Snorting Cocaine

Powder cocaine can be ingested in many ways, but most people snort, or sniff, the drug. Snorting coke can seriously damage a person’s health. Sudden death is possible, even with just one use of the drug.
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Some people mistakenly believe snorting cocaine is safer than shooting or smoking the drug. In fact, cocaine is dangerous, no matter how it’s ingested.

Snorting, or sniffing, cocaine can make you feel sick and even cause a heart attack or stroke. If you regularly snort cocaine, you are likely to develop a cocaine addiction. Prolonged use can lead to serious inflammation of the nasal cavity and mouth that may cause your nose to collapse or holes to form in the roof of your mouth.

What Happens When You Snort Cocaine?

When you snort or sniff a line of cocaine, the fine powder enters the mucous membranes of the nose.

Once the powerful stimulant hits the blood vessels in the nose, it takes about three to five minutes to reach the brain. At that point, the user begins to feel a euphoric high and energetic rush that can last for approximately 15 to 30 minutes.

At the same time, cocaine constricts, or narrows, the blood vessels. This decreased blood flow actually limits absorption of the drug but also taxes the heart. When the cocaine eventually wears off, you may have a runny or bloody nose.

Over time, with chronic use, the interrupted blood flow cocaine causes can also permanently damage the delicate tissues inside your nose and other organs in the body.

Short-Term Effects of Snorting Cocaine

Most people use cocaine because they enjoy its powerful excitatory effects. As a stimulant, cocaine revs up your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing and body temperature, making you feel more alert and energetic.

As cocaine courses through your veins, it can send your cardiovascular system into a dangerous overdrive. Excitement and energy can give way to labored breathing, sweating, abnormal heart rhythms and chest pain. In the worst case, cocaine can cause heart attacks, strokes, seizures, coma and death.

Any amount of cocaine can induce these toxic effects, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Other short-term side effects of snorting coke include:

  • Enlarged (dilated) pupils
  • Decreased appetite
  • Impotence
  • Restlessness and insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety, paranoia or panic
  • Sneezing and nasal discomfort
  • Tremors
  • Dizziness
  • Muscle twitching
  • Abdominal pain, nausea and other gastrointestinal problems

The risks of mixing alcohol with cocaine are especially serious. When a person drinks and sniffs cocaine, it creates a toxic byproduct called cocaethylene, which is toxic to the heart and liver. Combining and snorting cocaine and heroin, a drug mix known as a speedball, is also extremely dangerous and increases the risk of cocaine overdose and death.

Cocaine use diminishes function in the parts of the brain involved in decision-making. This can result in risky behavior. Some cocaine users exhibit bizarre or violent behavior.

Long-Term Effects of Snorting Cocaine

Prolonged use of cocaine changes the brain. Cocaine is highly addictive, and people who snort coke can quickly develop a tolerance, requiring increased amounts of cocaine to get the same rush.

When someone who uses cocaine regularly suddenly stops snorting the drug, they may experience withdrawal symptoms. Symptoms of cocaine withdrawal, or a cocaine crash, include fatigue, depression, anxiety, irritability, increased appetite and sleeping difficulties.

Other long-term effects of snorting cocaine include:

  • Severe headaches
  • Seizures
  • Heart attack and heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Lung damage
  • Hallucinations
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Infertility

Long-term intranasal cocaine use can also result in significant damage to the nose, mouth and nearby structures.

In the beginning, a person might notice they frequently suffer from a stuffy nose, a runny nose and nosebleeds. They may also experience frequent sinus infections and a diminished sense of smell. These symptoms may easily be dismissed as allergies.

Over time, the shape and appearance of the nose itself may change and the nose can even collapse.

Nasal and Oral Deformities from Snorting Coke

Because cocaine severely constricts blood vessels, snorting it lessens the flow of oxygen to tissues in the nose.

As someone continues to snort cocaine, these chronically low oxygen levels take a toll on the lining of the nasal septum, which is the vascular wall of tissue that divides the right and left sides of the nose.

With no blood supply, the septal lining eventually dies, as does the underlying cartilage. At that point, a hole may appear in the nasal septum. In some cases, the entire nose may collapse.

Chronic coke users may develop what’s known as a “saddle nose.” With a saddle deformity, the bridge of the nose essentially collapses and tip of the nose becomes wider and upturned. When viewed from the side, the nose resembles a saddle.

Individuals can also develop large holes in their hard palate — the roof of their mouth. When this happens, a person experiences nasal regurgitation, where food they are eating comes out of their nose.

These holes are typically corrected by creating prosthetics to replace the damaged bone and tissue.

Other signs of nasal injury from snorting cocaine include nose whistling and snoring. The National Institute on Drug Abuse asserts that people who snort cocaine on a chronic basis may also experience hoarseness and have trouble swallowing.

If you are using cocaine and experiencing signs and symptoms of inflammation and damage, cocaine rehab can help you quit and allow your nose to heal. A hole in the septum or hard palate, however, is irreversible.

Medical Disclaimer: aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

Amy Keller, RN, BSN
Content Writer,
As a former journalist and a registered nurse, Amy draws on her clinical experience, compassion and storytelling skills to provide insight into the disease of addiction and treatment options. Amy has completed the American Psychiatric Nurses Association’s course on Effective Treatments for Opioid Use Disorder and continuing education on Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT). Amy is an advocate for patient- and family-centered care. She previously participated in Moffitt Cancer Center’s patient and family advisory program and was a speaker at the Institute of Patient-and Family-Centered Care’s 2015 national conference.
Kim Borwick, MA

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