Young woman snorting cocaine with a bill, close-upSnorting is a common form of drug abuse in which people take a drug in powdered form and forcefully breathe in up into the nasal cavity.
The mucus membranes in the sinuses then absorb the drug directly into the bloodstream where it can quickly travel to the brain, producing a sudden and intense feeling of euphoria commonly called a “rush.” This initial feeling then levels out into a more standard high that tends to last around 20-30 minutes.

Some illicit drugs come standard in a powdered form, but it’s also quite common for users to take prescription medications and crush them up to be snorted. The reason this is done rather than taking the pill orally is because swallowing a drug requires it to be digested and absorbed into the bloodstream slowly via the intestines before it can reach the brain. This takes a lot more time and causes the drug to spread out in the system. The high from an orally ingested drug is therefore significantly longer but much less intense. Those looking for a euphoric high can experience it through smoking, injecting, or snorting a drug.

The fast and intense high caused by snorting unfortunately also increases the risk of developing an addiction to a drug. Intense highs tend to cause people to build up a tolerance faster, especially since the short high is often followed by further doses in a behavior called “bingeing.” Users find themselves needing more and more of a drug each time in order to achieve the same high they did in the beginning. It’s often reported that individuals are never able to reach the same high they did the first time they took a drug, but keep chasing that experience by doing more or mixing drugs. Before they know it, they’re addicted.

This behavior also increases the chance of dangerous overdose. Plus, since the effects happen so much faster, it’s more difficult to get a person who has taken too much to emergency medical services in time. In 2013, a total of 47,055 people died from a drug overdose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Snorting any drug comes with unique health problems that develop over time. The mucus membranes in the nose are sensitive, and regular drug snorting irritates, hardens, and wears away at it. People who engage in this type of drug use tend to develop chronic runny noses and sinus infections, and can eventually damage their sense of smell or lose it altogether. In serious cases, individuals can actually wear a hole in their septum – the part of the nose in between the individual nostrils.

Snorting a drug can be an indication that a drug addiction is forming. Those who feel the need to graduate from taking a drug orally to the intense rush of snorting have likely already built up a significant tolerance and are losing control of their drug use. This happens to many people every year, and the problem is a medical condition that should be treated by a medical professional. The sooner treatment begins, the easier it tends to be to take back control of one’s life.

Snorting drugs takes advantage of the mucous membranes in the nose and throat to allow substances to be absorbed into the bloodstream faster than some other delivery methods, such as swallowing the drug or dissolving it under the tongue. Prescription drugs should never be snorted because there are typically additives in these substances that control their distribution through the body, and snorting these drugs eliminates the effectiveness of those additives. People typically snort drugs if they are using them for non-medical reasons, and this practice is very dangerous. Snorting can lead to serious physical problems, addiction, and overdose.

What drugs are the most harmful to snort?

There are many dangerous drugs that people snort in order to get high. Harmful side effects from snorting drugs include damage to the nose and nasal lining, addiction, damage to the upper respiratory system, reduced immune response due to constant infections, and overdose. Some of the most dangerous drugs that are snorted include:

  • Heroin
  • Prescription opioids (e.g., Percocet, OxyContin, fentanyl, etc.)
  • Cocaine
  • Amphetamines (e.g., MDMA, ecstasy, etc.)
  • Methamphetamine
  • Rohypnol
  • Ketamine
  • These drugs are dangerous to use, regardless of how they are ingested; only prescription opioids can be taken safely, as long as they are taken as prescribed with a doctor’s supervision. When any of these drugs are snorted, they enter the brain much more rapidly, which means they can cause an overdose very quickly or other dangerous side effects like rapid changes in heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and sensory perception.

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    Can snorting drugs reduce the immune system’s effectiveness?

    Yes. Substance abuse damages many systems in the body, which can increase the risk of infection and lead to problems with the immune system. Meth and cocaine especially impact the immune system, although the exact mechanisms of the damage are unclear. It appears that both meth and cocaine impact how proteins are created by the immune system, which can change the immune response.

    What happens when someone snorts prescription opiates?

    Snorting prescription opioids causes the drugs to affect the brain and body much faster, typically within 5-10 minutes instead of the 15-30 minutes required by digestion. Snorting these drugs also increases the risk of serious side effects, like respiratory arrest, overdose, coma, and death. Crushing and snorting these drugs is a method for people who already struggle with addiction or substance abuse to experience the euphoria associated with opiates faster; however, especially for drugs like OxyContin or fentanyl that require a timed-release mechanism in order to be safely distributed, a person can consume too much opiate too fast, and that can cause death or permanent damage to the body.

    Additionally, snorting drugs allows contaminants to enter the body. Snorting any substance will damage the lining of the nose, throat, and upper lungs, which can also increase the risk of infections.

    What administration method works faster: snorting or smoking?

    Smoking a drug typically gets the substance into the bloodstream faster than snorting, although this can vary by substance. For example, cocaine acts on the brain faster when it is smoked than when it is snorted. Both methods of use are very rapid, allowing some intoxicating substances to act on the brain in five minutes or less. Injecting a drug directly into the blood is also a very rapid way of administering a substance, which is why many who abuse prescription and illicit drugs use needles. Inhaling volatile particles also produces faster results than smoking the substance.