While conservatives busy themselves debating the morality of drug use, and the rest of us busy ourselves deciding which drugs we’ll take on the weekend, another seldom-mentioned quandary seems to be evading us all: How should we take drugs?
There are a million different ways to get a drug into your bloodstream: Smoke it in a pipe, shove it up your bum, swallow it whole, suck it up your nose, shoot it in your veins, stick it in your eye…
But did you know that, much like the differences between a Picasso and your housemate’s paint-by-numbers, not all methods of ingestion are created equal?
In this article, we weigh up the risks and rewards of two common ways to consume drugs – snorting and swallowing – so that you can make decisions based on your health as well as your high.
What Happens When I Snort Drugs?
If Panadol Rapid’s last decade of advertising is anything to go by, one thing is clear: everybody loves a quick-acting pharmaceutical. And when your mate tells you to snort something because it’ll hit quicker and harder, they’re right.
When you snort a drug, it goes straight through the mucous membrane of your nose, into your bloodstream, through your heart and on to your brain. The whole uptake process takes about 3-5 minutes and, because snorting a substance allows it to bypass a bunch of gatekeeping organs, the high it produces is intense.
What Happens When I Swallow Drugs?
When you swallow a drug, however, it’s got to work itself through your digestive system before it gets to your brain.
The first stop is your stomach, where it gets dissolved and passed into your bloodstream via your stomach lining (with a little help from the small intestine). Then it is on to the liver, which metabolises (breaks down) the drug before sending it back into the bloodstream and on to your brain.
The whole process takes 10-30 minutes and leaves you with a weaker high than snorting does, as there’s less to uptake once its been through your digestive system.
The Risks Of Snorting
There’s a lot to consider when deciding whether to snort or swallow your drugs.
Snorters get a quicker high, but encounter a unique set of risks (depending on what they’re snorting):
- Damaged nasal lining: Exposing your sensitive little nose membranes to drugs can restrict their oxygen uptake, cause inflammation and suppress their immune response. The short-term effects of this are irritation, sores and nose bleeds. The long-term effects of persistent snorting can include nasal lining death, which is the first step towards a deviated septum, a perforated palate or both!
- Lung problems: When your nose can’t do its job filtering and humidifying the air you breathe, your lungs suffer too!
- Lost sense of smell: Chemical exposure or chronic sinus inflammation can, in rare cases, destroy the nerves lining your nasal passage and stop your sense of smell.
- Increased chance of addiction: Fast highs and frequent redoses are a better predictor for addiction than quantity consumed.
With these risks in mind, here are a few quick and easy tips to make your snorting safer:
- Try not to share straws, rolled up notes or other equipment as this can spread infection
- Rinse your nostrils before and after snorting to make sure the drug
doesn’t stick to your nasal passage
- Alternate nostrils
The Risks Of Swallowing
Swallowers, on the other hand, give their bodies a chance to break down harmful adulterants or highly-potent drugs, but may also face:
- Restricted blood flow to organs: Stimulants can cause a localised lack of blood flow to your stomach small intestine, which can (in extreme cases) kill tissue or even cause gangrene.
- Strain on liver: Keeping your brain out of harm’s way is hard work, and all that metabolising can take a toll on your liver.
- Injury to esophagus: Your gullet doesn’t appreciate coming into contact with harsh chemicals, especially if they’re not washed down properly.
If you want to reduce the risk of irritating your digestive system, two things you can do are:
- Dissolve the drug in a little bit of warm water before swallowing or;
- Parachute (wrap the drug in a rolling paper) before you eat it.
To Swallow Or To Snort: It’s Your Decision
At the end of the day, the method you choose is entirely up to you.
You know your body’s strengths, weaknesses and intricacies better than anyone else.
If you’ve got pre-existing conditions or concerns related to the risks above, take that into consideration.
If you don’t know the purity of the drug you’re consuming, take that into consideration too.
Use the facts. Listen to your body. Trust your instincts.