Hydrocodone is an opioid medication that’s used to treat pain symptoms from various sources. The drug is dispensed in pill form, but it has a significant abuse potential, like other opioids. Opioid prescriptions are often misused when excessive pills are given out that make it into family and friends’ hands. Drug dealers may also sell counterfeit opioid medicines on illicit markets.
Opioid misuse may lead to experimentation with the route of administration. Changing the route of administration by which you take a prescription pill can be potentially dangerous. But people often do it to try to find a more effective way to reach a recreational high. Crushing a pill to smoke or snort it can change the speed at which you feel the effects and even the amount of the active ingredient that makes it to your bloodstream. But if you’re taking the same size dose, why would it matter how you take it?
Learn more about hydrocodone misuse, how routes of administration work, and the danger of smoking and snorting prescription pills.
What is Hydrocodone?
If you’ve taken pain pills through a prescription or illegally, you may already know that hydrocodone is an opioid medical professionals use to treat pain symptoms. But to understand different routes of administration, it’s important to understand how hydrocodone interacts with your body.
When hydrocodone makes it to your bloodstream, it travels to your brain, where it can affect your nervous system. Opioids like hydrocodone can bind to receptors all over the body, including your brain, muscles, and spine. But the first step in this process is for hydrocodone to reach your bloodstream. In a drug’s journey to your blood, some of it may be lost on the way.
Your body may process it out before it takes effect. Different routes of administrations are better at delivering substances to your bloodstream, which is measured in something called bioavailability. Bioavailability is a drug’s ability to be absorbed and used by the body.
The percentage of a drug that makes it to your blood can depend on the route of administration. For instance, the most efficient way to introduce a drug to your bloodstream is through intravenous administration. That’s why many drug misusers resort to injecting drugs directly into their veins.
In pill form, hydrocodone itself is fairly inefficient. Around 60% of the drug is absorbed into your bloodstream through digestion. However, it’s converted into other active metabolites in the liver like hydromorphone, which has a faster onset of action. A prescription drug will be designed to deliver an effective dose to your bloodstream. Changing the route of administration may increase or decrease the dose that reaches your veins. That means smoking and snorting pills may be inherently dangerous.
Is it Possible to Smoke Hydrocodone?
Hydrocodone is a prescription drug that comes in tablet form. The prescription is intentionally formulated to be administered as a swallowed tablet. However, people with opioid use disorders may experiment with new ways to administer the drug that delivers a more intense or faster high. It is possible to smoke hydrocodone, as it is with many pills. To smoke a drug that comes in tablet form, you might crush the tablet and burn it in a pipe or in rolled paper.
In many cases, smoking a substance can deliver it to your bloodstream faster than swallowing a pill. When a substance is smoked, it’s introduced to your mouth and lungs. Your lungs are designed to oxygenate your blood, so they’re able to introduce substances in smoke to your blood and then to your brain. Tobacco can be absorbed into both your mouth and lungs. But hydrocodone has a relatively low bioavailability orally, which means less of the drug is absorbed into your blood by mouth. However, it can be absorbed into your lungs.
Crushing and smoking the drug may increase the speed at which hydrocodone reaches your brain. However, it may decrease the efficiency of the dose. As you crush the pill and transfer it to a pipe or paper, you’ll likely lose some of the dose as the powder is kicked up into the air or falls to the ground. Then more is lost as the drug is burned and smoke rises into the air. On the other hand, you may increase the dose if you crush and smoke an extended-release pill, which can be dangerous.
Is it Possible to Snort Hydrocodone?
Like smoking a prescription pill, snorting hydrocodone starts by crushing the drug. Instead of burning it to smoke, the drug is insufflated, which is the scientific term for snorting. Any crushed or powdered form of a drug can be snorted, though snorting comes with some side effects that you wouldn’t get with other routes of administration. Unlike swallowing a pill, your body isn’t designed to introduce objects through your nose. Snorting can cause irritation and redness. Depending on the substance, the damage done to your damage and nostrils can be more severe.
Why Would People Smoke or Snort Hydrocodone?
People who experiment with drugs for recreation often smoke and snort drugs to find better ways to achieve a high. Taking a pill means waiting for the drug to make it to your bloodstream through the digestion process. In recreational drug use, a faster onset of action is highly desired.
People may also snort or smoke a drug for a more powerful high. Smoking a substance may introduce more of the drug to your bloodstream faster, creating more intense effects. Snorting isn’t always more efficient than taking a pill or smoking the drug. However, smoking may be associated with a more intense high because of cocaine. Cocaine is known to be more powerful when it’s snorted, leading to the assumption that the intensity might apply to other drugs.
What Happens When You Smoke Hydrocodone?
Taking any drug in a way that was not prescribed can be dangerous. If you increase the efficiency of the drug, you may take a higher dose than you were expecting, leading to more dangerous effects. Plus, hydrocodone pills can also contain other inactive ingredients like croscarmellose sodium, crospovidone, magnesium stearate, microcrystalline cellulose, povidone, pregelatinized starch, and stearic acid.
Starchy powders are often added to pills to fill them out while standardizing the size of the pill, even if the size of the dose changes. Starches are easily dissolved in water so that they are broken down when you swallow the pill. But they aren’t designed to be burned, smoked, or injected. These other ingredients may contribute to irritation in your throat and lungs after smoking.
Smoking hydrocodone can also introduce a very high dose if you use an extended-release pill. Extended-release pills are designed to deliver a high dose safely over time, instead of all at once. Crushing a pill or capsule destroys the pill’s ability to administer the drug over time. That means you may take a double or triple dose all at once.
What Happens if You Snort Hydrocodone?
Snorting hydrocodone can be potentially dangerous, and it may even be more dangerous than smoking it. Medications that are administered intranasally are usually prepared in a liquid solution that’s delivered as a spray. Your nose, throat, and lungs are designed to handle liquids and viscous materials.
Depending on the active ingredient inside it, a nasal spray is likely to do serious damage. When you insufflate a powdered drug like a crushed hydrocodone pill, you’re sending tiny solids into your nose that can make their way down your throat and into your lungs.
As the drug coats nasal tissue and the passageways leading to your lungs, the drug can make its way into your bloodstream. However, it may also cause irritation, redness, inflammation, and nosebleeds in the process. Chronic intranasal drug use can lead to long-term inflammation, nasal congestion, and other unpleasant complications that last a long time.
If the powder makes its way to your lungs, it can be more damaging. Your lungs are designed to process air, and they’re coated in phlegm to protect you from damage and infection. However, powdered substances like a crushed pill can cause irritation, infection, coughing, and labored breathing. Long-term lung damage can lead to serious infections that pose a serious risk to your lung health.
In one 2016 case study, a patient snorted hydrocodone, and it led to a disease called hypersensitivity pneumonitis. The disease is characterized by an allergic reaction that causes inflammation in the lungs. According to the study, intranasal misuse of hydrocodone may increase the risk of toxic effects and problems like hypersensitivity pneumonitis.
Plus, just like smoking a crushed pill, snorting it can alter the appropriate dose, especially if it’s an extended-release pill.