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I Turned to Crack Cocaine to Try to Win a Weight-Loss Bet. It Almost Killed Me.

“I smoked crack until I couldn’t physically do it anymore, then I’d eat a huge take-out meal and pass out for up to 24 hours, then wake up and repeat.” This is Damien, a man in the U.K., who entered a weight-loss challenge with his friend last year and turned to crack cocaine to try to lose 70 pounds.

“I was going through an enormous quantity of crack and money,” he says. “I had thought that 10 grams would last me at least a full week and maybe even two, but in those two weeks I went through 50 grams. It was insane.”

After two weeks, Damien found himself hospitalized. It didn’t curb his addiction, and he never lost weight.

Its no wonder, says Dr. Marc Leavey, a physician in Maryland. “Using cocaine to lose weight will probably only benefit your pallbearers, who will have less weight to bear. Despite a buzz on social media about the practice, the use of cocaine [crack or powder] to lose weight is fraught with dangers, both big and small. Setting aside the illegality of the practice, cocaine use can alter mental health — causing mood swings up and down as well as deepening depression and paranoia — as well as physical health.”

Leavey adds that the damages to physical health aren’t just potentially severe cardiac complications that can lead to death. Users risk addiction that “becomes unavoidable as one needs to continue to use the cocaine to avoid gaining back the weight.”

Even then, you’re likely to fail at your goal. “If all of that isn’t scary enough,” he says, “some recent studies have revealed that chronic cocaine use causes metabolic changes that reduce the body’s ability to store fat. This results in fat craving with use of the drug, which causes the weight to swing up and down.”

In other words, trying to lose weight by doing cocaine just flat out doesn’t work — and the massive swings in diet, Leavey adds, put even more stress on your cardiovascular and endocrine system, “further increasing the likelihood of an unfortunate outcome.”

Needless to say, what started as a fun yearly challenge ended in disaster. Damien eventually caved to addiction, hearing paranoid voices and pulling a knife on his best friend. Finally, he woke up in the emergency room. This is his story.

Our Biggest Bet Yet

I’ve always been pretty overweight, and so has my best friend, William. Over the last couple of years, we’ve been challenging each other to lose weight. We ran through a lot of different diets, fasts, cleanses, etc. Sometimes we’d do the same one, sometimes we’d pick different ones and see who could lose more weight. However, invariably we’d have some success, and then crash out and end up packing on even more pounds. So, last year, we decided to try using drugs instead.

We both do drugs and I figured cocaine could work for weight loss. However, powder coke is prohibitively expensive, so I figured crack would do the job just as well and be cheaper. For those who don’t know: Cocaine is a powder; crack is the same molecule but made into base form, a small change that makes the product a lot more potent and allows it to be smoked. It’s cheaper because the added potency means you can buy much smaller quantities and have it still be effective. Where I’m in the U.K., the smallest quantity of cocaine that I could get is one gram, which is £40 [about $53 USD] and may get me high for a couple of hours. But I could buy a £10 stone of crack. I prefer crack as the high is shorter but much, much stronger. It’s like the cocaine high concentrated into a few minutes.

William scoffed at this and said the best way was steroids. I told him that was ridiculous. Packing muscle on top of his fat would just make him go “bear mode” — not actually lose any weight.

We made it interesting and placed our biggest bet yet: £2,250 (about $3,000). We chose this amount just because our last bet had been £2,000, and we wanted to top it.

Scoring drugs is easy for me. It was difficult when I was young and new, but once you find an “in” (someone willing to introduce you), drug dealers for hard drugs are 10 a penny. I score by calling a dealer, and usually, within half an hour, they’re outside.

I prepared by getting myself 10 grams of crack to start — which, for crack, is a lot. A £10 stone of crack is 0.1 grams, and that will provide two loaded pipes. So 10 grams is a very high number since it comes as a little flaky stone, and you smoke it with any smoking implement.

Then I booked a week off of work. My thinking was that I’d spend the week adjusting to it and getting into a routine and then continue it until I reached my weight-loss target, which was 5 stone (70 pounds). The challenge was simple: Whoever had lost more weight after six weeks was the winner.

The First Day

I waited until I was very hungry before doing any crack. I lasted till about 1 p.m. when the hunger pangs started, so I loaded up my pipe and took a blast. Many in the U.K. use an aluminum can; I use a metal pipe, which I fill with steel gauze and then place the crack onto, light and inhale. At this point in my life, I had done crack before as more of an occasional thing, but I’d never binged like this. Looking back, it never gripped me like it did this time.

Immediately, the hunger was gone. I was rushing, energetic, euphoric and all thoughts of food disappeared. I started feeling very confident about this challenge.

About 30 minutes later, the high seemed to dissipate in the space of a few seconds, and immediately, my mind was possessed by the thought of doing another hit. So I did, roughly the same size. It brought me back up, but not to the degree the first one did, so I loaded another. That got me where I wanted to be.

I was pacing ’round my flat, pouring sweat, so confident that I wouldn’t eat I actually threw away all my junk food. This carried on for a couple of hours. However, I started finding I was coming down sooner and sooner and needing more and more to get back up. When I started, one hit would have me flying for half an hour. When 7 p.m. rolled around, [the hit] would last me less than 10 minutes, and then the high would be replaced by an intense, fiending need for more. It wasn’t like a craving for a cigarette, another drink or even another line of coke. It had its own unique edge of desperation and intense need that was frightening in how compelling it was.

By 10 p.m., I was literally having three to four pipes, one after the other, every six to eight minutes. When the high faded, my body felt really overtaxed. There was a throbbing in my head; I felt exhausted, even though I’d only been pacing round my flat. My heart also started to race even when the comedown hit, and this worried me. So, having gone through about 3 grams, I took a couple zopiclone — a sleeping tablet that works similarly to benzodiazepines, chemically very close to Ambien and very common in the U.K. — and lay in bed until they knocked me out. I felt really shitty when I woke up, but not from the zopiclone.

Exhaustion Overtook Me

The rest of the week is a blur. I know that I ended up getting another 10 grams the next day. I had plenty of disposable income, so money wasn’t a problem, and I just had to text the dealer and 30 minutes later they were outside my flat.

I also remember that my tolerance was shooting up so I was using more and more to compensate. I didn’t sleep between the second and fourth day, and by the middle of Thursday, when I was nearing the end of the second batch of 10 grams, the crack wasn’t even doing anything anymore. I put the pipe down and exhaustion overtook me. I passed out until Friday night. I woke up and hit the pipe again, but it wasn’t the same.

I was still exhausted, my nervous system felt totally overtaxed, I could hardly get up. I then realized I hadn’t eaten anything since Sunday. I’d been so obsessed with crack I hadn’t even realized that I hadn’t eaten anything, and that’s why I felt so bad. I ordered some takeout, ate a huge meal, then passed out.

This pattern basically repeated for another week, but this time I took the time to eat something every couple of days. I smoked crack until I couldn’t physically do it anymore, then I’d eat a huge takeout meal and pass out for up to 24 hours, then wake up and repeat. I was going through an enormous quantity of crack and money. I had thought that 10 grams would last me at least a full week and maybe even two, but in those two weeks I went through 50 grams. It was insane. By the start of the third week, after being awake for about three days, I started hearing voices, and I became convinced that the police were after me. I spent hours standing vigil at my window, looking for signs that the police were monitoring me, and kept searching my flat as I was literally hearing someone whispering.

The Intervention

William himself knocked on my door. He hadn’t heard from me since the start of the challenge. I actually got a kitchen knife and held it behind my back as I answered, ready to stab the police officer who had (in my mind) come to arrest me. When William saw the state I was in, he insisted that I go to a hospital. I was in no state to disagree, but I demanded that I smoke some more crack until the ambulance arrived. He told me I shouldn’t, but couldn’t stop me.

I smoked until the ambulance came, and they weren’t a minute too late. The voices got louder as I smoked more, my heart was beating out of my chest, and I began to get suspicious of William and wondered if he was in league with the police to try and get me arrested. The paramedics came and took me to the hospital after measuring my heart rate and blood pressure, which were both through the roof. In the hospital they gave me a shot of lorazepam — another very common benzodiazepine here in the U.K. but not so much in the USA. It’s not as abuse-able or euphoric as Xanax or diazepam, but it brought me down and knocked me out, essentially. They held me till the next morning when my blood pressure and heart rate were normalized, and asked if I wanted a referral to a drug abuse service, which I declined. I discharged myself and left.

A Moment of Clarity

You’d think this would be enough to stop me smoking crack, but was it? No. This had nothing to do with the challenge anymore — I was obsessed with it.

I got home and immediately started smoking again, but the character of the experience had changed significantly. The first pipe gave me some energy and euphoria, but after that, the paranoia, anxiety and hallucinations came back immediately. I had the presence of mind this time to realize it was the crack that was causing it. I had a moment of clarity and flushed the rest of the crack and broke my pipe.

Coming off it was easier than expected. I was very exhausted for a couple days and overwhelmingly hungry. I couldn’t eat enough food while I lay in bed and just watched TV. I couldn’t really think straight or function. I ended up extending my medical absence from work. After a few days, I was fine, and though I had some pretty intense crack cravings, I stayed away from it.

A couple weeks later on the assigned date, William came ’round and we did weigh ourselves. He looked great — his skin was better, he was very noticeably slimmer, he had the start of muscles forming in his arms and shoulders. I, on the other hand, was a mess. The post-crack food bingeing meant I actually gained half a stone, whereas William had lost just over 1.5 stone, and that is taking into account the muscle he had definitely put on as well. He won the challenge, but magnanimously waived the bet money after what had happened.

Crack is a terrible weight-loss drug. It’s too short-acting, too euphoric, too compulsive, and is all rush and little stimulation. I won’t be trying that experiment again any time soon.

— As told to Quinn Myers