Smoking marijuana
Smoking drugs is one of the most common forms of intake.
Its popularity is largely due to the fact that smoking a substance is the fastest way to get it from the hand to the brain, producing an incredibly intense rush of euphoria with certain drugs. Additionally, nearly any drug can be smoked. Even prescription medications in pill form can be crushed up and then heated in a pipe, producing a drug-laced smoke.

When taking a drug orally, the substance has to be digested and absorbed into the blood through the intestines before it can reach the brain. This takes time, typically a half-hour to an hour, and spreads the drug out so that smaller amounts reach the brain at one time. This results in a longer but less intense high.

If the digestive system can be skipped entirely, the result is not only faster, but much more pleasurable, though the overall high lasts only a few minutes. Smoking is even faster than methods like injection or snorting as the drug goes directly into the lungs and to the brain, taking only around a minute, rather than having to travel to the lungs from the sinuses or arm since the blood has to be oxygenated in the lungs before it can head to the brain.

Commonly smoked drugs include:

  • Methamphetamine
  • Ketamine
  • PCP
  • Mescaline
  • Prescription drugs

Nicotine and marijuana do not cause a euphoric high due to the milder nature of these drugs.

Dangers of Smoking Drugs

Depending on the drug used, smoking a substance can have severe and life-threatening effects, especially over the long term. It’s a well-known fact that smoking anything is hard on the lungs. Drugs that contain more harsh, human-made chemicals like those in common tobacco cigarettes or in meth tend to cause significantly more problems than marijuana or mescaline, but over time, even smoking more “natural” drugs is likely to cause problems in the lungs. Smoking tobacco is still the cause of around 90 percent of all cases of lung cancer.

Most of the drugs smoked can result in life-threatening issues up to and including lung cancer. Throat and mouth cancer are also concerns, and it’s common to see habitual smokers of drugs like crack and meth with serious problems in and around the mouth, including sores and serious dental issues. There are also concerns when it comes to smoking prescription drugs like Vicodin or Adderall due to the fact that the protective coating around these pills can cause nasty fumes.

At the same time, the fast and short high, lasting only a few minutes, tends to result in bingeing behavior. This is where users take additional doses of a drug immediately after the high wears off, sometimes repeating this behavior for many hours or even days. This increases the chance of overdose and of developing an addiction to the drug.

Such a drastic form of drug abuse in terms of “harder” drugs like crack cocaine and heroin can be an indication of an addiction. Due to the many dangerous health effects of smoking, it’s important to seek professional addiction treatment as soon as possible if an addiction is suspected. Using specialized services significantly increases the chances of getting on the road to recovery in a long-term capacity.

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Is Marijuana Smoke as Bad as Cigarette Smoke?

There is a myth that marijuana smoke doesn’t contain the same toxins as tobacco smoke. While this is somewhat true, it leads to a misconception that marijuana is safer to smoke than cigarettes. In fact, the American Lung Association emphatically denies that this is the case, stating that smoking marijuana causes lung damage that can lead to a variety of health issues. 

The main difference between smoking marijuana and smoking tobacco cigarettes is the addictive substance in the drug; for marijuana, the substance is THC while tobacco contains nicotine. These substances provide the euphoric and other mental effects that make the drugs addictive. However, multiple studies, including one from the Annals of the American Thoracic Society, demonstrate that marijuana smoke contains many of the same cancer-causing elements as tobacco smoke. In addition, a study from the Western Journal of Medicine indicates that marijuana smokers have a slightly higher risk of experiencing respiratory illness than other people.

Do People Smoke Cocaine?

Most movies depict cocaine use the same way: lines of the drug on a mirror being snorted through some kind of paper tube. However, snorting cocaine is not the only way of using it. In fact, it’s not even the fastest way of delivering the drug to the brain. 

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, smoking cocaine delivers the drug directly to the heart from the lungs, which gets it to the brain faster and in a more concentrated form. This, in turn, results in a faster, more powerful high.  

Cocaine powder cannot be smoked easily due to the high temperatures required to vaporize the powder. However, various methods make it possible, including making crystalline cocaine, also known as crack. In addition, many people use aluminum foil to hold the powder (also known as freebase), light a fire under it, and then inhale the vapor through a glass tube.

Is Vaping Safer Than Smoking Drugs?

Many seemingly contradictory statements have been made about whether vaping is better than, the same as, or worse than smoking. Even an article from CBC Health citing “expert opinion” seems to indicate that vaping is safer and not considered to be a gateway to addiction or other substance abuse or health issues.  

However, on the contrary, a study presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science indicates that there are a host of risks that occur with vaping that are similar to or even worse than those for smoking cigarettes, including: 

  • Increased susceptibility to respiratory illness 
  • Changes in gene activity that affects mental illness and behaviors, especially in women 
  • Potential increased risk of atherosclerosis, a form of heart disease 
  • Unknown toxins in flavorings 

In addition, those who use vaping to engage in use of other illicit drugs may have risks of toxic exposure that have not yet been researched.

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Why Do People Smoke Prescription Pills?

As described above, smoking drugs is a faster method of delivery to the brain, enabling the individual who is using the drug to experience a faster, more intense high. For this reason, some people who abuse prescription drugs may attempt to smoke the pills to experience a stronger high.  

As one example, a search on how to smoke prescription painkillers brings up discussions of crumbling oxycodone pills and smoking them on tin foil, similar to the way in which cocaine might be smoked. Other individuals might try the same with other pills, hoping to achieve a bigger high than would be obtained by ingesting or snorting the drug. 

A risk of smoking prescription pills comes from not knowing what other ingredients might be in the pills. Smoking drugs can result in toxic chemicals being released, which can result in life-threatening situations or lead to other health risks down the road, including the simple risk of lung damage.


Are There Associated Risks of Secondhand Smoke for Drugs Other Than Tobacco?

Secondhand smoke from cigarettes has been cited as creating a major risk for lung cancer and other diseases even in people who never smoke themselves. However, most people don’t give much thought to the idea that smoke from other drugs might also be harmful. 

Contrary to this belief, a study from Drug and Alcohol Dependence indicates that people who sit in a room with others who are smoking marijuana can begin to experience the effects of THC, especially if the room is poorly ventilated. In addition, as discussed above, marijuana smoke has some of the same effects as tobacco smoke, even subtracting the addictive substances. Because of this, there are risks of exposure to marijuana smoke in those who are not smoking. 

The same can be true of other drugs as well, depending on the prevalence of the smoke in the room and the proximity of the individual to the smoke. A study from the Journal of Analytical Toxicology shows that it is possible for an individual in the same room with someone who is smoking crack cocaine to absorb enough cocaine through the secondhand smoke to test positive on a drug test.