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Heroin is the fastest-acting opioid drug, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). It is illegal in America, meaning that it is considered to have a very high abuse and dependency potential and no acceptable medical uses.
Heroin is derived from the opium poppy plant and often takes the form of a white or a brown powder that can be injected, snorted, swallowed, or smoked. When heroin is snorted, it enters the bloodstream through the nasal and sinus passages, creating an almost instantaneous high that is rather short-lived.
If any of the following signs is recognizable, seek immediate medical attention as it may indicate a heroin overdose:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, reported that in 2013 more than 8,200 people died of a heroin overdose. Overdose is likely caused by the drug’s effect on the body’s respiration levels and suppression of some of the vital functions of the central nervous system, such as heart rate and blood pressure levels. Heroin overdoses are usually accidental and occur when the drug overwhelms the body’s systems, and the body may actually forget to breathe, possibly leading to coma or even death. Snorting heroin sends the drug quickly into the bloodstream and across the barrier between the brain and the blood. Snorting the drug may increase the odds for a life-threatening overdose.
Heroin purity is also difficult to measure, as illegal drug traffickers may cut the drug with other chemicals in order to increase the quantity for sale. This can increase the chances for a negative interaction to the chemicals used, or bring a heightened risk for an overdose as the purity may be higher than what someone is used to (due to inconsistent strength levels) and toxic levels may build up faster. A heroin overdose is a medical emergency.
Snorting heroin can damage nasal and sinus passages over time. An individual who snorts heroin regularly may suffer from a chronic runny nose or frequent nosebleeds. Long-term heroin abuse can create lung complications or lead to lung infections, as well as infections in the lining of the heart or other heart or blood vessel problems.
When heroin is snorted, the chemistry in the brain is altered in such a way that feelings of pleasure are artificially enhanced, creating a high. These good feelings may be short-lived however. When the drug wears off, individuals may feel depressed or anxious, and desire to recreate the pleasure that snorting heroin provides. Regularly snorting heroin can increase the body’s tolerance to the drug and more may need to be taken each time to continue to feel the pleasurable effects.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates that almost a quarter of the people who abuse heroin may become dependent on the drug. Dependence on heroin is both physical and psychological, as emotions, moods, willpower, motivation, and reward processing are all affected.
Snorting or injecting heroin may lead more quickly to dependence than some other methods of abusing the drug.
When dependence is created, withdrawal symptoms may begin when heroin leaves the bloodstream. Side effects of withdrawal may include symptoms that are flulike in nature as well as intense emotions like depression, anxiety, irritability, restlessness, insomnia, and clouded brain functions. Heroin addiction is another potential side effect of snorting heroin.
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Often, people who snort heroin do so to avoid the stigma associated with injecting drugs intravenously. It is also sometimes perceived as safer because no one shares needles. Some people believe that snorting heroin means the drug is less addictive. They may also assume that, if the drug can be snorted, it is purer – that there will be less filler, additives, or diluents that may cause harm – but this is not true. Snorting heroin is just as dangerous as injecting it because the drug is potent, difficult to dose, often laced with dangerous chemicals, and can cause long-term damage or an overdose.
Drugs like heroin, which do not process very fast through the digestive system, will cause a high much faster if they are snorted, smoked, or injected into a vein or muscle. It is also possible that some opioid analgesics, including heroin, can bypass the blood-brain barrier and be absorbed directly by the central nervous system; this greatly increases the bioavailability of the substance, which can put the individual at greater risk of an overdose.
There is no good or safe way to use heroin, and both injecting and snorting the drug are dangerous. Intravenous injection is the fastest method, with effects setting in within 7-8 seconds for a brief high; snorting the drug, on the other hand, means waiting 10-15 minutes until opioids reach the brain. The wait time is perceived by some people to be safer, but it is not.
Injecting heroin can lead to bacterial infections that reach the heart or lungs because of dirty needles. Through needle-sharing practices, people who inject heroin may contract viral infections, especially HIV or hepatitis. People who inject heroin intravenously may suffer from collapsed veins or blood clots that cause stroke or pulmonary embolism. In addition, it may put the individual at risk of overdose.
Although snorting doesn’t cause the same risks, it is still very dangerous. People who snort any drugs, including heroin, will damage the mucous membranes in their nose, throat, and mouth; on a short-term basis, this may lead to dry mouth or bloody noses, but long-term, the thin membrane protecting the nose cartilage and even the upper palate of the mouth will break down, exposing these sensitive areas. Nasal perforation is common among people who snort drugs for a long time; sometimes, people who snort drugs for years also present with similar perforations, or holes, in the roof of their mouths. Snorting drugs increases the risk of lung damage, breathing problems, and upper respiratory infections. Just like injecting heroin, snorting it puts the person at risk of developing an addiction because snorting and injecting are both ways for heroin to rapidly affect the brain.
Heroin has been cut with all kinds of additives for decades, from sugar or baking powder to animal dewormer or caffeine to other opioids like fentanyl and even carfentanil, an elephant tranquilizer. While the purity of heroin has been increasing in the US since 2010 – a problem that causes more overdoses on its own because people struggling with heroin addiction cannot dose purer heroin the same way – lacing heroin with other drugs either increases its potency or puts the person at risk of unexpected, life-threatening dangers.
For example, inactive adulterants in heroin may not cook off if the person injects the drug intravenously. These could enter the bloodstream and cause blood clots, which may cause deep vein thrombosis, pulmonary embolism, heart attack, or stroke. Snorting heroin with similar impurities may cause damage to the mucous membranes in the nose, throat, mouth, and upper respiratory system. Inert substances could cause damage to the lungs too.
If a batch of heroin is contaminated with bacteria, snorting it could lead to serious infections, just like injecting it can. Instead of skin, muscle, or cardiovascular infections, the person will develop nose, throat, and upper respiratory infections.
Levels of bioavailability change, depending on how many adulterants are added and how active these ingredients are. Inert substances like baking soda can reduce the high associated with heroin, so purchasing purer heroin later can cause an overdose. However, additives like fentanyl, which is also an opioid, enhance the effects of heroin and cause effects of their own, which may cause an overdose. This is true regardless of how the drug is taken – being snorted, injected, smoked, or even eaten.
Snorting any drug is dangerous. However, for many people, it is a preferred method of taking drugs because the high occurs faster, and there is less preparation involved. Heroin, for example, must be cooked if it is in certain forms, like black tar heroin. This means that it can only be injected because impurities are melted and separated. It can also be smoked, but it cannot be crushed and snorted; the substance is too gummy to pass through the nasal passages.
In many ways, this is like crack cocaine. The drug was developed to be cheaper, and the crystals are often smoked. This leads to a very intense high, characterized by more intense anxiety, shaking, and withdrawal symptoms. However, crack cocaine is tougher to snort because the crystals must be crushed.
Prescription drugs, especially opioids, are often crushed and snorted by people who struggle with addiction to these substances. OxyContin was developed as a long-lasting pain reliever, with time-release properties allowing the 12-hour dose of oxycodone to release slowly into the body. To get this large dose all at once, people who struggle with opioid addiction will crush these pills and snort or inject the resulting powder.
Once OxyContin or other prescription drugs are crushed, however, the powder is like purer forms of cocaine or heroin, which also appear in the form of white powders. These drugs are equally easy to snort, and snorting means that there is a substantial risk of addiction and overdose.
While snorting and injecting heroin are both the quickest methods of use, injecting the drug intravenously forces the opioid into the brain the fastest. Injecting it into a muscle works the second fastest, with an inset of about five minutes; finally, when snorting the drug, it takes about 10 minutes for the effects to set in.
The drip is the mixture of mucous or saliva, with heroin or another intoxicating substance, that drips down the back of the throat after snorting drugs. It is associated closely with cocaine, but yes, people who snort heroin experience the drip as well.