Snorting Drugs: The Dangers Of Drug Insufflation

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on December 14, 2020

Drug abuse can take many forms, including insufflation, or snorting. While a lot of helpful prescription medications can be administered through the nose, so can many illicit drugs. The faster onset time and the more intense high can easily lead to addiction.

Dangers Of Drug Insufflation | Snorting Drugs

Doctors in the United States often use intranasal administration for allergy medications and asthma treatments. This is because the mucous membrane in the nose allows the drugs to enter the bloodstream faster than taking it by mouth.

Unfortunately, for the same reason, many people abuse drugs like amphetamines and opioids by snorting them.

A few of the biggest dangers that can come from snorting drugs include:

  • increased risk of addiction
  • risk of overdose
  • perforation of the nasal septum
  • irritation of the mucous lining

Of course, there are several less-severe physical and mental side effects that can come from snorting drugs. These may include nosebleeds, trouble swallowing, and more.

Types Of Drugs That Are Commonly Snorted

People abuse drugs through snorting when they want to experience a quick high. Any drugs or other substances that can be crushed into a powder and inhaled may be snorted by people who have an addiction or drug abuse issue.

Some drugs and substances that are commonly abused by snorting include:

Side Effects Of Snorting Drugs On The Body And Brain

The specific short-term side effects a person may experience from snorting drugs can vary depending on which drug the person is snorting.

Most commonly, people snort street drugs like MDMA, cocaine, and methamphetamine as well as prescription stimulants like amphetamine (Adderall) and prescription opioids like hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (OxyContin/Percocet), and fentanyl.

A few common side effects of snorting drugs may include:

  • nosebleeds
  • runny nose
  • loss of smell
  • trouble swallowing
  • sinusitis
  • hoarseness
  • irritation of the nose

These minor side effects can quickly develop into bigger issues including nasal septum perforation, a weakened immune system, and an increased risk of addiction or overdose.

Drug Abuse: Snorting Vs. Swallowing

Drugs can be taken in several different ways, and two popular methods of drug abuse include swallowing and snorting.

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Both snorting and swallowing can lead to drug abuse, but snorting is even more dangerous. Our bodies absorb drugs in different ways depending on how they’re taken, and ingestion through the nasal membrane is one of the fastest, most intense ways to abuse drugs.

Both of these factors can lead to an increased risk of addiction, and in turn, an increased risk of overdose.

Faster Onset Of Effects

Snorting drugs is a faster way to feel their effects because less of the drug is broken down before it enters the bloodstream.

When a person swallows a drug, it’s first dissolved in the stomach. Then, it enters the bloodstream through the stomach’s lining and gets metabolized by the liver before traveling to the brain. Once it’s in the brain, it interacts with its specific receptors to create the desired effect of the drug.

Alternatively, when a person snorts drugs, they typically crush it into a fine powder and inhale it through the nose. There, it’s absorbed by the nasal membrane and enters the nearby blood vessels. Once it enters the blood vessels, it travels to the heart, the bloodstream, and the brain.

Clearly, snorting drugs can lead to a faster onset of desired effects. Unfortunately, it can also lead to more severe long-term problems including addiction and overdose.

Increased Risk Of Addiction

In addition to a faster onset time, the effects of the drug can be more intense when snorting. Basically, snorting drugs can make a person feel very high much faster. These factors work together to create an increased risk of addiction.

In addition to recreational drugs, people who are taking prescription drugs under the care of a healthcare professional can build a tolerance and begin snorting the pills to get the desired effects. Unfortunately, this method of ingestion is much more addictive.

In fact, a recent study on inhaled vs. oral alprazolam (Xanax) found that drug insufflation (snorting) modestly increased the abuse potential of the drug. This was mostly because of the faster onset time and more intense experience.

Many street drugs and prescription drugs that are abused in this way already contain highly addictive chemicals, which means that snorting them can be significantly more dangerous.

Effects Of Snorting Drugs On The Nose

Unfortunately, an increased risk of addiction isn’t the only difference between snorting drugs and swallowing drugs. In fact, snorting drugs can lead to permanent damage to the nasal cavity, nose, and sinuses.

Some of the most severe long-term effects of snorting drugs include nasal damage, septum perforation, and immune suppression.

Nasal Damage

The nasal cavity is made up of a mucous membrane, which is similar to the lining of your mouth, lungs, stomach, and eyelids. While this membrane is very tough, it’s not meant for substance use.

If you snort drugs, even just once, the membrane in your nose can swell, infections can develop in your lungs, nasal blockages can occur, and you could compromise your respiratory system.

Some of the most common nasal damage to occur from snorting drugs include:

  • nosebleeds
  • inflammation
  • infections
  • ischemia (low blood supply)
  • ulcers
  • cavities (holes) in the nose or roof of the mouth

Any time a person snorts drugs, there’s a risk of damaging the nasal cavity. With the increased abuse potential that comes from snorting drugs, there’s also a good chance that the person will continue to snort them. This can lead to severe long-term side effects.

Septum Perforation

Septum perforation is a common severe side effect of snorting drugs. Generally, this only occurs after addiction has developed and a person is snorting cocaine, methamphetamine, or another drug habitually.

In many cases, snorting drugs decreases the blood flow to the blood vessels around your nose and/or weakens your immune system. Both of these side effects can eventually cause the surrounding cells to die. When this happens, holes can begin to form between the two nostrils.

Eventually, this can lead to a perforated septum. While a perforated septum can sometimes be fixed with surgery, the internal damage to the nose is usually permanent.

Immune Suppression

Drug abuse in any form can potentially weaken or suppress the immune system. Snorting drugs is no different.

In fact, snorting drugs of any sort can have an impact on your sinuses. When the nasal passages get inflamed, irritated, or swollen, it can block the air that typically flows through your sinuses and instead cause a sinus infection.

Inhaling drugs in any way, including through the nose, opens up the possibility of infecting your respiratory system. In turn, this can cause immune suppression.

Dangers Of Snorting Drugs

While all drug abuse is dangerous, snorting drugs is particularly risky. This method of ingestion can lead to serious side effects on both your physical health and your mental health.

Two of the most dangerous risks of snorting drugs include addiction/chemical dependency and an increased risk of overdose.

Addiction And Chemical Dependency

Nearly any prescription drug or street drug that a person may abuse by snorting can lead to physical addiction and chemical dependency.

Drugs like cocaine, methamphetamine, prescription stimulants, and prescription opioids already have high abuse potentials. The faster onset of effects and more intense high can increase the risk of addiction.

Unfortunately, not all of these drugs are safe to stop cold turkey. If you’re afraid that you or a loved one may have developed a chemical dependency on drugs that are being snorted, reach out to one of our treatment specialists today.

Increased Risk Of Overdose

Along with an increased risk of addiction and chemical dependency comes the increased risk of overdose.

Common signs of a drug overdose may include:

  • dilated pupils or red eyes
  • shortness of breath
  • blue lips or fingertips
  • nausea and vomiting
  • chest pain/increased heart rate
  • confusion or irritability
  • unconsciousness
  • seizures and shaking

If you notice these signs or suspect an overdose, call 911 immediately.

Find Treatment For Drug Inhalation Abuse

If you or a loved one may be having problems with substance abuse of any kind, don’t put off getting help.

There are several successful treatment options to choose from when it comes to drug abuse and drug addiction. These options include both inpatient and outpatient addiction treatment.

Contact an addiction specialist today to learn more about finding a treatment center, addiction center, or detox facility that works best for you.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on December 14, 2020

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