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The Dangers Of Using Tin Foil To Smoke Drugs

Jennifer Cousineau MSCP, LPCI, NCC

Medically reviewed by

Jennifer Cousineau MSCP, LPCI, NCC

January 25, 2019

Using foil or other aluminum-based products to smoke drugs has been linked to several adverse health effects such as burns, exposure to additional toxins, and even cognitive impairment. Foil adds even more danger to already dangerous drugs.

In pursuit of the next fix or high, some individuals go to great lengths to be able to use a drug, including fashioning tin foil (aluminum foil) into a smoking apparatus. Smoking a drug this way can make an already dangerous practice even riskier.

Drug abuse, regardless of the drug of choice or method of administration, exposes an individual to health risks. Smoking drugs out of tin foil add yet another risk to those already linked to each individual drug of abuse.

Drugs Smoked Using Aluminum Foil

Tin foil is commonly used by recreational drug abusers to smoke various substances, including street drugs and diverted prescription pills.

To use a drug this way, an individual may shape the foil into a pipe. Others may place the substance on a flat piece of foil before heating it with a lighter, a process referred to as freebasing. Cocaine, meth, and heroin are all abused this way. When heroin is used in this manner, it’s called “chasing the dragon.”

Small pieces of discolored or burned tin foil may be a sign your loved one is using tin foil to smoke drugs.

While tin is no longer used to make foil, many people still refer to it this way; today foil is made with aluminum. In addition to foil, aluminum cans, such as those used for soda or beer, may also be altered for use as a smoking vessel. This is an important distinction since it’s thought that some of the health risks of smoking with foil are linked to aluminum.

Heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine (including crack) are drugs most frequently smoked using tin foil.

The following drugs may also be smoked with foil:

  • benzodiazepines (such as Xanax)
  • DMT
  • marijuana
  • MDMA (ecstasy)
  • prescription stimulants (Adderall and Ritalin)
  • Opioid painkillers (such as OxyContin)

The dangers of smoking a drug this way is dependent on several factors, including the type of drug being used, frequency of abuse, duration of abuse, and any existing health concerns.

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Risks Of Using Tin Foil To Smoke Drugs

Though using foil may make smoking a particular drug more risky, the majority of dangers are specific to the drug of abuse. Smoking any drug can lead to short- and long-term adverse health effects, including addiction and overdose.

Some reports claim that smoking from aluminum foil may result in headaches and a more pronounced cough. Aluminum foil is so thin that, when heated, the individual’s fingers and lips have little protection from the heat source, leading some to experience burns.

Smoking a drug on foil exposes the user to substance-specific toxins, some which may be linked to the foil itself. Prescription pills quite often contain chemical binders and filler agents which may be harmful when heated and inhaled. Many street drugs contain additives which present these same issues.

It’s also reported that processed aluminum foil is coated with food-grade oils, which may be toxic when inhaled. Certain types of foil have special coatings added to them to make them non-stick, substances which may also increase this toxic exposure.

Some research suggests that aluminum is linked to Alzheimer’s disease. If this is the case, while it’s not completely clear to what extent smoking with foil exposes a person to this risk, it’s a possibility worth considering. Many drugs cause cognitive impairment, and some which are smoked this way, like benzodiazepines, have themselves been linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s.

Patterns of drug seeking and using can point to a substance use disorder, especially when a person becomes consumed by finding and using the drug. If a person is resorting to using tin foil to smoke drugs, their drug use may have become compulsive.

Dangers Of Smoking Drugs

Smoking a drug can cause a variety of adverse health effects, chief of which are lung problems, though other critical organs may also suffer. When a person smokes a drug they draw the substance into their lungs which exposes this life-sustaining organ to exceptionally hot smoke and a variety of toxins. Smoking drugs can cause effects ranging from irritation to serious medical conditions.

Lung irritation can lead to coughing, increased mucus production, wheezing, and hoarseness. Smoking a drug may also lead to inflammation of the lung tissue, lung or pulmonary infections, asthma, and even pneumonia. The specific risks and dangers vary from drug to drug, though smoking certain drugs hit users harder than others.

Nursing Times reports that “Crack cocaine smoking results in acute lung injury, including asthma, which may be acute, severe and occasionally fatal.” Smoking crack has also been linked to “crack lung,” a serious and sometimes fatal condition.

Smoking heroin increases the risk of addiction due to the way it allows the drug to reach an individual’s brain faster. Heroin abusers may think that by refraining from injecting the drug they are protecting themselves from the risk of transmissible diseases like HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B and C. This is not true.

Smoking heroin (or other drugs) can decrease a person’s inhibitions and ability to practice sound judgment, leading some individuals to engage in unsafe sexual practices or other behaviors which could place them at risk of contracting infectious diseases.

While smoking methamphetamine damages a person’s lungs, it also creates other serious physical and mental health effects. Meth can push a person’s mind into a state of upheaval, creating bouts of aggression, rage, and paranoia. It can also lead to severe dental problems, skin lesions, and weight loss.

In general, substance abuse can cause a variety of adverse health effects, both physical and mental, including the development of serious illness and disease.

As a person continues to smoke a drug they could form a physical dependency and become addicted. Many of the drugs which are smoked this way, like cocaine, heroin, and meth, are highly addictive. These patterns of abuse can cause a person to lose control of their life, circumstances which can destroy a person’s relationship, career, and other important aspects of their life.

Getting Help And Finding Treatment

Drug addiction can be difficult to overcome on your own. Enrolling in a drug addiction treatment program increases a person’s opportunity for a healthier, sober life.

Many treatment programs, especially inpatient drug rehabilitation programs, offer support for individuals who struggle with health or medical conditions, including co-occurring mental health disorders linked to addiction. Selecting a program which provides this customized care increases your odds of recovery success.

Contact RehabCenter.net today to find a treatment program that’s right for you.

LIVESTRONG - Effects of Smoking Crystal Meth

National Institute on Drug Abuse - Heroin: Research Report Series

Nursing Times - Illicit drug use and its effect on the lungs

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