Snorting, Injecting, & Smoking Cocaine: How the Different Methods of Usage Affect the Body

Cocaine is a potent and addictive drug that can be misused in several different ways.1 It can be snorted, injected, and smoked.1 Each of these routes of administration comes with their own level of risk. Regardless of the route of administration, cocaine use poses substantial short and long-term risks to the body and can be especially damaging to the circulatory system.

This article will explore the dangers and risks associated with the various methods of cocaine consumption, as well as how to get help for cocaine use disorder.

What is Cocaine?

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Cocaine is a stimulant drug that is derived from the coca plant, which is native to South America.1 Although it is approved for medical use for local anesthetic purposes and some surgical procedures, it is primarily used illicitly as a recreational drug in the United States.1

Cocaine is typically a white, powdery substance that can be snorted or mixed with water and injected.2 In its powder form, it is common for dealers to cut cocaine with other powdery substances such as cornstarch, flour, or even narcotics (such as fentanyl, a potent opioid) to expand their supply and, in turn, make more money.1 This increases possible health risks for those who use cocaine, up to and including possible fatal overdose.1

Powder cocaine can be dissolved in a mixture of water and ammonia or baking soda and boiled into a solid substance that’s referred to as crack cocaine, which can be smoked.

There are a handful of immediate effects that individuals can experience when using cocaine, regardless of how it is taken. These effects can include:1

  • Euphoria.
  • Increased physical energy, mental alertness, and sharpness.
  • Hypersensitivity to sight, sound, and touch.
  • Decreased need for sleep and food.

At higher doses, individuals may experience additional effects such as:1

  • Irritability.
  • Erratic behavior.
  • Anxiety.
  • Restlessness.
  • Distrust.
  • Paranoia.

The time to onset as well as the duration of these effects depends on the route of administration. Snorting cocaine will result in intense effects felt within 3 to 5 minutes and lasting about 15 to 30 minutes. Injecting cocaine will deliver effects within 5 to 15 minutes, and users report effects of greater intensity than snorting cocaine, although they generally only last 10 to 20 minutes. Smoking crack cocaine delivers effects of higher intensity than snorting power cocaine, but the effects last for only 2 to 20 minutes.3

How Cocaine Affects the Brain and the Body

In the brain, dopamine, a neurotransmitter that’s part of our reward system and central to reinforcing behavior, becomes active after it gets released into a synapse, or the area between two neurons.1 Normally, after this occurs, dopamine activity will eventually subside as it gets recycled back into the neuron it was released from (via a process involving a reuptake transporter protein).1

However, when cocaine is being used, this process of reuptake is altered, resulting in abnormally increased dopamine activity, which in turn underlies the rewarding effects of the drug.

The surge of dopamine that takes place when using cocaine strongly reinforces continued use of the drug, which can increase the risk of compulsive misuse and addiction.

Smoking crack cocaine and injecting cocaine are more strongly linked to addiction than snorting cocaine or taking it orally.3 Studies have shown that the use of cocaine can lead to detrimental effects to the cardiovascular system, which can be fatal.4 These effects can include, but are not limited to, the following:4,5

  • Chest pain
  • Arrhythmias (e.g., irregular heart rhythms)
  • High blood pressure
  • Blood clots
  • Stroke
  • Aortic rupture
  • Heart attack
  • Dilated cardiomyopathy (resulting from enlargement of the heart’s left ventricle).
  • Increased coronary plaque
  • Coronary artery disease

By continuing to use cocaine, you increase your risk for experiencing additional medical complications, too, including major issues such as malnourishment, seizures, and brain bleeds.5

The Dangers of Snorting, Injecting, and Smoking Cocaine

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In addition to the health risks described previously, there are additional risks associated with cocaine use based on how it is consumed.

The Dangers of Snorting Cocaine

Snorting cocaine regularly can cause extensive (and sometimes permanent) damage to the olfactory organs and structures that support our sense of smell. In addition to the side effects of cocaine discussed above, snorting it can also cause:1,6

  • Diminished or loss of smell.
  • Frequent nosebleeds.
  • Frequent drippy nose.
  • Difficulties swallowing.
  • Damage to nasal mucosa, including irritation of the nasal septum.
  • Nasal septum necrosis (i.e., tissue death) and perforation.

The Dangers of Injecting Cocaine

The method of dissolving cocaine and injecting it directly into the bloodstream produces a more intense, although shorter lasting high. It also puts you at an increased risk for:1

  • Contracting HIV, hepatitis C, or other blood diseases.
  • Skin infections.
  • Scarred or collapsed veins.
  • Liver complications.

These dangers can be worsened when cocaine is mixed with heroin or another opioid (known as a speedball). One of the biggest risks of using speedballs is related to the fact that the effects of cocaine wear off faster than the opioid. As a result, if the person uses more heroin or opioids than their system can handle, they may experience an opioid overdose and respiratory failure as the stimulant effects of cocaine subside. Using both cocaine and heroin at the same time is associated with a higher risk of overdose than use of either alone.7

The Dangers of Smoking Cocaine

Smoking cocaine is done by heating up cocaine crystals known as crack, or freebase cocaine.1 Risks associated with smoking crack cocaine include, but are not limited to, the following:1

  • Chronic cough
  • Worsened asthma
  • Respiratory distress
  • Lung diseases like pneumonia

Treatment for Cocaine Addiction in Mississippi

Any method of using cocaine puts you at risk for serious short and long-term consequences. If you are unable to stop using cocaine on your own, seeking professional treatment can help.

Whether you or someone you love is struggling with cocaine misuse, finding treatment doesn’t have to be a struggle. Today, there are many effective, evidence-based treatments for addictions and co-occurring disorders. At Oxford Treatment Center in Mississippi, you can find several levels of addiction treatment that meet your unique needs. It’s easy to start the admissions process and rebuild your life without cocaine. Call us at to get answers to all of your questions, including those about insurance coverage and rehab payment options.

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Oxford is located in Etta, Mississippi, which is easily accessible from Memphis. Nestled in the countryside, Oxford provides the support you need in a calm and beautiful setting. Take the next step toward recovery: learn more about our addiction treatment programs near New Albany or learn about how rehab is affordable for everyone.