Pop culture loves to portray the sweaty, sniffy, slightly unhinged side of powder drugs (see: Scarface; those abstinence-only videos from school). But what is probably the most regularly occurring side effect of them all hardly gets a mention: coke drip, or more simply, depending on what substance you’re snorting, the “drip”. You might also just know this as “that chemical-flavoured snot running down the back of your throat” after a line or two.
Instead of just accepting it as one of life’s great unknown mysteries, VICE decided to get to the bottom of this phenomenon by speaking to a few drugs experts about why it happens, and how you can mitigate it.
First, you need to understand how the act of snorting drugs actually works (it doesn’t just go through the nose like a funnel and get dumped directly onto the cerebral cortex like a bin lorry, if you were asking).
One of the quickest ways of getting mind-altering chemicals to the brain is by putting them on a body part that is highly concentrated with blood vessels, Dr Chloe Sakal, an NHS substance abuse psychiatrist, tells me. “Your nose is highly vascularised,” she explains. “So there’s quite a high blood supply to the nose with quite a thin membrane, which is why it’s an area that people use to take drugs. It’s similar to your mouth, your anus or vagina – I just think people just prefer the nose to the anus or vagina.”
“The drug is basically absorbed into the body, through that membrane and into the brain,” adds Harry Shapiro, the director of DrugWise, a group that promotes evidence-based information on drugs and other recreational substances. “It’s a fairly straight-forward biological process, but once it gets into the bloodstream, you’re off to the races.” Skrrt skrrt.
This is where it gets more complicated. “If you put anything up your nose at all,” Sakal says, “the idea is that the membrane produces mucus to clear out anything that goes in the nose. So it catches [any foreign bodies] in the mucus and washes them down to the stomach, where they can be destroyed. This is to keep stuff like pollen or bugs out of the respiratory system.”
It doesn’t matter what you snort – whether it’s cocaine, ketamine, MDMA or rainbow-coloured sherbet – mucus will always build up that protective layer. “It’s exactly the same with drugs,” Sakal explains. “You put drugs into your nose, your mucus membrane is going to produce mucus to try and capture the particles and put it down into your stomach to protect your airways.”
But even if it’s just our body doing its thing, it can feel uncomfortable and annoying – so what can you do to stop it completely? Well, as a spokesperson for PillReports, a platform for recreational drugs testing, puts it: “You don’t really want to prevent post-nasal drip, because it works to clear your nasal passage.”
“The next morning,” they add, “you don’t want drugs sitting in your nasal cavity, because when you’re breathing they are just going to go into your lung. That’s where it could get dangerous – if someone had a throat issue and drugs went into their lungs, that could cause serious problems like infection.”
Okay, fair enough. So it’s a good thing and we need it, but is there any way of avoiding the worst of the drip? “Do smaller lines,” Sakal says, “and make sure it’s really finely cut up. People also do things like sieving it or, with cocaine, putting it in the microwave to absorb any water, allowing them to crush it more finely.
“With something like ketamine, it tends to be more shards, like fine shards. Crushing it finely and doing smaller lines will again prevent that irritation.”
Purer drugs might also help, Sakal continues. “If it’s cut with things that are clumpy or are larger particles, that’s going to irritate the lining more. If you haven’t cut the ketamine or cocaine very finely, it’s more likely to irritate.”
All the experts that VICE spoke to also recommended doing regular saline washes of the nasal passage to stop any leftover drugs causing unwanted mischief post-sesh. So there you have it: The drip is here to stay, but it’s actually just our regular bodily functions doing us a favour. Thanks, body!