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Risks of Snorting Heroin

When you think of heroin abuse, you most likely think of injecting the drug since it is the most common method of abuse. However, some people may snort heroin.

In addition to the overall risks of heroin use, snorting the drug can lead to significant damage to the nasal passages and an increased risk of developing infectious diseases.

How Is Heroin Snorted?

Heroin can be snorted in several different ways. Most individuals snort the powdered form of the drug through a straw or through a rolled-up piece of paper money.
In some cases, people may inhale a liquefied form of heroin using a nasal spray bottle. This method is known in some circles as shabanging.

Are the Effects the Same?

Heroin (diamorphine hydrochloride) is a highly addictive opioid drug that is derived from morphine. When you ingest heroin through any method, it attaches to specialized receptors in the brain (endogenous opioid receptors) that are involved in the control of the perception of physical pain, stress, and exertion.
Snorting heroin will produce similar effects as injecting heroin, smoking heroin, or taking heroin orally. If you smoke or inject heroin, you will feel the effects within a few seconds after ingesting it. You may not experience the full effects of the drug by snorting it until 15 minutes or longer after ingesting it, but the reaction will be similar to what you experience if you inject or smoke the drug.

You may need to snort more heroin to achieve the intensity of the effects that you achieve with a smaller amount of heroin that is injected, but the overall effects will be the same regardless of the method used to take the drug. The psychoactive effects of heroin include feelings of euphoria, a reduction in physical pain, drowsiness, lethargy, itchiness, and nausea.

Why Would Someone Snort Heroin

Someone afraid of needles might be more apt to smoke or snort heroin.
There appear to be some misconceptions about snorting heroin that may lead some inexperienced users to snort the drug instead of injecting it. Some people believe that snorting the drug is a safer method of using it; however, as mentioned above, the overall effects of the drug are similar whether it is snorted, injected, smoked, or taken orally.

It is certainly true that snorting the drug can significantly decrease the risk of contracting potential blood-borne infections and other specific health issues that are associated with needle sharing in people who inject heroin. However, if you snort heroin, you may contract infections if you share straws, glass tubes, or paper money used to snort the drug.

You are just as likely to experience the detrimental effects of repeated use of the drug, including organ damage, cognitive problems, tolerance, the development of physical dependence, and the potential development of opioid use disorder or a psychological disorder, such as depression.

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Specific Dangers of Snorting Heroin

Snorting heroin can lead to several detrimental health issues, particularly issues associated with the irritation of the nostrils, sinuses, and nasal passages.
According to a research article published in BMC Case Reports and an earlier article published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review, some of the specific issues that can occur as a result of snorting heroin include:

  • Chronic nosebleeds
  • Significant irritation of the nasal mucosa
  • Sinusitis (sinus infections due to chronic irritation in the nasal passages and nasal cavities)
  • Constant runny nose
  • Hoarseness and loss of voice
  • Decreased sense of smell or a total loss of the sense of smell
  • Problems swallowing
  • Perforation in the nasal septum, which may become infected

Because the intensity of the effects of the drug is lessened when it is snorted compared to injecting, you may be at increased risk for overdose on heroin if you snort it repeatedly to get enhanced effects.

The potential to develop infections associated with a perforated nasal septum and sinus infections is increased in individuals who chronically snort heroin. 

Signs Someone Is Snorting Heroin

Someone snorting heroin will display the physical and behavioral signs of heroin abuse that include lethargy, slurred speech, teary eyes, pinpoint pupils, itching, and constipation.
In addition, if someone is chronically snorting heroin you might be able to recognize some of the following signs:

  • Frequent runny nose or nasal congestion
  • Irritation on the nose, such as a red nose or scabs
  • Frequent nosebleeds for which they have no explanation
  • Hoarseness or complaints of a scratchy throat
  • Frequent use of eye drops to hide irritated eyes
  • Drug paraphernalia in their possession or near them, such as rolled-up paper money, straws, or mirrors

Heroin Mixed with Other Drugs

Some people may snort heroin that has been mixed or laced with other substances. A speedball is the street name for heroin and cocaine mixed together.
Recently, heroin laced with the extremely potent opioid drug fentanyl has been responsible for an increasing number of fatal overdoses. If you buy heroin off the street and snort it, you may be snorting heroin laced with fentanyl. This is an incredibly dangerous combination.

Powder on a tray next to astraw

A Precursor to Injection Use 

If you snort heroin, you may believe you are taking the drug in a safer manner than if you were to inject it. Individuals who chronically snort heroin will often transition to injecting the drug to achieve the increased intensity of effects.

If you snort heroin because you believe it is safer, it is likely only a matter of time until you begin injecting the drug. Get help before you do.

Sources

(September 2012) Injecting transition risk and depression among Mexican American non-injecting heroin users. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. Retrieved April 2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4451197/

(June 2018) What is Heroin? National institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved April 2019 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/heroin

(July 2013) An unusual oro-naso-sinus communication resulting from heroin and cocaine snorting. Case Reports, 2013. Retrieved April 2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3736497/

(January 1998) Route of drug use and its implications for drug effect, risk of dependence and health consequences. Drug and Alcohol Review. Retrieved April 2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16203485

(March 2015) Speedball. Urban Dictionary. Retrieved April 2019 from https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Speedball

(January 2019) Overdose Death Rates. National institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved April 2019 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates

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