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Ways of taking drugs

When people take drugs they are usually trying to get the substance from outside their body to receptor cells inside their body. In the case of mood altering drugs, the receptors are mostly in the brain, although with some drugs like anabolic steroids the receptor cells may be elsewhere in your body.

The ways of getting substances into your body vary depending on the type of drug you are going to use and the form which it takes. For example, some drugs like heroin are prepared in a way which lends itself to the drug being injected. Other drugs like cannabis or tobacco are difficult and dangerous to inject but easily smoked.

Risks and benefits
Just as different drugs have different risks associated with using them, different ways of taking drugs have different risks too. Here are some common ways of taking drugs and some risks associated with them.

Many drugs can be swallowed and since the human stomach and intestine have evolved as a way of getting substances into your body, including food and water, then swallowing tends to be a relatively safe way of taking some drugs. Generally speaking, organic drugs like cannabis, alcohol, opiates and ephedrine-based substances like speed and ecstasy can be safely swallowed in small quantities. Synthetic drugs produced for other purposes like solvent based chemical and poppers are very dangerous when swallowed, even in small quantities, and may even kill you.

Swallowing drugs offers two key advantages to other methods of taking them. Firstly, your body has a safety mechanism for dangerous substances which are swallowed; you tend to throw up or vomit. Secondly, drugs are absorbed more slowly through the gut therefore the effects of the drugs tend to be less extreme but last longer.

Some drugs can be smoked and are absorbed into the bloodstream through the lungs. Drugs like tobacco and cannabis are commonly smoked. However, the main problem with smoking drugs is the amount of tar and other substances in them that lead to chest and bronchial infections. Longer term effects of smoking drugs can be quite significant such as cancers of the lungs and throat. Some drugs like cocaine, speed and ecstasy are unsuitable for smoking, but some variants have been developed such as crack cocaine to enable these drugs to be smoked. The use of bongs and water bongs can make smoking drugs safer as it can cool the smoke and remove impurities from the smoke. Vaporizing drugs at high temperatures before taking the smoke into your lungs is safer since the substance is more fully combusted and therefore contains less residues.

Often confused with smoking, snorting introduces drugs to the mucous linings of the nose where they are absorbed into the blood stream. Powdered drugs like cocaine, heroin and speed are commonly snorted in "lines". Snorting drugs tends to destroy the tissue in the nose and snorting becomes progressively more difficult as the amount which is absorbed reduces.The other side effect of snorting powdered drugs is that your body reacts by producing more mucous to coat and protect the delicate membranes and you tend to sniff and snivel a lot.

Some drugs can be made into suppositories and inserted into the anus where they are absorbed into the bloodstream through the mucous membranes. There are significant risks in using drugs this way. The mucous membranes are very fragile and drugs which are very acidic or very alkaline tend to burn the tissue, causing damage. Since these are internal membranes it's often difficult to assess how much damage has been caused unless there are obvious signs such as rectal bleeding. Secondly, inserting things into your anus carries the risk of perforation (making a rip or hole) of the lower colon which is particularly dangerous and potentially fatal. Using speed and ecstasy this way is occasionally popular in the dance scene as the effects are rather different to swallowing these drugs. If you are determined to try this then use an oily substance like cocoa butter or dairy butter, grind up the substance into a fine powder and mix with the butter, roll up into a cigarette paper and allow to harden in the fridge. Use lots of lube to insert the suppository to avoid damage.

The use of needles and syringes to introduce drugs directly into the blood stream is a fairly recent development in the history of drug taking. There are significant risks in injecting drugs directly since this method by-passes the body's initial line of defense - skin - and does not allow the body to filter out dangerous particles and substances as would normally happen in the gut if the drugs were swallowed. The other key concept here is one of scale. The body has millions of tiny capillaries through which blood flows and if the drugs which are injected are not filtered or the substances fully dissolved then blockages occur, which often lead to the loss of limbs or digits.

The second major issue around injection is that of contamination. The drugs and injection equipment may carry potentially dangerous organisms like viruses and bacteria which would normally be destroyed in the gut or not penetrate the skin. By injecting directly into the bloodstream these normally innocuous organisms are able to gain access into your body, sometimes with devastating results. HIV and the various viruses which cause Hepatitis are primarily spread by the sharing of injection equipment which causes blood-to-blood exposure.

Harm reduction
If you are going to use drugs the safest ways of doing so are swallowing, smoking, snorting or suppositories.

Injecting drugs is by far the most dangerous way to use them.

If you are determined to inject your drugs there are some simple steps you can take to reduce the risks of doing so. These are:
  • Make sure your drugs are fully dissolved.
  • Briefly boil the solution you are going to inject and allow to cool, before you inject.
  • Filter your drugs to remove particulate matter (i.e. un-dissolved particles). Wheel filters are especially good for this. CLICK HERE to learn more about filtering.
  • Use a new needle and syringe for each person every time you inject.
  • Don't share needles and syringes or paraphernalia such as tourniquets, spoons and filters. The danger here is that miniscule amounts of blood, too small for the eye to see, can be transferred this way.
  • Don't allow yourself to be injected by someone else. The danger here is that they may have invisible amounts of blood on their hands which could end up entering your body. It's safer to inject yourself.
  • If you are going to have sex use condoms and lube for protection.