Does “snorting” coffee enhance its effects?
July 25, 2012 5:48 AM   Subscribe

Does running brewed coffee through your sinuses and nasal passage enhance its effect?

I was drinking coffee and it went down the wrong way, but to avoid spitting it up I tried to choke it down. It backwashed up through my sinuses and after a few seconds of valiantly trying to hold it back, it washed out mostly through my nose. 30 minutes later, I feel accelerated, jittery and a bit headachey -- far more caffeinated than I usually do after a coffee in the morning.

Is this purely psychosomatic, or has effectively "snorting" coffee somehow augmented my absorption of the caffeine?
posted by Shepherd to Science & Nature (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Likely psychosomatic. I've passed a few Cheerios through there (protip: don't sneeze with your mouth full) and I always feel jittery afterwards. The resulting feeling from having something pass through your body the wrong way always throws you a bit off.

I suppose it's possible that you're getting a bit extra caffeine that way, but I really can't recommend it as a general practice. (I don't recommend the Cheerios, either.)
posted by phunniemee at 6:04 AM on July 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Given that your nasal passages are full of mucous membranes that readily absorb whatever comes through them, it probably isn't psychosomatic.
posted by VioletU at 6:06 AM on July 25, 2012 [8 favorites]

Might be a little real, and a little psychosomatic. Don't underestimate the power of an adrenalized response (like when your body thinks it's choking). I've felt similarly after nose-booting milk. Or beer, for that matter.
posted by rtha at 6:09 AM on July 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

You probably try keep coffee away from your other mucous membranes, too.
posted by argonauta at 6:12 AM on July 25, 2012

Best answer: Psychosomatic. Even if caffeine DID absorb better through the nasal membranes (not that off-the-wall of an assumption; plenty of things DO), let's break down this incident:

- The average eight-ounce cup of coffee has about 75mg of caffeine. That's 9.375mg per ounce. One ounce is ~29.57 mL.
- It appears that the average volume of an adult human sip is 16 mL.
- So let's assume that your ENTIRE half-ounce sip of coffee washed through your sinus passages: 1. There were only about four milligrams of caffeine in that sip, 2. Coffee is a hypotonic solution, which means that if you put it in direct contact with your cells, your cells will try to "suck up" some of the water into themselves. Basically: your cells are like "Yay, water!" FIRST, and "Yay, caffeine!" SECOND when it comes to absorption, 3. That entire sip was in contact with your intranasal area for, what, fifteen seconds? Even THAT seems harrowingly long, 4. Ergo: I don't think that you absorbed more than a teeny, tiny, itsy-bitsy dose of caffeine, if any.
posted by julthumbscrew at 6:15 AM on July 25, 2012 [12 favorites]

I had a buddy in school who crushed caffeine pills and snorted them. He said it gave him a much faster, more potent kick than the brew did.

However, I imagine you didn't get nearly the entirety of 80mg of caffeine up your nose, so it's probably due mostly to the sneezy kick. On the other hand, if you snorted the same amount of caffeine as you normally drink, you'd definitely feel it more quickly and in a more concentrated burst.
posted by miniraptor at 6:18 AM on July 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

There is at least one caffeinated nasal spray in the world. Their marketing material claims that "because the ingredients are delivered up the nose and absorbed through the blood-brain barrier, only tiny doses are needed for maximum results". Whether this is true or simply marketing bunk is left as an exercise for the reader. (It contains 1mg of caffeine per spray, compared to 100mg in a cup of coffee. If we follow julthumbscrew's math above, you had the equivalent of four doses of Turbo Snort. Yes, it's really called Turbo Snort. Decline of civilization predicted, etc.)

The reviews I found online are mixed at best, and leave me uncertain whether it has any effect at all beyond placebo: "I found I could feel something more when I combined the snort with other caffeine, like coffee or an energy drink. It did add just that little bit of extra oomph in there, though again in a very mellow non-intrusive kinda' way."
posted by ook at 6:18 AM on July 25, 2012

Best answer: I often bring up first pass metabolism in questions like this; basically, any caffeine absorbed through nasal/oral mucous membranes does not go to the liver first (drugs absorbed through the stomach and intestines do, because of the hepatic portal vein circulation). I sometimes adminster drugs intranasally for various reasons and sometimes have to adjust the dose to account for this. On the other hand, as pointed out above, the actual amount of caffeine you got via mucosal absorption is likely to be too small to have an effect, so while it is possible, it is not likely. Another possible explanation is that the near-choking you experienced got your fight-or-flight reflex worked up and you are feeling some residual effects of the catecholamines your adrenal glands squeezed out; this would be enhanced by any caffeine in your system via whatever route.
posted by TedW at 6:35 AM on July 25, 2012 [10 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks, smart people!
posted by Shepherd at 10:16 AM on July 25, 2012

Caffeine doesnt really make anyone high at all who has been drinking it for a while. Like most addictive substances, it causes a small benign effect which is amplified by a conditioned mental response.
My advice to you is not to develop a conditioned response to snorting anything. Very unhealthy for your nasal passages.
posted by Mai2k3 at 11:06 PM on July 27, 2012

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