started to go up, we went to an afterparty at theirs. I was already pretty drunk, but things were going well – the birds were singing, it was nice outside, the people were really friendly. 

When we got there, I saw two guys messing around with something in the kitchen. One of them handed me the thing – it looked like an artisanal pipe made from a plastic bottle. I smoked it without a second thought. As I said, though, I was really drunk so this thing just kept me awake a few more hours – I didn’t really know what I’d just smoked.

Eight hours later, on the metro with my friend, we debriefed about the evening and realised I’d smoked crack. Honestly, I found it funny – I’d always associated crack with utter debauchery. Would I try it again? It’s not something my friends do, so it’s unlikely it would come up anytime soon.” - Nathan, 25, Brussels/London