Is Snorting Heroin Really Safer Than Other Methods?

Addiction Resource > Addictive Substances: The Anatomy of Drug Addiction > Heroin Addiction, Abuse, and Treatment > Is Snorting Heroin Really Safer Than Other Methods?
Snorting is the practice of inhaling heroin through the nose. This practice has increasingly been reported among the youth, especially males between the age of 18 and 25. Since the 1990s, the snorting of heroin has significantly grown in prevalence.

Snorting Heroin

How Does Heroin Work?

Heroin is an illegal drug that is known for its highly addictive properties. Its popularity is on the rise due in part to the opioid epidemic America is continuing to experience. Though it may seem that only people deeply involved in drug abuse may turn to heroin, unfortunately, for more and more that is not the case. Thanks to the widespread use of prescription pain medication in America such as OxyContin (which is also an opioid, that mimics the effect of heroin if abused) people are getting hooked on opioids. When their prescription for medication runs out, they are faced with two options. Either purchasing OxyContin on the streets illegally or switching to heroin. People make that leap because it is much cheaper than purchasing the medication and its effects are very similar. In fact, about three out of four new heroin users report having abused prescription opioids before switching to heroin.

Heroin use is a struggle that affects a variety of people and has no regard for age, race and social standing.

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Why Is Heroin So Popular in the USA?

The CDC (The Center for Disease Control and Prevention) has identified three factors in the increased use of heroin in the U.S. They are the increased availability, low prices (in comparison to prescription opioids) and possible high purity of street heroin.

This represents a danger because prescription pain medication is monitored through Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs), making sure that what you are taking is pure and safe. When people choose heroin, the risk increases tremendously because there is no guaranty that what you are buying is actually pure heroin. It can be cut with anything from rat poison to laundry detergent. This can be especially dangerous because some of these additions, such as caffeine, for example, can mask the symptoms of an overdose.

Why Heroin?

Heroin originally derives from the opium poppy plant, and is a chemical modification of morphine. In the brain it links with opioid receptors which causes the high. The feeling people receive from heroin is euphoria, altered pain perception and sleepiness. But alongside those feelings of pleasure people can fall into comas, experience respiratory depression or even death

Heroin use is harmful in any way it is used. The addictive nature of heroin makes it more dangerous even when snorted. Injection is one of the worst methods, more so when the same needle is used by many people. Apart from affecting the user, the drug use may also have effects on other people too. There are various disadvantages to the use of heroin that do not only affect the users but sometimes the whole community or society at large.

Why Do People Snort Heroin?

Snorting Heroin

Heroin is a short-acting drug, which means that its effects are felt quickly, powerfully but also dissipate quickly (at least the pleasant feelings). If someone has grown dependant on this drug this property will require them to purchase more and more heroin to satisfy their cravings.  It creates something of a binge pattern. Snorting heroin successfully requires the more expensive, purer forms of heroin, making this sort of heroin habit especially expensive to maintain. There are many different ways to use heroin as well as different types of heroin. These include black heroin, white heroin, tar heroin and brown heroin all ranging in purity. The cheaper forms are more often injected or smoked, whereas pure heroin in necessary for snorting. Therefore it is a very expensive habit to maintain, which often leads addicts to find other ways of achieving their high.

How Do People Use Heroin?

There are many ways people use heroin. These include:

  • Snorting
  • Smoking
  • Eating
  • Intramuscular or IM (Injecting into a muscle)
  • Subcutaneous administration (Injecting under the skin)
  • Intravenous or IV (Injecting into a vain)
  • “Stuffing” (Inserting it into the rectum)

People snort heroin because it is the easiest way to get it into the body. Snorting heroin requires little “prep time” and avoids the use of needles, which can expose users to infections and other dangers. A simple straw or a rolled piece of paper is mostly used. Others also dissolve the drug in water and ‘shoot’ through the nose using a syringe’s barrel. Compared to smoking and injection, snorting is less risky since the other methods may cause direct damage to the blood vessels and the use of contaminated needles may further worsen the effects of using needles or syringes. Snorting also helps users avoid the social stigma that comes with “track marks” and other telltale signs of heroin use.

Dangers of Snorting

Despite being the preferred method of heroin use snorting carries with it considerate risk. This is particularly because of the high amount of heroin that users can snort in comparison to injection. It becomes hard to control an addiction as a result of snorting heroin since it is so easy.

What are the dangers of snorting heroin?

While heroin as a substance is dangerous no matter what, the dangers of snorting heroin include:

  • Irritation/ inflammation of nasal tissues
  • Greater susceptibility to sinus and other infections
  • Respiratory complications
  • Lung damage
  • Intestinal damage
  • Risk of overdose due to the delay in the amount of time it takes to reach the brain

Additionally, tolerance built up by snorting is seemingly high, which makes users vulnerable to many dangers, including overdose. In essence, snorting takes the drug slowly to the brain as compared to shooting or the use of injections. When heroin is snorted it takes around 10-15 minutes for the effects to be felt, whereas with injection this may take only a matter of seconds. This delayed gratification period is what may drive users to consume more and more, because they haven’t felt the full effect of what they’ve already ingested.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), heroin snorting is still popular and highly addictive among youth. NIDA also confirms that more than 15% of heroin users who snort transfer to using for injections and smoking within a year.

A great number of users who snort heroin develop an addiction within a few days or weeks. Over 23% of new users develop an addiction within a short period of time, confirms NIDA. Additionally, the rise in heroin use in recent years is accompanied by ever increasing death rates. It is important to note that over 90% of heroin users also abuse or have abused other drugs in their lives. This furthers the possibilities of overdose and the consequences related to drug abuse.

Is snorting heroin safer than other methods?

No, snorting heroin is not safer than other methods. Snorting heroin can actually be more dangerous than other methods considering the drug’s effects take longer to reach the brain. Because of this, users feel as if they need more of the drug to feel its effects, when really, they may have ingested a lethal amount already.

Potential Side-Effects of Snorting

White and brown heroin powders

So, can you snort heroin without having to worry about the side-effects? Heroin use may have different effects depending on the user and the society at large. Millions of people are affected indirectly by heroin use either as friends, family members or relatives of heroin users. The community also suffers socially when youth are exposed to drugs.

For heroin users, excessive and repeated snorting may cause irritation, breathing failure, damage of the tissue lining the nose and septum. Asthmatic patients may experience even worse effects if they overdose, such as asthma attacks leading to serious health complications thereafter.

An immediate risk or effect related to snorting heroin is an overdose. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that snorting heroin alone causes over 60% of overdoses. The facts that snorting takes some time before the drug gets to the brain makes users forget the possibilities of overdose.

Additionally, snorting causes addiction quickly, or at least faster. First-time users of heroin quickly become regular users and soon overdose.

Heroin overdose is mainly expressed by the following signs and symptoms:

  • Low blood pressure
  • Bluish nails
  • Nose bleeding
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Tongue discoloration
  • Depression
  • Disoriented body
  • Paranoia
  • Coma

Apart from these, snorting, if continued for too long, leads to the damaging of the mucus membranes of the nose. This, with time, causes irritation and inflammation of the membranes, making such a user vulnerable to infections and other such sinus problems.

If continued this may develop into lung problems. Respiratory conditions, intestinal damage and depression are all possible results of too much snorting of heroin. These problems become more chronic when the substances used to cut the ingested heroin are also dangerous or harmful to the body. How someone reacts to heroin depends on the purity of the drug, how much and how often they use and their general physical health.

Some side effects of snorting may therefore include:

  • Feeling of fatigue
  • Itchy skin
  • Nausea
  • Disturbed breathing
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Vomiting
  • Alternating wakefulness and alertness
  • Constipation
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Problems sleeping

Malnutrition and dehydration are common concerns for heavy users. Women can have additional issues with their menstruation cycle, having it be irregular or cease all together.  

When snorting continues for long periods of time, users may experience some complicated effects. Of these, cases may involve damage to the brain leading to death. Snorting leads to the accumulation of the drug in the bloodstream for a longer time since it is slowly taken through to the brain. Under these circumstances, one might easily get carried away and overdose.

Quitting Heroin

Heroin is so addictive that once someone starts, efforts to quit often do not work, ending in a relapse. This is in part due to the extremely unpleasant withdrawal symptoms that people experience when they stop using. These symptoms come on in as little as 6-12 hours after the last dose was taken and climax at around the third day, taking up to a week to fully dissipate.

Heroin withdrawal symptoms are extremely dangerous to pregnant women and people who have HIV/AIDS. Though typically not fatal for most users some symptoms include:

  • Increased sensitivity to pain
  • Fever
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Sweating
  • Muscle aches
  • Yawning
  • Fever
  • Goosebumps
  • Increased eye-watering
  • Insomnia
  • In males spontaneous ejaculation

Though it may seem like a grueling prospect, quitting heroin for good is possible. It is recommended that you don’t try and attempt a heroin detox alone, but implore the help of first a detox center and then enter substance abuse therapy where you can make long-lasting changes.