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Alcohol & Other Drugs

Safer Smoking: Crack and crystal meth

Reduce your risk of burns, infections, disease, overdose, nutrition problems and dehydration

Author: Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research

On this page:

You and safer smoking

Before you start.

Know your dealer. It’s best to choose someone you feel safe with and who knows about the drugs they sell.

Take vitamins or eat something. You may not feel like eating when high.

Find a buddy. Using alone means no one will be there to help you if you overdose.

Find a safe place. Being relaxed and not in a hurry makes smoking easier and therefore safer.

Bring condoms and lube with you. Stimulant drugs can increase your sex drive.

Clean your hands and your own mouthpiece. Use soap and water or alcohol swabs to wash away germs that could go in your mouth.

To reduce risk.

Start with a small amount. If you don’t know how strong the drug is, this can help reduce your risk of overdose.

Use your own mouthpiece or pipe. This will help you avoid getting or spreading infection.

Use a shatterproof Pyrex pipe. Other pipes can get too hot or give off toxic fumes.

Avoid using broken or cracked pipes. Damaged pipes can lead to burns, cuts and infections.

Drink water, use lip balm and chew gum. These things will help keep your mouth moist and reduce cracks, blisters and risk of infection.

When preparing to smoke meth.

Make sure the drug is in the right part of the pipe bowl. If necessary, tap pipe gently.

Avoid burning your fingers. Hold the pipe halfway down the stem.

Apply heat to the bowl. Keep the heat source moving around until smoke fills the pipe (so the bowl won’t crack).

When preparing to smoke crack.

Use screens instead of Brillo (steel wool). Brillo can break apart and be inhaled, and its coating can make you sick.

Pack five screens into your pipe. This is safest. If you prefer, it’s okay to wrap the brass screens completely around the Brillo and use them together as a screen.

Use a wooden push stick. Wood is less likely than metal to damage the pipe.

When smoking.

Inhale slowly. This will help prevent burning your lungs.

Exhale immediately. Holding it in doesn’t make the effects stronger—it only hurts the lungs more.

Handle the pipe with care. It’ll be hot after using it.

Did you know.

Eating when you’re coming down will help you sleep.

Smoking any illegal drug is risky because you can never know for sure what's in it or how it was made. But there are also risks involved in how you smoke. Here are some ways to reduce those risks.

Safer Crack Smoking

  • How to prepare your crack pipe
  • Supplies you use to smoke crack safer
  • Safer crack smoking tips
  • Screens vs steel wool (Brillo)
  • Mouth care
  • Use your own stem and mouthpiece to prevent hepatitis C
  • Stimulant overamping and overdose

How to prepare your crack pipe

  1. Clean your hands with soap and water or alcohol swabs.
  2. Add screens to stem. One way to insert screens into the stem is to twist the screens into a cone shape. Use the push stick to pack screens into the stem. Pack screens tightly so they stay in place and leave room for the crack.
    The number of screens used depends on the type of screen. Talk to a harm reduction worker about ways to prepare screens.
  3. Fit mouthpiece onto stem.
  4. Add crack (rock). Apply heat.
  5. Inhale slowly, then exhale immediately (holding in won’t get you more high and can burn your lungs).
  6. The stem will be very hot. Handle with care. If the stem has a crack or chip, throw it out. Placing a mouthpiece over a broken end is dangerous – instead, push out the screens.

Supplies you use to smoke crack safer

  • Straight stem
  • Screens
  • Mouthpiece
  • Lighter
  • Alcohol swab
  • Push stick

This resource provides information about how to smoke crack with this equipment. Talk to your local harm reduction site about which safer drug use supplies are available and how they are meant to be used.

Safer crack smoking tips

  • Avoid using alone.
    Try to smoke in a safe place with people you trust.
  • Start low, go slow.
    The crack may be more potent than you realize.
  • Check your screens.
    After a couple of hits, make sure screens are still packed tightly.
  • Know the source of your drugs.
    Try to prepare doses yourself.
  • Avoid mixing substances.
    Alcohol while smoking crack can increase risk of alcohol poisoning. Mixing with opioids can lead to a fatal overdose.
  • Have condoms and lube with you.
    You may want to have sex while high.
  • Connect with others.
    Ask them to reach out to make sure you’re okay.
  • Take care of yourself.
    Try to eat something before you smoke. Stay hydrated with water or juice.
  • Be kind to yourself and your skin.
    Wash your hands after smoking.
  • Take a break.
    Get some sleep, drink water or juice and eat something.

Screens vs steel wool (Brillo)

  • Brass screens are much safer than steel wool.
  • Small pieces of hot steel wool, such as Brillo, can break off and burn your lips, mouth and throat, damage your lungs, and can cause stomach issues.
  • If using steel wool, use screens too. Put at least one screen between the steel wool and the end where you inhale. Pack the screen tightly.
  • Choose the straight steel or brass kinds of steel wool, not the ones with coating or cleaning solution on them and change steel wool frequently.

Mouth care

  • Drink water or juice to keep your mouth moist and reduce cracks and blisters.
  • Moisten your lips with your own lip balm.
  • Chew gum to keep your mouth moist and reduce clenching.
  • Brush your teeth when possible or use mouthwash.
  • Avoid infection by using your own mouthpiece or stem and not sharing it.

Use your own stem and mouthpiece to prevent hepatitis C

Hepatitis C can be passed through tiny amounts of blood on crack smoking equipment. Talk to a harm reduction worker about where to get equipment and where to get tested for hepatitis C. Smoking crack can lead to skin issues such as infections, lesions or abscesses that may require medical attention.

Stimulant overamping and overdose

Fatal overdoses are not common with stimulant use, however the drug supply is unpredictable and a fatal overdose is possible. Overamping can be considered a type of non-fatal overdose. This information is to help identify when a person is overamping and needs to rest, and when a person goes down and needs emergency medical services.

Overamping

Overdose (OD)

Effects of the high can become more extreme with crack over-use. This happens more often when someone hasn’t slept or eaten in a while. These can include:

  • rigid, jerking limbs
  • irregular heartbeat or chest pain
  • skin feeling hot or sweaty
  • severe headaches
  • anxiety, paranoia, confusion, agitation or hallucinations (including drug-induced psychosis)

What to do if someone is overamping

What to do if someone ODs

If you have to leave the person alone, put them in the
RECOVERY POSITION

Naloxone reverses an opioid overdose. There is no antidote to stimulant overdose, but the drug supply is toxic and unpredictable. Giving someone naloxone will not harm them. When in doubt, use naloxone. IT’S SAFE. Talk to your harm reduction worker about where to get support and help if you want to reduce or stop your crack use.

Thank you to the Ontario Harm Reduction Distribution Program (OHRDP); Jennifer Broad and Keith Williams from the Toronto Community Hepatitis C Program; Natalie Kaminski from the Peel Region Drug User Network; Toward the Heart BCCDC Harm Reduction Services; Street Works; Nine Circles; and HANDUP for their help in the development of the resource.

Design and layout: Pam Sloan Designs.

CATIE project leads: Rivka Kushner and Melisa Dickie.

This resource is adapted from a brochure by the Ontario Harm Reduction Distribution Program (OHRDP), 2014, which adapted an original resource by Vancouver Coastal Health, 2011.

Production of this publication has been made possible in part through financial contributions from the Ontario Ministry of Health and the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).

The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the views of our funders.

Safer Crack Smoking How to prepare your crack pipe Supplies you use to smoke crack safer Safer crack smoking tips Screens vs steel wool (Brillo) Mouth care Use