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Dangers of Snorting and Sniffing Drugs

Different routes of administration like snorting, sniffing, smoking, or injecting when you are using drugs can produce various effects based on how quickly the drug is absorbed into the body and the bloodstream.1 Methods like smoking or injecting produce a quicker, more intense high, whereas snorting takes more time to produce the same effect but may last longer.1

While snorting drugs may be a slower rate of absorption than other routes, chronic drug use over time can result in harmful effects to your health, such as changes in your brain and nervous system.1 In this article, we will discuss the effects of snorting or sniffing drugs, the risks associated with these methods of use, and how to seek help if you or a loved one may have a substance abuse problem.

Snorting and Sniffing Drugs

Intranasal absorption of drugs can happen in 2 different ways: snorting and sniffing, which is sometimes called nasal insufflation.2 To snort drugs, the substance needs to be in a powder form, such as cocaine or heroin, but prescription pills like Adderall or Vicodin can also be crushed and snorted.2 People might also dissolve cocaine in water and snort it using a straw, which is sometimes called an inhaler, bullet, or bumper.3

Sniffing or inhaling drugs can take many forms, such as huffing or bagging drugs.4 Huffing is when you create a seal around an inhalant and breathe it in through your mouth or nose.4 Inhalants that are commonly used via sniffing include cleaning products, aerosols like spray paint, or gases such as butane (lighter fluid) or propane.4

While both snorting and sniffing are methods of using drugs that involve absorption through the nasal membranes, they are different in several ways. Snorting typically involves inhaling a powder form of a drug or using a straw to inhale that drug dissolved in liquid.2, 3 Sniffing involves the use of inhalants that can be commonly found in your household, such as huffing spray paint or glue.4

Why Do People Snort and Sniff Drugs?

People often snort drugs to have a longer-lasting high. Because snorting is a relatively slow process of absorption through the nasal membrane, it may take longer to feel the effects of the drug, but the high can generally last 15 to 30 minutes.1 In contrast, the high produced from smoking may have a faster onset but be shorter and more intense in duration.1

In contrast, people may sniff drugs because it produces a more intense high that lasts for a shorter period of time, which means that people might continue to sniff the drug repeatedly to make their high last longer.4

Regularly or repeatedly using a drug in this way can impact how quickly you develop a tolerance.1 Tolerance is defined as needing larger amounts of a drug to produce the same effect.1 This can increase the likelihood of developing a substance misuse problem as you need more and more of the drug to feel high and to avoid discomfort. This can be dangerous depending on your drug of choice—having a higher tolerance for cocaine, for example, may also increase your risk of overdose.1

Dangers of Snorting and Sniffing Drugs

There are risks associated with snorting and sniffing drugs, these include:


  • Loss of your ability to smell.1
  • Difficulty with swallowing.1
  • Hoarseness in the throat.1
  • Chronically inflamed, runny nose due to irritation of the septum.1
  • Frequent nosebleeds.1, 3
  • Damage to the nasal passages due to irritation and rupture of the blood vessels.3
  • Significant damage to the nasal septum.3


  • Liver and kidney damage.4
  • Hearing loss.4
  • Loss of coordination and limb spasms due to nerve damage.4
  • For adolescents who are sniffing inhalants, risk of disruption to behavioral development.4
  • Brain damage due to a cut off oxygen flow to the brain.4

Both routes of administration can lead to an increased risk of overdose and addiction.1, 4, 5 Snorting and sniffing drugs can increase an individual’s risk of fatality, including sudden death from first-time use of a drug.4, 5

The level of risk increases with repeated use of the drug, regardless of the method by which it is used.5 Depending on your drug of choice, you may also experience different physical or psychological symptoms that are difficult to control and significantly impact your quality of life, such as restlessness, paranoia, or auditory hallucinations after prolonged cocaine use.5

In addition, there is an increase in behavior-based risks with drug use, such as increased risk of motor vehicle accidents while driving under the influence.6 If you share the straw or other tool used to snort or sniff drugs, you may be at an increased risk of contracting an infectious disease as well.6 This can include using paper money rolled as a straw or using a house key to “bump” powdered substances like cocaine, as they can carry germs that cause infection.3

In some cases, sniffing inhalants just one time is enough to cause a condition called “sudden sniffing death,” in which your heart stops within minutes of inhaling a drug.4 Most inhalants are highly concentrated and contain large amounts of chemicals, and it is believed that sudden sniffing death occurs due to inhaling these substances without any oxygen.4 This condition and other severe symptoms, such as seizures, coma, or suffocation, may occur during an overdose of inhalants as well.4

What Are My Treatment Options?

If you or a loved one is struggling with a substance misuse problem, help is available. The first step is to meet with your healthcare provider to determine your unique needs for treatment. Once your provider has made a level of care recommendation, they will help you identify options for treatment from the following levels of care:7

  • Detoxification, often called “detox” for short, is a medically supervised program to help you manage discomfort and potential life-threatening medical problems as your body goes from acute intoxication to withdrawal.
  • Inpatient substance misuse treatment, which is treatment that occurs in a hospital or residential setting and is supervised 24-hours per day by medical staff.
  • Outpatient substance misuse treatment, in which participants do not stay overnight or reside at the facility but rather attend treatment programming at a freestanding facility.
  • Individual therapy or counseling, which consists of meeting with a therapist regularly to learn strategies to avoid relapse and strengthen coping skills.
  • Aftercare services, which may occur in a group or individual setting, and focuses on relapse prevention and the refinement of skills learned earlier in treatment.

Addiction is a chronic, relapsing medical condition, and substance use disorders are treated as such.1 It is crucial that each person is treated on an individual basis depending on their own unique needs, including health issues and co-occurring mental health conditions.

Many people benefit from behavioral therapy as part of their treatment plan. Behavioral approaches like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) help participants learn skills like recognizing situations when they might want to use drugs, how to avoid them, and how to cope with their emotions afterward.1

There are several options for finding a treatment center that meets your needs. You can start by asking your medical provider for a recommendation or using an online treatment locator tool such as the rehab center directory on You can also verify your insurance coverage instantly. This can help you find out what your plan covers, what plans your treatment center will accept, and estimate your out-of-pocket costs in advance.

Remember, if you are struggling with addiction, you are not alone. Addiction is a treatable disorder, and help is available today.6 By educating yourself about substance use, you have already taken the first step. Call .

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