To make crack, which is cocaine in a purified, hardened form, it is first necessary to make cocaine.
The process begins in the Andes of South America, with the native coca shrub.
Incidentally, coca is a different plant entirely from the cacao tree, from which we get cocoa. Coca leaves contain minute amounts of the alkaloid cocaine. To extract it from the plant, drug entrepreneurs soak the leaves in an acid solution composed of about a pound of sulfuric acid for every forty-five gallons of water.
Cocaine workers accelerate the dissolution process by climbing into the vats and stomping the mash. Even so, the leaves must soak for twelve to eighteen hours. If all goes well, a brownish tea, called caldo (Spanish for -broth”), is produced.
The caldo is strained into a second vat, where the acid is neutralized by the addition of lime; then kerosene, an organic solvent, is stirred in. The mixture is decanted into a second acid solution, containing one and a half tablespoons of sulfuric acid per liter of water. Into the mix goes sodium bicarbonate, and voila, a batch of coca paste is born.
To remove impurities from the crumbly paste, cocaine manufacturers dissolve it in acetone, heat it, and run it through a press. Once rinsed, coca paste is again diluted in acetone and then mixed with a solution of acetone, ether, and hydrochloric acid.
The cocaine alkaloid reacts with the hydrochloric acid to produce a damp, powdery substance that remains at the bottom of the bowl after the ether and acetone are poured off. This is cocaine hydrochloride, ready for export as soon as it dries.
Before selling cocaine hydrochloride powder, which is 90 to 100 percent pure, drug dealers stretch the supply and thereby raise profits by cutting it with all manner of white substances, including talc, amphetamines, and cornstarch. That at least is the traditional method.
In the mid-eighties, though, some enterprising drug lord hit upon a new way. He dissolved cocaine hydrochloride in a mixture of water and ammonia and then cooked it, to form crystalline rocks, potent, highly addictive crack.
This drug can be smoked and thereby absorbed very quickly into the bloodstream, without recourse to the dangerous ether-fueled hookahs used to smoke, or free-base, regular cocaine.
In addition to being more potent than cocaine powder, crack is cheaper. On the street, a gram of cocaine costs between twenty-five and fifty dollars, but since a relatively small amount of cocaine hydrochloride can be converted into a sizable chunk of crack, prices are kept down.
An individual hit of crack can sell for as little as five dollars, making it an affordable alternative.