Drug Delivery Methods Part 1

Substance abusers and drug addicts generally seek the fastest and most effective methods of getting high. This means that drug delivery methods are important to users, and typically an addict will prefer one method over another. However, because there are a wide variety of drug delivery methods, substance abusers will often fluctuate between these techniques when the need arises. Understanding the different ways that people use drugs can aid in creating awareness and recognition skills to help combat drug abuse and addiction.



Smoking drugs is widely considered to be the most effective method of getting high because the results are almost immediate. This is a critical part of what drives people to use again and again – the instant gratification, which is virtually synonymous with addictive behaviors. According to the University of Utah;

“Research has shown that the faster a drug can reach the brain, the more likely it is to be addicting. Different methods of delivery-smoking, injecting, or snorting- largely influence how quickly a drug finds the brain. Delivery methods become an important factor when ranking the addiction potential of a drug.” (1)

Drug users smoke drugs by causing them to combust in some way. This could be through a pipe, a piece of aluminum foil, a light bulb, rolled in a paper or rolled in a leaf. In some cases substance abusers will put drugs on hot pieces of metal and suck the resulting fumes in with a straw.

Nearly anything can be outfitted to smoke drugs in. This includes homemade pipes and bongs made from simple household items like toilet paper rolls, soda bottles, hoses, chunks of wood, apples, potatoes and many other makeshift smoking apparatus.

In nearly all cases users inhale the smoke release from a burning drug as deeply as possible, and then hold the “hit” as long as they can before slowly releasing it. Many addicts assume that by holding the smoke in their lungs for long periods of time that more of the psychoactive ingredients will be distributed in the blood stream.

Types of Drugs

Nearly every type of drug can be smoked, although not all combust at the same temperature. For instance, very dry marijuana will combust at a much lower temperature than dense methamphetamine. Overall, the following drugs are often smoked: marijuana, opium, hash, cocaine, heroin, prescription medications, crack, PCP and a number of other designer drugs.

The most commonly smoked drug is marijuana, which is also the world’s most widely used illicit drug.


When a person inhales the smoke of anything – drug or not – they breathe in particulate material that can be irritating and dangerous to lung tissue. Over time consistent inhalation of smoke can cause serious lung disorders that in some cases can be fatal. This includes moderate afflictions like pneumonia or bronchitis, but it also includes serious diseases like lung, throat or mouth cancer, emphysema and cardiovascular disorders that can eventually lead to heart attack and stroke.

Additionally, smoking any substance regularly can cause premature aging and exacerbate existing dermatological problems like eczema, psoriasis and even allergies. Constant inhalation of smoke can affect the vocal chords by making a person’s voice raspy and hoarse-sounding.

Smoking can cause substantial damage to the teeth, gums, jaw and tongue. Because smoking dehydrates the mouth, saliva that is critical for combating plague and periodontal disease will largely be absent and pave the way for painful dry pockets to form. Eventually this process can result in tooth decay, tooth loss and sometimes the need for a complete set of dentures – even though many addicts in this type of situation are often considered far too young to normally require such dental work. This is especially true in the case of heavy meth users, who are notorious for developing severe dental issues as just one of many consequences of their addiction.



Vaporizing sounds like something from a science fiction movie, but when it comes to drug abuse and addiction technology and science are rarely parts of the everyday illicit drug experience. However, vaporizing drugs is one of the first real instances of a high-tech drug delivery method that appears to work altogether too well for drug addicts.

In most cases people vaporize marijuana almost exclusively, although a number of other substances can be vaporized as well. The primary perceived benefit of vaporizing a drug over smoking it is that by vaporizing it, a person is essentially inhaling water vapor with psychoactive properties. This is because vaporizers superheat the air around a drug – always remaining at temperatures less than the combustion point for that substance.

When the air around a substance is superheated it causes all of the moisture in the substance to escape rapidly. That moisture escapes in the form of water vapor that drug users inhale as if it were smoke. However, because there is no smoke involved there are fewer – if any – dangerous carcinogenic particulates being breathed into the lungs. Therefore, substance abusers rationalize that vaporizing a drug must be healthier than smoking it.

In a comprehensive online study into the matter, evidence strongly pointed to the idea that vaporizing is indeed a healthier drug delivery method than smoking. In a paper on the matter for the National Center for Biotechnology Information, Mitch Earleywine and Sara Smucker Barnwell wrote:

“A significant interaction revealed that the impact of a vaporizer was larger as the amount of cannabis used increased. These data suggest that the safety of cannabis can increase with the use of a vaporizer. Regular users of joints, blunts, pipes, and water pipes might decrease respiratory symptoms by switching to a vaporizer.” (2)

Types of Drugs

Most people use vaporizers strictly for smoking marijuana flower buds, stems and leaves. However, nearly any drug that has moisture content can be vaporized, although there are few if any reports available about the effects of vaporizing substances other than marijuana.


While vaporizing a substance is probably less dangerous than smoking it, there is still a great deal about vaporizing that is unknown. This drug delivery method has increased in popularity only in recent years and no credible studies have been conducted into the matter to date.

In Drug Delivery Methods Part 2 we’ll discuss the other major ways that drug users consume their substances of choice. This includes snorting or insufflation, absorption, ingestion, inhalation and injection. However, if you or someone you care about is suffering from a substance abuse problem, then there’s no time to waste. Call the number at the top of your screen now for a free, private and confidential consultation to help you get your life back on track starting right now.

(2) Mitch Earleywine and Sara Smucker Barnwell Decreased respiratory symptoms in cannabis users who vaporize Copyright © 2007 Earleywine and Barnwell; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. NCBI

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