While heroin can be snorted, it can lead to many complications and addiction regardless of how it’s used. Heroin is an opioid drug that’s highly potent and addictive. Once heroin gets into the brain, it converts into morphine, where it then binds to opioid receptors and creates the feeling of euphoria or the “high,” due to the release of dopamine. Heroin also slows the functions of the central nervous system, including breathing and heart rate.
Unfortunately, some people assume that snorting heroin is safer since it doesn’t require the use of needles or any other tools. While it does eliminate the risk of infected needles and damage from the needle use, it doesn’t remove any of the risks of the heroin itself.
To snort heroin, it needs to be in powder form. If it’s not pure enough for someone to directly snort it, they might liquefy it and snort it using the barrel of a syringe. When heroin is snorted, it first goes through the nasal tissue and then into the bloodstream.
Snorting heroin can result in a euphoric high in about five to ten minutes for most people. While this may seem like a short onset time, the effects of heroin are felt much faster when injected. The rapid onset time is one of the reasons that people often move on to intravenous heroin use, even if they start by snorting heroin.
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What Happens If You Snort Heroin?
If you snort heroin, the effects are similar in many ways to using the drug in any other form, with a few minor distinctions.
After heroin is snorted, it goes into the bloodstream directly from the nasal tissue. The high from snorting heroin may be less powerful than what occurs when it’s used intravenously. However, for the most part, the effects are similar to other methods of use.
When you snort heroin, the effects are generally the same as using it any other way and can include the euphoric rush as well as itchiness, cloudy mental function, vomiting, pinpoint pupils and periods of nodding off or falling asleep. Often people will binge on heroin, which can cause problems with sleeping and eating, or they may become malnourished and experience dehydration as a result.
Many people believe that snorting heroin makes overdose less likely. The response to heroin can be delayed after snorting, compared to direct injection, but that doesn’t mean that addiction or overdose cannot occur from snorting heroin.
For some people, snorting heroin is a stepping stone to other methods of ingestion. Snorting heroin may seem less dangerous or intimidating, but it could lead to injecting it or using more of the drug.
Most heroin available in the United States is also full of impurities. These impurities can cause inflammation and damage to the tissues in the nasal cavity, which can lead to a hole in the nasal septum. Snorting heroin can be particularly damaging to people with preexisting conditions such as asthma, and snorting heroin can lead to fatal asthma attacks.
Why Do People Snort Heroin?
Some of the reasons people snort heroin are touched on above, including the fact that there’s less of a stigma associated with snorting heroin as opposed to injecting it into a vein or muscle. There’s also less paraphernalia associated with snorting heroin. Someone who injects the drug will need a syringe, something to tie-off their veins, and additional items like cotton balls. To smoke heroin, you need a pipe and a lighter, at a minimum. Snorting heroin requires none of these things, so it can be easier to use the drug this way.The overdose risk is slightly lower when heroin is snorted, but it is still very high. In some instances, the risk of an overdose can be higher among people who snort heroin. Someone who snorts heroin is more likely to only use the drug occasionally, meaning they have a lower tolerance or their tolerance goes down between uses. The lower the opioid tolerance, the higher the chance of an overdose.
Most heroin available in the U.S. is also full of impurities. These impurities can cause inflammation and damage to the tissues in the nasal cavity, which can lead to a hole in the septum as well. Snorting heroin can be particularly damaging to people with preexisting conditions such as asthma, and snorting heroin can lead to fatal asthma attacks.
Other Ways Herion is Abused
Heroin can also be injected into a vein, into a muscle or under the skin. Additionally, heroin can be smoked. Smoking heroin requires a pipe and the drug is heated and the fumes are then inhaled. When someone smokes heroin, the fumes go from the lungs into the arteries and then to the brain.
There’s less of a stigma associated with snorting heroin as opposed to injecting it into a vein or muscle. There’s also less paraphernalia associated with snorting heroin. Someone who injects the drug will need a syringe, something to tie-off their veins and additional items like cotton balls. To smoke heroin, you need a pipe and a lighter, at a minimum. Snorting heroin requires none of these things, so it can be easier to use the drug this way.
Key Points: Snorting Heroin
There are misconceptions about snorting heroin that can make snorting heroin sound safer than it is. Abusing any drug is dangerous, particularly when the drug is as potent as heroin. Keep the following key points in mind:
- Snorting heroin is not safer than injecting or smoking it
- Snorting heroin can damage the nasal and respiratory passages
- Snorting heroin can result in tolerance and addiction
- Snorting heroin can lead to overdose and death
- Snorting heroin can escalate into injecting the drug, as a person needs more of the drug, which can lead to an even higher risk of addiction and overdose
Drug Enforcement Adminsitration. “Drugs of Abuse: U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Resource Guide.” 2017. Accessed April 10, 2019.
National Institute of Drug Abuse. “Heroin.” November 2014. Accessed April 10, 2019.