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Can You Snort Heroin?: Dangers and Risks

There is a mistaken belief that seems to be gaining popularity that snorting heroin is “safer” than other forms of using heroin, specifically regarding how addictive it is. But this simply isn't true. Snorting heroin can cause an intense high and lead to tolerance, dependence, and addiction.

Struggling with Heroin Addiction? Get Help Now

​​It is possible to snort heroin, and many individuals use this opioid by sniffing it. However, it is extremely dangerous to your mental and physical health. If you snort heroin, there are many short-term dangers, such as overdose, and long-term risks like severe nasal damage, liver and kidney disease, and heroin addiction.[1],[2]

The dangers of snorting heroin include:[1],[2]

Short-Term DangersLong-Term Risks
Nause and vomitingNasal damage
Severe drowsiness Nose bleeds
Clouded mental functioningChronic sinusitis
Impaired attention or memoryPerforated nasal septum
ComaLiver and kidney disease
Severe respiratory depressionSexual dysfunction and infertility
Heroin overdoseDepression
Tolerance, dependence, and addiction
Brain damage from hypoxia related to respiratory depression

Why Is Snorting Heroin Becoming Popular?

It’s also been noted by experts that some new, younger heroin users may snort heroin to avoid the stigma associated with injecting the drug. [3] And there is a misconception that snorting heroin is safer or less addictive than injecting it—however, this is a harmful myth that spreads misinformation. 

In fact, snorting heroin can be very dangerous and has many of the same risks that injecting or smoking heroin does. Plus, sniffing heroin comes with its own specific consequences, including irreversible nasal damage.

The Dangers of Snorting Heroin

Snorting heroin exposes a person to most of the dangers typically associated with heroin, including risking addiction with repeated use and potentially leading to a life-threatening overdose. [2]

In the short term, heroin can impact a person’s ability to make rational decisions, increasing the chances that they engage in risky behavior. It can also cause nausea and vomiting. Some people asphyxiate because they lose consciousness and then vomit in their mouth, resulting in choking. 

The Effects of Snorting Heroin

While snorting heroin is generally done for the pleasurable rush it can cause, it causes many other undesirable or harmful side effects. For example, its short-term effects can include the following:[1],[2]

  • Clouded judgment
  • Slurred speech
  • Difficulties moving the arms and legs, as if they’re very heavy
  • Dry mouth
  • Fading in and out of consciousness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Severe itching fits
  • Warm flushing of the skin
  • Attention and memory problems
  • Impaired judgment
  • Dysphoria
  • Coma

In the long term, heroin use, including snorting heroin, can cause significant harm to the body, with some of its more serious potential effects including the following:[1],[2].[3]

  • Damaged tissue inside the nose
  • Perforated nasal septum
  • Chronic sinusitis
  • Liver and kidney disease
  • Lung complications, including pneumonia
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Irregular menstrual cycles
  • Heightened risk of suicidality

Signs a Person May Be Snorting Heroin

Some signs of heroin use and snorting this opioid include the following:[1],[2]

  • Finding powdered heroin or black tar heroin, which is sometimes frozen in order to then snort it
  • Insomnia
  • Ongoing nose bleeds
  • Sinusitis
  • Perforated nasal septum
  • Finding mirrors or flat surfaces to snort heroin
  • Finding rolled-up dollar bills or straws
  • Finding small baggies that may have had heroin powder in them
  • Noticing mood swings, such as shifting from intense euphoria to depression
  • Noticing flu-like symptoms when they are in heroin withdrawal

Some more general signs that are common among people engaging in drug abuse include the following:[5]

  • Legal trouble, such as disorderly conduct charges or DUIs
  • Neglecting important responsibilities, including not going to school or work
  • Unreasonable risk-taking behavior, including using drugs and then operating heavy machinery or having sex
  • Signs of declining health, including bloodshot eyes, poor sleep habits, and unexplained changes to physical appearance
  • Engaging in behavior that seems secretive or suspicious
  • Sudden changes in a person’s favorite hangouts, friends and associates, and/or hobbies
  • Fear, anxiety, or paranoia with no obvious cause

Overdose Signs & Symptoms From Snorting Heroin

Snorting heroin can cause potentially life-threatening respiratory depression, which is typical of an opioid overdose and isn’t unique to snorting heroin.[4] Some signs of a dangerous heroin overdose include the following:[4]

  • Reduced responsiveness, including being completely unresponsive but seemingly awake
  • Fading in and out of consciousness
  • Falling unconscious and being unable to be awoken
  • A limp body or significant weakness
  • Choking or gurgling sounds, sometimes referred to as a “death rattle”
  • Vomiting
  • Slowed, shallow, or stopped breathing
  • Slowed, erratic, or completely stopped heartbeat
  • A face that is pale or clammy
  • Bluing or purplish black color at the fingernails and lips

While it is somewhat common knowledge that lighter-skinned people will have their skin turn bluish-purple when they don’t receive oxygen, this change of color is different for people with darker skin. Darker-skinned people who are not receiving enough oxygen may instead turn a grayish or ashen color. 

An individual overdosing on heroin should have naloxone administered to them if it’s available. This drug can reverse the effects of opioids and temporarily stop a life-threatening opioid overdose. Further medical assistance is needed after administering naloxone (Narcan).

If you believe a person is overdosing on heroin, always call 911 as soon as possible rather than waiting to be sure a person’s life is at risk. Prompt action can save a life.

Treatment for Sniffing Heroin

If you are struggling with sniffing heroin or any other drug, professional treatment can help. You may want to start with medical detox where you can receive professional withdrawal management under the supervision of doctors and nurses.

After you are stabilized and detox from heroin, you can transition into a comprehensive addiction treatment program on an inpatient or outpatient basis. These programs offer therapy and counseling as well as medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to help you overcome your heroin addiction.

Profile image for Dr. Alison Tarlow
Medically Reviewed By Dr. Alison Tarlow

Dr. Alison Tarlow is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in the States of Florida and Pennsylvania, and a Certified Addictions Professional (CAP). She has been a practicing psychologist for over 15 years. Sh... Read More

Updated March 19, 2024
  1. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). American Psychiatric Association. (2013).
  2. Heroin DrugFacts. (December 2022). National Institute on Drug Abuse.
  3. Heroin Fast Facts National Drug Intelligence Center.
  4. Opioid Overdose Basics. (September 2020). National Harm Reduction Coalition.
  5. Warning Signs of Drug Abuse. Tennessee Department of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services.
  6. Naloxone for Opioid Overdose: Life-Saving Science. (June 2021). National Institute on Drug Abuse.
  7. How Do Naloxone-Based Interventions Work to Reduce Overdose Deaths: A Realist Review. (February 2022). Harm Reduction Journal.
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