The Dangers of Snorting Drugs

The term route of administration refers to the way that a person takes a drug. Drugs can be consumed in many different ways, including by snorting, smoking, swallowing, and injecting. Snorting drugs—also known as nasal insufflation—refers to inhaling a drug through the nose.1 This article will cover the reasons why people snort drugs, the risks of drug snorting, and how to get help for addiction.

Why Do People Snort Drugs?

Some drugs, such as cocaine, meth, and heroin, are commonly snorted because they come in a powdered or crystallized form that can be easily crushed into powder and inhaled.2 Other drugs take significantly more effort to snort, such as opioid pills, antidepressants, or any drug in pill form.3

Certain prescription opioid medications have been developed to be “crush resistant.” Examples of crush-resistant opioids include reformulated extended-release versions of oxycodone and oxymorphone and tapentadol extended-release. These pills are made in a way that makes it difficult for users to crush them up and snort them, though it is still possible.4

Drugs that are commonly snorted include:2

  • Benzodiazepines, such as alprazolam (Xanax) and clonazepam (Klonopin).
  • Cocaine.
  • Heroin.
  • Ketamine.
  • MDMA (Ecstasy/Molly).
  • Methamphetamine.
  • Phencyclidine (PCP).
  • Prescription opioids, such as fentanyl, hydrocodone (Vicodin), and oxycodone (OxyContin).
  • Prescription stimulants, such as amphetamine (Adderall) and methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta).
  • Synthetic cathinones (Bath salts).

Snorting drugs like heroin, meth, and cocaine delivers the drug to the brain quickly. In fact, it is one of the fastest routes of ingestion. When a person snorts a drug, it bypasses the digestive system and liver and is absorbed through the blood vessels which line the inside of the nose, where it travels through the bloodstream to the brain. This causes the person to feel the drug’s effects shortly after taking it.5

Drug use produces a surge of various neurotransmitters in the body, which are responsible for the drug’s pleasurable effects or “high.” Snorting drugs also causes the release of large amounts of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that reinforces pleasurable activities.6

Risks of Snorting Drugs

Various risks are associated with snorting drugs. One significant risk is the danger of developing dependence and addiction. When people use drugs, the release of dopamine serves as a behavioral reinforcement. It “teaches” the brain to continue to repeat the pleasurable behavior (i.e. drug use) since it feels rewarding.6

Snorting drugs affects the brain and body in a way that makes people want to keep using more even when it negatively affects other areas of their lives. Over time, this can lead to dependence and addiction.6

The risk of developing dependence and addiction varies by route of administration as well as the drug involved. For example, smoking and injecting cocaine and meth is considered more dangerous and is more strongly associated with addiction than intranasal, oral, and transdermal routes.7

However, studies have not found any differences in rates of physical dependence among heroin users who inject the drug compared to those who use it in other ways, such as snorting or smoking. Although, intravenous heroin users tend to become dependent on the drug more quickly than people who snort or smoke it.8

Medical Complications of Snorting Drugs

It is important to note that intranasal drug delivery can be beneficial when used for medical purposes. This method of drug delivery allows medications to be rapidly absorbed in the body and to bypass the first-pass metabolism in the gastrointestinal tract and liver, minimizing gastrointestinal side effects.9,10

Examples of beneficial drugs that use aerosolized intranasal delivery include anti-allergy nose sprays and the opioid overdose drug Narcan.5,11 Intranasal drugs are generally formulated with ingredients that are nonirritating to prevent damage to nasal mucosal tissue.9

While intranasal drug delivery can be beneficial when appropriately aerosolized or prescribed by a medical professional, snorting drugs in powder or particulate form for recreational purposes can lead to both acute and chronic medical complications.

Snorting drugs in the solid form of a powder or crushed pill can cause inflammation and irritation of the nostrils, sinuses, and nasal passages, which can cause sinusitis (sinus infections) and irritate the mucosa that lines the inside of the nose to the point where the tissue dies or is torn, leading to perforation of the nasal septum.5

Though it is rare, snorting drugs also poses a risk of:12,13

  • Subcutaneous emphysema—Air becomes trapped in the tissues underneath the skin.
  • Pneumomediastinum—A condition where air is present in the chest between the lungs.

These conditions are dangerous and could lead to complications like:12,13

  • Airway compression.
  • Tearing of the esophagus.
  • Pneumopericardium (air in the tissue sac around the heart).
  • Tracheobronchial ruptures.

Long-Term Risks of Chronic Drug Snorting

As previously mentioned, drug snorting is linked to dependence, addiction, and medical complications. In addition to the risks already discussed, long-term drug snorting can lead to:14,15,16

  • Loss of sense of smell.
  • Nosebleeds.
  • Swallowing issues.
  • Hoarseness.
  • Irritation and possible perforation of the nasal septum.
  • Chronic runny nose.
  • Hypersensitivity pneumonitis (inflammation of the lungs).
  • Nasal ulcers (sores).
  • Throat ulcers.
  • Necrosis (i.e. tissue death) of mucosa and soft tissue inside the nose, sinuses as well as the soft palate and oropharynx.

Can You Overdose From Snorting Drugs?

Yes, you can overdose from snorting drugs.17 An overdose can happen anytime a person takes more of a drug than the body can handle.18 The amount of a drug that results in toxic levels varies from person to person.

Because snorting drugs like cocaine can cause peak concentrations to occur within minutes, and effects may wear off quickly, drug snorting can encourage binge use. This pattern of drug use can lead to an increased risk of overdose.14

Consuming drugs like opioids, cocaine, and meth via any route of administration can lead to an overdose.2,5 However, opioid overdoses are the most common type of drug overdose.19

More than 50% of opioid overdose deaths involve fentanyl—an opioid painkiller that is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine.20

Because fentanyl causes a powerful “high,” drug dealers often mix it in with other drugs, like heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, ecstasy/molly, and counterfeit prescription pills (e.g., Xanax) to cut back on costs while at the same time enhancing potency. People may take toxic amounts of fentanyl without knowing it. Using fentanyl in any form, including snorting powder fentanyl, significantly increases the risk of an overdose.20

Get Help for Drug Addiction at Desert Hope

If you or someone you know is snorting drugs and struggling with addiction, help is available. Addiction is a complex disease, but treatment can help people with addiction recover. There are many different types of treatment available that can be individualized to meet each person’s needs.21

Desert Hope Treatment Center is a drug rehab in Las Vegas that offers different levels of rehab, including:

At Desert Hope, we provide a range of care, allowing you to transition between levels of care as you progress in your treatment and recovery. We also help you develop an aftercare plan to support your recovery when treatment is over.

A typical inpatient rehab daily schedule at Desert Hope Treatment Center includes:

Multiple rehab payment options are available at Desert Hope including financing plans. We are in-network with many of the major health insurance providers and can assist you in paying for rehab with health insurance.

To verify your coverage, simply complete the . We will advise you on your level of coverage and of any out-of-pocket costs.

Getting help is the first step in the recovery process. Call us at to learn more about our program or to start the rehab admissions process today. Our admissions navigators are available 24/7 to assist with any questions or needs that you may have regarding treatment.

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