Snorting Tramadol: Dangers and Side Effects
Some people misuse tramadol by snorting the crushed tablets. This may be done by those seeking a rapid initial burst of euphoria by bypassing the steady release of medication that would otherwise result from its intended oral administration. This can result in rapid delivery to the brain but can also cause serious side effects.
What Is Tramadol?
Tramadol is an analgesic medication prescribed to manage moderate to severe pain. It is sold under several commercial names, including ConZip, Ultram, and Ultram ER. Tramadol is a synthetic opioid agonist that interacts with certain opioid receptors within the brain, modifying sensations of discomfort and pain. It is often prescribed for people with arthritis, nerve damage, and other painful chronic conditions.
Tramadol is sold in immediate-release and extended-release tablets, and it is meant to be taken orally. The extended-release version is intended to control symptoms for a longer period and is prescribed to adults who need around-the-clock pain management.
When tramadol is misused for recreational purposes, it can create a near-immediate sense of happiness and pleasure that is often been compared to a morphine high. But like almost all opiate derivatives, this man-made opioid agonist can be addictive, and snorting the drug increases the risk of dependence.1
What Happens When You Snort Tramadol?
When tramadol is taken orally as prescribed by a doctor, the drug is a generally safe alternative to other pain medications. Tramadol has more powerful painkiller properties than non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications and was designed to provide a less addictive alternative to the stronger opioid analgesics.2,3
Crushing the medication, however, is unsafe. People who misuse tramadol may crush multiple tablets to snort to get a euphoric high. While some side effects of snorting tramadol may be short-term and less harmful than others, other side effects (such as seizures and overdose) can be much riskier and even lethal.
How Tramadol Enters the System
When tramadol is ingested orally, it is first processed through the liver before its effects are felt throughout your body. When tramadol is snorted, however, the drug dodges this intended “first-pass” process of liver metabolism. Instead, the mucous membranes of your nasal passages absorb the drug and deliver it across the blood-brain barrier directly to your brain.
How Tramadol Works in the Brain
Tramadol is a synthetic opioid, meaning that its chemical makeup is man-made, rather than having been developed directly from opium poppy plant derivatives (“opiates”). Nonetheless, tramadol works in the brain very similarly to natural opioids, as it attaches to opioid receptors and alters signaling throughout the body’s pain pathways.4 As a result, you perceive less pain in your body when there is tramadol in your system.
Tramadol is a somewhat unusual opioid analgesic in that it also increases the availability of norepinephrine and serotonin in your brain. The drug’s effect on neurotransmitters may bolster its pain-relieving capabilities but is thought to also provide a mild antidepressant effect, elevating good feelings throughout the body.5
How Quickly Tramadol’s Effects Are Felt
Orally administered tramadol (immediate release) is processed through the liver, and drug levels peak in the body in about 2 hours. Since snorting tramadol skips this liver metabolism process, the effects of tramadol are experienced in less than 10 minutes. Animal studies have shown that the maximum bloodstream concentration of tramadol is 20 times higher when it is snorted than when it is taken orally, and snorting tramadol makes the drugs 500% more available to the body.6
What Are the Side Effects of Snorting Tramadol?
When tramadol is snorted, the medication can cause severe irritation of the mucous lining of the nose. Some users report a painful burning sensation. In addition to causing discomfort and pain, snorting tramadol increases the risk of taking too much of this medication.1
Snorting tramadol can cause several side effects, such as:7
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Shaking and tremors.
The risk of accidental death increases when snorting tramadol while drinking alcohol or taking drugs that suppress breathing and heart rate.
Getting Treatment for Tramadol Addiction
If you feel that your tramadol misuse has taken over your life, you may have a physical or psychological dependence. Getting help for tramadol misuse may require intensive, professional treatment, potentially one that specifically promotes recovery from tramadol addiction or other forms of prescription drug misuse.
While no single set of expectations applies to all rehab programs, they will generally follow a 4-step process:
- Patient assessment: Incoming rehab patients generally undergo a medical and psychiatric evaluation by a team of professionals. This helps determine what level of care is needed.
- Detox: Sometimes a patients’ continuum of care includes detox, but this is not always necessary.
- Addiction treatment: Rehab treatment typically involves a combination of behavioral, group, and individual counseling. You may also participate in 12-step programs such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA).
- Aftercare: Following the steps above, you will work with a team to create an aftercare plan to maintain recovery and prevent relapse.
Whether rehab takes place in an inpatient or outpatient setting, most will offer evidence-based treatment that includes:8,9
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).
- Medication-assisted treatment (MAT).
- Motivational interviewing.
- Family support and therapy.
- Group therapy.
- Alternative therapies.
- Recovery groups.
Checking Your Insurance Benefits
If you are struggling with tramadol misuse, seeking help is the first step. American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a leading provider of inpatient and outpatient rehab treatment services. AAC is committed to supporting those struggling with addiction on their journey to recovery. If you are looking for information on Adderall misuse and your treatment options, you can contact us 24/7 at to learn more.
If you decide to enter treatment, the good news is that insurance often covers at least part of, if not all, the cost of treatment. You can call the number on the back of your insurance card or check your insurance coverage online by filling out the form below.