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Insufflation – The Lowdown On Getting Drugs Blown Into You

Insufflation by inhaler
Written by Sarah Friedman

Insufflation might sound like a weird word, but it denotes a way to take drugs, by having them blown into you

There are a lot of modes of delivery for a medication, some that work better for particular compounds than others. Most of these are known, and at least sometimes used. Like taking something by mouth (tablet, tincture, oil); directly into a vein or muscle (injection, IV); on the skin (cream, patch); up the nose; in the eyes; and even in the private areas (think suppositories). One method not always well explained, is insufflation. And it presents a different form of drug consumption, by blowing the drug into a person.

Blowing drugs inside a person, what does that mean??

When you’re used to pills, and creams, and shots; medication taking seems pretty standard. But there are situations in life for which these standard and popular methods won’t work, and for which something different must be done. Our vast world of medical ability, and vast array of medical issues; dictate that answers might not always be within standard means.

Like insufflation. While the word sounds like a cross between inflating a balloon and suffocating a person, it means neither of these. Insufflation relates to “an act or the action of blowing on, into, or in,” according to Merrian Webster. It goes on to give the examples: “a Christian ceremonial rite of exorcism performed by breathing on a person,” or “the act of blowing something (such as a drug in powdered form) into a body cavity.” The latter is more up our alley for today.

When a medication (or illicit drug) is given through insufflation, it quite literally means a powder or gas is blown into a person via one of their orifices. The term is not specific to an orifice, nor a certain ailment, nor a particular drug. It simply relates that the person is treated by having something actually blown inside them.


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They blow what into where??

If it sounds nuts, or creepy, or like something you’d prefer not to deal with in life; consider that there are applications we’re already familiar with. For one thing, when a person stops breathing for whatever reason, and is given mouth to mouth resuscitation, this is a form of insufflation. The oxygen is the drug, and the mouth is the orifice used. Learning mouth to mouth is standard for many professions outside of regular doctoring, and it’s a visual we’re all familiar with from TV and movies.

Now consider an asthma inhaler. You’re not putting something in your mouth and swallowing when using an inhaler. You’re using a mechanism by which when you apply pressure, it blows out medicine; that you breathe in. This makes asthma inhalers one of the most common forms of medication taken via insufflation; although it’s not 100% insufflation. It requires the user to breathe in. Some nasal inhalers, however, are entirely insufflation.

Now think of a person hooked up to a ventilator or breathing machine of some kind. Some of these machines operate by forcing air into a person who can’t breathe properly on their own. This is done through positive airway pressure, which blows out air at a set pressure, to ensure it gets into the person’s lungs. The mechanism is used for different breathing issues, like sleep apnea, and is built off the idea of insufflation.

Another common application is the use of gas insufflation during surgery, to create space for doctors to work. This is common with operations like laparoscopic surgery, where a small incision is made, and a camera stuck in and moved around. Usually carbon dioxide is used for this purpose. In many cases the gas is blown in via an incision into the peritoneal cavity (where the intestines, stomach, and liver live). Other surgeries in other parts of the body include insufflation into a different area. Beyond insufflating gases to make a bigger work space for surgery; this is also done to see more areas internally, and to enhance imaging.

Isn’t shotgunning insufflation?

These days you’ve got a bunch of new age cannabis inhalers to choose from, for both the mouth and nose. Plus, there’s an old-school method of marijuana insufflation; and its one which a large percentage of weed smokers are familiar with, and have used at least once. I expect no one actively thinks ‘I’m insufflating’ while doing it, but regardless, that’s exactly what is done. The good old ‘shotgun.’

When heading to the car, and calling ‘shotgun,’ this is understood to mean that the person calling it, is reserving their place next to the driver. That’s what the term means in this scenario; the front passenger seat. In a way its like saying that the person wants immediate access to the driver; almost like a second-in-command thing. Similarly, when you shotgun a hit of weed, you’re the second person; getting it directly from the smoker.

Shotgunning marijuana
Shotgunning marijuana

A shotgun is when one person inhales weed smoke in some way. It could be from a bong, a pipe, a joint, a vape, a blunt, or a dab. That person inhales, and then when its time to exhale, they put their mouth right on (or close to) the mouth of another person, and blow the smoke directly into the waiting person’s mouth. Kind of like a big weed kiss.

It’s also very much in the realm of recycling. Maybe not the recycling that helps maintain the planet, but rather the kind used when a product is in short supply; and you want to make what you have, go as far as possible. It’s also used in the context of getting a little closer to a person of interest, as the move itself is rather intimate. Shotgunning is possible with any drug which a person inhales. Much like an inhaler, it’s not 100% insufflation, as the second person must actively inhale as well.

Snorting cocaine as nasal insufflation

Snorting is a little bit different. While the two get confused, the main difference is in the action of drug release. Insufflation means something being blown in you; whereas snorting means sucking something into yourself with your nose. When doing a line of cocaine, the cocaine isn’t forcing itself into your nose; its sitting there still. It’s your action that brings it in. Inhalers that don’t contain a pump and/or require a breath, also technically don’t qualify fully. This is often ignored, and the term ‘nasal insufflation’ is synonymous with ‘snorting’. However, by definition, insufflation and snorting are two separate things.

A better example of cocaine insufflation uses a different orifice, the butt. Now, when looking at rectal drug use (yup, it’s a thing – consider all those blood vessels making uptake quick and easy), this generally involves leaving something in there. I remember years ago hearing stories of people soaking tampons in alcohol and shoving them in where the sun don’t shine. Something I heard of as ‘slimming’ back then, but which often goes by the term ‘butt chugging’ now. This idea (usually sans tampon) is applicable to different drugs, and goes by several names, including shelving.

However, I’m talking about something specific. And it came up prominently in the HBO show ‘Industry’. On the show, one guy pulled down his pants, and the other took a straw and blew the cocaine into the first guy’s butt. Now I hear about it more, with a mention in the fourth season of the popular show ‘You’. This involved the character Connie asking his housekeeper to give him a ‘butt bump’, since his nose injury prevented him from the normal way (episode 6 for those interested). We don’t see it, we just hear him speak about asking her to blow it through a straw into his butt; (she refused.)

Realistically, though this action happens way less frequently than standard use, its popularity is growing such that its coming up in cutting edge TV shows. Maybe not everyone is comfortable dropping trow and bending over for a cocaine anal insufflation; but it does seem that more and more are willing to try.

Powder drugs can be taken by insufflation
Powder drugs can be taken by insufflation

Others drugs for insufflation

If you look at snorting as nasal insufflation, then there are tons of drugs that are taken in this manner. From cocaine, to ketamine, to MDMA, to 2C-B, to heroin, and on; plenty can be snorted into the nose. And while this doesn’t fit the exact definition of insufflation, (as it’s a sucking action over a blowing action), ‘nasal insufflation’ has become a common term for snorting a drug.

One last place where the term insufflation applies partly, is with scopolamine. For those unfamiliar, this deliriant hallucinogen, also known as hyoscine and Devil’s Breath, is found in plants like Datura stramonium. Though it’s in the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines, it’s also known for its ability to elicit confessions from people and make them docile enough to control. This has led to some amount of criminal use.

Though its hard to say how accurate reporting is, there are many stories out of Colombia (and South America in general) of the drug being blown into people’s faces in order to get them high on it, for the purpose of robbery. How many incidents there are is out with the jury, as is the exact mode of ingestion (sometimes its put in drinks). But if the stories are true, then a fair amount of people have had scopolamine blown in their faces. This, like most asthma inhalers, is only partial insufflation, as it does require the victim to breathe in as well.

Conclusion

And there you have it! The term insufflation isn’t quite as out-there or scary as you thought (apart from scopolamine being blown in your face). And there are plenty of applications that apply to regular life, whether you’re an illicit drug user, a person with sleep apnea, or just an asthmatic. And while it does provide a fancier term for the act of snorting, it also introduces a very different way of looking at drug ingestion.

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About the author

Sarah Friedman

I look stuff up and and write stuff down, in order to make sense of the world around. And I travel a lot too.