Dangers and Effects Of Snorting Xanax

Last Updated: January 19, 2021

Authored by Nena Messina, Ph.D.

Reviewed by Michael Espelin APRN

Xanax is the brand name of the sedative drug alprazolam. Alprazolam is a benzodiazepine, a special group of sedatives used as a treatment for a wide range of medical conditions. Benzodiazepines like alprazolam can also be misused as substances of abuse. The drug is usually taken orally, however certain individuals have resorted to the dangerous practice of crushing the tablet and snorting the powder. Let’s look at some information on how Xanax works, the health dangers of smoking the substance, and what you can do to start on the pathway of recovery from addiction.

How Does Xanax Work in General?

Alprazolam, a triazole benzodiazepine, is considered a high-potency fast-acting tranquilizer with a range of effects and side effects. Due to its ability to bind to benzodiazepine sites on GABA (A) receptors, the substance provides positive allosteric modulation of these receptors to increase gamma-aminobutyric acid-binding, a potent inhibitory neurotransmitter found in the brain.

Woman taking a Xanax pill.

When a person takes a dose of Alprazolam orally, it breaches the blood-brain barrier and enters the brain. By selectively binding to benzodiazepine sites on the GABA (A) receptors, the substance increases the binding affinity of GABA. As more GABA binds, within an hour, the CNS experiences an overall slowdown in excitability, information processing, and neuronal activation. This is what makes Alprazolam a much-prescribed treatment for anxiety disorders because of the calming symptoms it produces.

However, the information described here only refers to when alprazolam is taken by the oral route. Any other way of intake can alter the effects of the substance and cause complications.

What Does Xanax Do?

Alprazolam has a broad range of effects on the entire Central Nervous System. These effects include anxiolytic effects, sedative effects, relaxant effects (skeletal muscles), hypnotic effects, anticonvulsant effects, antidepressant effects, and amnestic effects. This is why it is used in the treatment of anxiety disorders. Due to this, alprazolam has effects ranging from emotional reactions to short-term and long-term memory to the ability to think clearly and properly coordinate limbs.

What Happens When You Snort Xanax?

Many people wonder, “What does Xanax do when snorted?” Well, according to the information posted by the US National Library Of Medicine, snorting Alprazolam leads to a more rapid onset of action than consuming the drug orally. This leads to the dangerously false impression by abusers that snorting is a more potent route of administration. However, Xanax snorting does not increase the potency, duration of action, or safety of the drug, nor does it reduce the withdrawal symptoms. It only increases the health dangers by making the side effects and withdrawal symptoms less predictable and encouraging addiction.

A medically approved way of taking Alprazolam is eating it. According to the US National Library Of Medicine, the drug may also be taken sublingually for treatment of certain ailments, as well as in the form of a liquid that is swallowed similarly to the tablet form.

Xanax pills crushed for snorting.

Some people may snort Alprazolam, and this method is not medically recommended for the treatment of any health condition. People abuse the drug in this way to get stronger, more intense, and faster effects. Snorting Xanax increases the risks of side effects, overdose and may be extremely dangerous for health. Abusers may not have to deal with the unpleasant taste, but they still will have to deal with uncomfortable sneezing and the remainder of the substance stuck in the nose afterward.

One of the benefits of eating or swallowing Alprazolam bars, rather than snorting them, is that it can be taken in the form of an extended-release tablet. This means the effects of the drug last longer and also ensures tolerance builds up far slower. In addition to that, it is much safer than snorting and reduces the likelihood of abuse. A common treatment recommendation is to take the tablet with a drink to wash it down and deal with an unpleasant taste.

Side Effects Of Snorting Xanax

Snorting alprazolam is very dangerous to one’s health because it increases its abuse potential by rapidly increasing the onset of action of its symptoms. The wide surface area and rich vascularity of the nasal mucosa help speed up the drug’s absorption.

Man experiences side effects after snorting Xanax.

This is not the only danger of snorting Xanax. The rapid onset of symptoms associated with snorting Xanax makes the drug’s actions and side effects unpredictable. This rapid onset of action gives the false impression that snorting is a more potent route of taking the drug or produces fewer withdrawal symptoms, further encouraging Xanax abuse and subsequent addiction among users who indulge in this harmful practice.

Snorting Xanax may cause mucosal damage, develop an addiction, and lead to overdose. It’s highly recommended to take the drug orally only and to stick to prescribed doses. The above dangers are unique effects of snorting Xanax due to the effect on the nose, pharynx, and throat.

Some Other Common Side Effects Of Snorting Xanax Include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Memory difficulties
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Loss of balance
  • Lightheadedness
  • Decreased saliva production
  • Changes in sex drive
  • Slurred speech
  • Hallucinations
  • Blurred vision

What are the Dangers of Smoking Xanax?

Another way to abuse Alprazolam is to smoke it. Some users reported that they had tried to smoke the substance by using tin foil or mixing it with marijuana. This is known to cause users to be drowsy and less coordinated. It is also quite dangerous due to both drugs, Xanax and weed, being central nervous system depressants. This may exaggerate the effects of Alprazolam and make overdose much more likely.

Smoking Xanax in a blunt or on the tin foil can lead to effects lessening due to some of the drug being burnt up. This can lead to users taking more of the drug to get the same high, which is dangerous. Furthermore, one will be breathing in fillers, which can be very bad for health in both short and long-term scenarios.

Dangers of Driving on Xanax

Because of the side effects of alprazolam on the brain, driving on Xanax is risky and dangerous to both the person and other road users. Operating a vehicle requires concentration and the ability to react quickly to situations. When a person has taken the drug, their attention goes down, and their ability to react quickly is compromised. The result is similar to driving after drinking heavily. If the person needs to brake suddenly or swerve to avoid an accident, they will be unable to react quickly. The result is that people driving on Xanax have a higher likelihood of getting involved in severe, life-threatening accidents. There is also the risk of harming pedestrians and other non-motoring road users. The person may also get involved in a solo accident.

Is it Legal to Drive on Alprazolam?

While it is legal to drive after taking the substance as a medication, it is illegal to drive when intoxicated in any way. Similar to how taking alcohol before driving isn’t illegal unless you exceed the legal blood alcohol content. This is referred to as Driving Under the Influence (DUI) or drug-impaired driving. DUI laws stipulate that if a person is found to be driving while under the influence of alcohol or any other prescription or recreational drug, they are liable for prosecution, including fines, jail time, or forced recovery at rehabilitation centers.

Man is taking Xanax in the car.

Therefore, drivers on alprazolam are putting themselves at risk of arrest and prosecution under DUI laws if tested and found to be intoxicated. Because of the cognitive and behavioral impairment it causes, a person found driving on Xanax will likely fail the field sobriety test even though they have only taken the prescribed dose.

How To Get Help

Even though benzodiazepines are classified as drugs of low to modest addictive potential, snorting Xanax can significantly increase its potential to become a substance of abuse and encourage negative behavioral changes. Abusing drugs like Alprazolam is quite dangerous, irrespective of the route it is taken. In some cases alternative treatment or the difference between Ativan and Xanax should be considered. If you or anyone you know is struggling with an addiction to snorting Xanax or consuming it in any other form, encourage them to seek help immediately.

There are various medical treatments and behavioral and drug rehabilitation center options available for drug abusers. One of these is a controlled weaning process at a trained center with less potent sedative drugs, which is a more successful way of quitting than “going cold-turkey” (which means abruptly discontinuing the substance use). A center that offers expert medical care, a structured detox and recovery process, and strong behavioral help groups offer drug addicts a much smoother path towards recovery and a higher chance of treatment success.


Page Sources

  1. US National Library of Medicine. MedlinePlus. Alprazolam. 15 November, 2029. https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a684001.html
  2. Inhaled vs. oral alprazolam: subjective, behavioral and cognitive effects, and modestly increased abuse potential. Chad J. Reissig, Joseph A. Harrison, Lawrence P. Carter and Roland R. Griffiths. September 9, 2014. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4326558/
  3. Alprazolam. Thomas P Laughren. 23 August, 2011. https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2011/018276s045lbl.pdf
  4. A Review of Alprazolam Use, Misuse, and Withdrawal. Nassima Ait-Daoud, MD, Allan Scott Hamby, MD, Sana Sharma and Derek Blevins, MD. March 12, 2018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5846112/
  5. Tobin T. George; Jayson Tripp, Alprazolam, 2020. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK538165/
  6. Joris C Verster, Edmund R Volkerts, Marinus N Verbaten, Effects of alprazolam on driving ability, memory functioning and psychomotor performance: a randomized, placebo-controlled study, 2002. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12093599/

Published on: April 24th, 2018

Updated on: January 19th, 2021

About Author

Nena Messina, Ph.D.

Nena Messina is a specialist in drug-related domestic violence. She devoted her life to the study of the connection between crime, mental health, and substance abuse. Apart from her work as management at addiction center, Nena regularly takes part in the educational program as a lecturer.

Medically Reviewed by

Michael Espelin APRN

8 years of nursing experience in wide variety of behavioral and addition settings that include adult inpatient and outpatient mental health services with substance use disorders, and geriatric long-term care and hospice care.  He has a particular interest in psychopharmacology, nutritional psychiatry, and alternative treatment options involving particular vitamins, dietary supplements, and administering auricular acupuncture.