Why Is Snorting Drugs Dangerous?

The Health Risks of Drug Misuse

Cocaine on mirror

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Snorting is a means of using both recreational and prescription drugs. The drug is typically ground up into a powder by chopping it finely with a razor blade on a hard surface. It may then be divided into "lines," and a straw or rolled paper may be used to inhale the drug up into the nasal passages. 

For some drugs, snorting is the preferred method for misuse. But the short- and long-term effects can lead to significant damage.

The Dangers of Snorting

Snorting drugs has a number of health consequences. Chief among them is damage to the respiratory system. Mucous membranes are extremely delicate and susceptible to damage from snorting. Compromised membranes can stop functioning normally, which makes normal breathing difficult. A person who snorts drugs might even lose their sense of smell.

Damage to the mucous membranes also increases the risk for blood-borne infections such as hepatitis C and HIV, particularly among those who share snorting paraphernalia. This is because small amounts of blood can leak from irritated mucous membranes and get on such objects, exposing anyone who shares them to any infections the first person is carrying.

Frequent and/or long-term snorting can damage or even destroy the septum (the cartilage between the nostrils).

Other effects of snorting drugs include vomiting, constipation, shakiness, dizziness, and increased heart rate. Regardless of how a person ingests them, the drugs themselves can also cause heart failure, coma, seizures, and even death.

Signs That Someone Is Snorting Drugs

The physical damage of snorting drugs manifests in a number of ways. Signs to look for include:

  • Runny nose
  • Frequent cold/allergy signs
  • Chronic sinus/nasal problems
  • Nosebleeds
  • Sores on mouth or nose
  • Problems swallowing and breathing

In addition, a person who is snorting drugs may possess paraphernalia such as razor blades, tiny spoons, straws, and small mirrors.

Why Snorting Is Common

People often snort because they can achieve a faster onset of desired effects when compared to other methods of delivery (other than smoking, which is faster than snorting).

When snorted, a drug is absorbed almost immediately into the bloodstream through the soft tissues in the nasal cavities. Depending on the person and the drug, it can take as little as 5 to 10 minutes for the drug to be absorbed and start producing effects. Snorting may also amplify the effects of the drug, as is often the case with extended-release prescription medication.

Some people think that snorting prescription drugs is safer than snorting "street drugs," but this simply isn't true. Prescription medications are formulated to be taken in a particular manner, often ingested orally, and to be released slowly. When taken properly, the medication is broken down in the stomach before it is absorbed into the bloodstream over time. By snorting, the full effect of the drug is released almost immediately, which can have serious consequences.

Snorting and Addiction

One of the reasons people snort drugs is that it can enhance the drug's effects. But the strong high that results can make the drug significantly more dangerous to health.

Painkillers, particularly opioids, are among the most commonly misused medications, although cocaine, heroin, ketamine, and other drugs are often snorted as well. Just like ingesting drugs in other ways, snorting drugs is addictive.

If someone feels an intense need for the drug, regardless of whether it's cocaine or a painkiller, or if they find that they need more and more of it to get the same effect, they are addicted to the drug.

Commonly snorted drugs include:

  • Opioids
  • Ketamine
  • Cocaine
  • Heroin
  • Synthetic cathinones (aka bath salts)
  • 3-methylmethcathinone (aka 3-MMC and metaphedrone)

Drug Withdrawal and Addiction Recovery

If someone has snorted drugs and become reliant on them, quitting can be challenging. They may have difficulty sleeping, chills, shakes, soreness, or mood swings. While these withdrawal symptoms can be disconcerting, they should not discourage anyone from quitting. Misusing drugs can have significant mental, physical, financial, and legal ramifications. 

If someone you know is misusing drugs, it's important that they understand the serious risks involved. You can help them find an addiction specialist or treatment facility to help them on their way to recovery. Specialists with experience in treating individuals who've snorted drugs can monitor the person's progress and offer emotional support during recovery. 

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area. 

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. National Institute of Drug Abuse. Health consequences of drug misuse.

  3. Rutgers University | Camden. Detailed signs and symptoms of drug use.

  4. National Institute on Drug Abuse. The neurobiology of drug addiction.

  5. Pathak LK, Vijayaraghavan V. Hydrocodone snorting leading to hypersensitivity pneumonitisProc (Bayl Univ Med Cent). 2016;29(3):288–289. doi:10.1080/08998280.2016.11929438

  6. National Institute for Drug Abuse. Treatment approaches for drug addiction.

By Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD
Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD is a psychologist, professor, and Director of the Centre for Health Leadership and Research at Royal Roads University, Canada.