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Chest. 1997 Aug;112(2):327-35.

Effects of 'crack' cocaine on pulmonary alveolar permeability.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, UCLA School of Medicine, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1690, USA.



Lung clearance of 99mTc-labeled diethylenetriamine pentaacetate (DTPA) is a sensitive test of altered alveolar epithelial permeability that has been found to be increased in smokers of tobacco, as well as a small number of healthy smokers of crack cocaine, suggesting the possibility of subclinical crack-related lung injury.


To evaluate further whether habitual smoking of cocaine alone alters alveolar permeability, whether crack smoking adds to or potentiates the effects of tobacco and/or marijuana, and whether experimental cocaine smoking acutely alters DTPA lung clearance.


Observational cohort study (habitual cocaine smoking) and single-blind crossover study (experimental cocaine administration).


Fourteen habitual smokers of cocaine alone (CS), 19 smokers of cocaine and tobacco (CTS), 3 smokers of cocaine and marijuana, 12 smokers of cocaine, tobacco, and marijuana (CMTS), and 5 smokers of marijuana plus tobacco (MTS). Results obtained in the crack-smoking subjects were compared with data previously obtained in 10 nonsmokers (NS), 9 smokers of tobacco alone (TS), 10 smokers of marijuana alone (MS), and 4 additional MTS.


Subjects underwent measurements of DTPA radioaerosol lung clearance after refraining from marijuana and/or cocaine for > 12 h and from tobacco for >2 h. Ten of the 48 crack users were tested on two days 1 to 2 weeks apart within 2 h of experimental smoking of three physiologically active or inactive doses (total 98.8+/-15.5 or 8.5+/-2.5 mg, respectively) of cocaine base. Lung clearance half-times (T1/2) were computed from time-activity curves for each lung.


T1/2 values for each lung in CS and MS were comparable to those of NS, while TS, MTS, CTS, and CMTS had significantly shorter clearance rates than NS (p<0.01; three-way analysis of variance). No additive or interactive effects on T1/2 were noted among tobacco, cocaine, and/or marijuana. No acute effect of experimental cocaine smoking on T1/2 was noted.


Whereas regular smoking of tobacco alone or with other substances increases alveolar epithelial permeability, habitual smoking of cocaine and/or marijuana has no measurable effect on alveolar permeability in the absence of tobacco nor any additive effect to that of tobacco alone.

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