Dangers of Snorting, Smoking, and Injecting Cocaine

Cocaine is a stimulant drug with a high potential for misuse, and, like many other drugs, is an addictive substance.1 There are several ways that a person can use cocaine, with each method of use producing different, unsafe side effects and associated health risks.2

This article will highlight what cocaine is, the common ways cocaine is used, the health risks of cocaine use, and how to get help for this type of misuse and addiction.

How Is Cocaine Used?

Cocaine laced with fentanyl in lines and in bagCocaine (also commonly referred to as “coke”) can be snorted, smoked, injected, and orally consumed.3 Cocaine may come in the form of fine, white powder that can be snorted, injected, or ingested, or in crystalized rock form that can be smoked (also known as crack cocaine).1,2Regardless of the method in which people use cocaine, they can experience short-term effects that can include:4

  • Euphoria.
  • Heightened mental alertness.
  • Increased energy.
  • Talkativeness.
  • Increased sensitivity to light, sound, or touch.

People can also experience adverse psychological symptoms and effects from all types of cocaine use. For example, people who use cocaine may experience restlessness, irritable mood, anxiety, fear, and paranoia.4 Cocaine can also cause severe physical complications when misused, such as cardiac complications, as well as seizures, stroke, coma, and gastrointestinal complications.4,5

The types and severity of one’s potential health problems can depend on many factors, including the frequency and the amount of cocaine being misused. The method of use itself plays a significant role in the potential outcome of one’s continued cocaine use.

Snorting Cocaine

The most common method of cocaine use is intranasal use, which is commonly referred to as “snorting”. To snort cocaine, it must be in cocaine powder form so that it can be absorbed through the nasal tissues.3 When someone uses cocaine intranasally, the euphoric effects of cocaine may last anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes.2 These effects appear slower and are less intense compared to other methods of administration, such as smoking or intravenous injection.6

Snorting cocaine is associated with several negative long-term health effects, including: 2,6,7

  • Loss of sense of smell.
  • Nosebleeds.
  • Runny nose.
  • Nasal inflammation.
  • Erosion of the upper nasal cavity.
  • Irritation of the nasal septum and nostrils.
  • Difficulty swallowing.
  • Hoarseness.

Smoking Cocaine

To smoke or inhale cocaine, it must be in a crystallized rock form, known as crack cocaine (also referred to as “freebase cocaine”).2 Heat is applied to the crystallized rock to produce vapors that are inhaled.2 Smoking crack cocaine results in the drug reaching the brain extremely fast, usually within seconds.6 The levels of crack cocaine in the blood are highest around 1–5 minutes following inhalation.5 The high that is experienced is relatively brief, lasting approximately 5–10 minutes.2

Smoking cocaine can produce a variety of negative health effects, including:2,7

  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Cough.
  • Asthma or worsening of existing asthma.
  • Lung damage.
  • Increased likelihood of developing infections, such as pneumonia.
  • Developing a unique respiratory syndrome known as “crack lung.”6,7

Injecting Cocaine

When a person injects cocaine, they mix the powder form with water to dissolve the powder and create a liquid, which can then be administered intravenously.3 Like smoking, cocaine reaches the brain quickly when intravenously injected, and peak levels are reached about 1–5 minutes following injection.5,6

There are numerous health effects of injecting cocaine, including:2,8

  • Increased risk for contracting/developing bloodborne infectious diseases, such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C.
  • Higher risk for infections involving soft tissue.
  • Scarring.
  • Collapsed veins.
  • Puncture marks where cocaine was injected.

Ingesting Cocaine

Although ingesting cocaine occurs less often than other administration methods, a person can orally ingest cocaine in a few ways, including swallowing it, rubbing the powder form of cocaine on the gums, or placing it under the tongue.Cocaine levels in the body are highest around 1–1.5 hours following oral ingestion.5

Negative health effects from ingesting cocaine include:

  • Reduced blood flow to the gastrointestinal tract.2
  • Infection of the bowel tissue.10
  • Severe decay or death of bowel tissue.10

Getting Help for Cocaine Use

woman in group therapyCocaine use is associated with several short- and long-term adverse health effects, including overdose, and it is important to get help to help prevent or curb these effects before they become life-threatening. Types of addiction treatment include behavioral therapies that may be delivered in outpatient addiction treatment, inpatient addiction treatment, and long-term residential rehab facilities. Mutual support groups, such as Cocaine Anonymous, may also be helpful to someone who wants to stop using cocaine.11

If you think you or a loved one need help for cocaine misuse or addiction, our inpatient facility can help you get the care you need. To gather more information about the treatment admissions process, paying for addiction treatment, and your insurance coverage, call Recovery First at . We will answer all of your questions and connect you with a compassionate admissions navigator who can help get you started on the road to recovery.

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