Taking Drugs

How you take a drug affects how quickly you start to feel its effects and how strong they are. Depending on where the drug enters you, it can damage different parts of the body. How a drug is taken can influence how likely you are to get addicted to it. Smoking and injecting drugs cause the biggest concentrations of them in the blood in a very short amount of time. This gives the fastest, strongest hit and a greater chance you will become addicted.

Through the mouth

Drugs can be taken as pills, capsules, liquids or wrapped in paper before swallowing. Cannabis can be baked in cakes then eaten.

A drug will take effect when it reaches the stomach, starts to be digested and then enters the bloodstream. This is the slowest way of getting a drug hit - it can take up to an hour. Swallowing drugs in drinks or food can mean you have less control over the amount taken but avoids much of the damage caused by taking a drug in other ways such as through the nose, lungs, veins, etc. Swallowing drugs could hurt the mouth or throat. For example, you can get chemical burns from drinking badly made GHB.

Some powdered drugs like speed or cocaine can be rubbed into the gums where the drug goes through them and into the blood stream.

Through the nose

A common way of taking a drug is to snort it up a nostril, either directly up the nose from a smooth surface or through a straw or rolled-up banknote. Some people use a ‘bullet’ or ‘bumper’ which are nasal inhalers used to snort cocaine or ketamine.

The drug enters the bloodstream through the blood vessels that line the inside of the nose and is then taken to the brain. The effect usually kicks in after a minute or so but it can take up to 10 minutes. Snorting gives a quicker, stronger hit than swallowing.

With poppers the fumes are breathed in through the nose.

When snorting drugs skin around the nose or inside it can be damaged, causing bleeding. It is possible to spread infections like hepatitis C if things used for snorting are shared. With heavy use, cocaine can eat away the septum, the fleshy bridge of skin between the nostrils.

Through the lungs

Drugs like crack cocaine or crystal meth can be smoked in a glass pipe that’s heated. Drugs like ketamine are smoked from a piece of foil, and cannabis is mixed with tobacco in a cigarette or joint.

The drug is in the fumes which go into the lungs, then crossing into blood vessels in the lungs, and once in the bloodstream gets taken to the brain. The hit comes in a few seconds and can be an even faster hit than injecting.

Smoking can damage the mouth through burns from hot pipes and also harm the lungs. Smoking a drug with tobacco risks smoking-related diseases like cancer, heart disease and breathing illnesses.

Through a vein (or muscle)

A drug can be injected if it already comes as a liquid, like ketamine, or if it’s a powder that can be mixed with water. Depending on the drug, it’s injected through a needle into different parts of the body. Steroids go into the muscle of the arse (buttock), other drugs need to go into a vein, never an artery, and a drug injected into the wrong place can be life-threatening.

As the drug goes directly into the bloodstream and reaches the brain quickly the hit comes within seconds and is stronger than other ways of taking a drug. This means a bigger risk of overdose and addiction. Other risks include collapsed veins or life-threatening blood clots and bacteria and viruses getting into the body from dirty or shared injecting equipment. These can include HIV, hepatitis B and C, as well as bacteria that can cause skin infections or life-threatening infections of the blood or heart.

‘Slamming’ is another word for injecting.

Through the arse

A drug can be rubbed or dabbed onto the mucous skin of the arse hole or inside lining of the arse. It’s then absorbed through this lining, gets into the bloodstream and is taken to the brain.

Sometimes a drug in its liquid form (or powder or crushed pills added to water) is put in a syringe with no needle in it, and then inserted through the arsehole to be injected into the inside of the arse.

Rubbing a drug on or into the arse can numb the area or irritate it, causing it to bleed or get inflamed, making it easier for infections to pass in or out of this part of the body.

Because the drug has to be absorbed through the lining of the arse this way of taking a drug isn’t very quick and wastes a fair amount of the substance. Drugs taken anally are absorbed faster than if swallowed and tend to have a stronger effect.

Drugs sometimes taken this way include cocaine, ketamine and crystal meth.

  • ‘Dabbing’ means powdered drug is put on a finger which then is put up the arse.
  • ‘Stuffing’ means putting powdered drug wrapped in a cigarette paper into the arse or inserting a tablet up the arse.
  • ‘Dabbing’ and ‘stuffing’ mean more risk of the drug burning your arse lining because it’s not been dissolved in water – and a damaged lining leaves you more open to infections.

Taking drugs anally is sometimes called a ‘booty bump’ or in Australia ‘shelving’ and in America ‘keistering’ (‘keister’ is US slang for ‘arse’).

There’s tips to make your taking safer here.

This article was last reviewed on: 28/10/11
Date due for next review: 28/10/14