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The Neurobiology of Drug Addiction

2: Snorting vs smoking cocaine: different addictive liabilities

Snorting vs smoking cocaine

Cocaine is taken in two ways: snorting the powdered form (the hydrochloride salt) or smoking “crack” cocaine (the free base).  Heating the hydrochloride salt form of cocaine will destroy it; the free base can be volatilized at high temperature without any destruction of the compound.   Smoking gets the drug to the brain more quickly than does snorting.  Show the audience why this happens.  Snorting requires that the cocaine travels from the blood vessels in the nose to the heart (blue arrow), where it gets pumped to the lungs (blue arrow) to be oxygenated.  The oxygenated blood (red arrows) carrying the cocaine then travels back to the heart where it is pumped out to the organs of the body, including the brain.  However, smoking bypasses much of this--the cocaine goes from the lungs directly to the heart and up to the brain.  The faster a drug with addictive liability reaches the brain, the more likely it will be misused.  Thus, the time between taking the drug and the positive reinforcing or rewarding effects that are produced can determine the likelihood of misuse.

This page was last updated November 2019

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NIDA. (2019, November 19). The Neurobiology of Drug Addiction. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/neurobiology-drug-addiction

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