New Research Finds Cocaine Use Can Cause Permanent Damage to the Nose

Doctor checks nose

Medical experts in the United Kingdom warn that people may face serious health consequences, including losing their noses, due to cocaine use. Such a dire warning is the first of its kind, as today’s cocaine is more likely to be mixed with toxic chemicals that can have devastating effects on one’s sense of smell, their nose, and their nasal passages.

Research from the UK Shows Alarming Health Effects of Cocaine Use

A 2022 report by the UK’s Office for National Statistics found that 9.2% of Brits aged 16 to 59 have taken a Class A drug at least once in the last year. According to the data, not all of these individuals are cocaine users, but many are. Further, a news story by the BBC outlined how many people suffer irreparable damage to their noses due to cocaine use. Heavy users have lost their noses and will need reconstructive surgery after snorting cocaine that has been cut with products such as deworming medicine.

Alarmingly, the number of cocaine users being treated by ear, nose, and throat medics due to cocaine use has tripled in recent years, suggesting that cocaine addiction is not only on the rise but also that the type of cocaine being used is far more dangerous. “The number of patients we are treating is increasing year on year,” says Nicholas Calder, who specializes in nasal reconstructive surgery at University Hospital Monklands. Further, UK residents from all socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds are being affected by the epidemic. “Patients come to us from a cross-section of the population,” said Calder. While some of the more high-profile (but still infrequent) cases medical experts have treated are patients who’ve lost parts of their noses to cocaine use, the deeper concern is the far greater numbers of cocaine users who say they’re losing their sense of smell.

Accident and emergency entrance at United Kingdom hospital
Photo by TreasureGalore/

All of this is happening because cocaine today is rarely pure cocaine. Virtually all cocaine circulated by drug traffickers has been mixed with toxic chemicals to make it cheaper and more potent. Dr. Natarajan Balaji, an ENT consultant at University Hospital Monklands who has treated cocaine addicts’ noses, spoke to this point. “Cocaine is cut with other ingredients, including Levamisole, which is used in de-worming tablets for dogs and cats, and Phenacetin, an analgesic and fever-reducing drug used in veterinary medicine,” he said. “Cocaine also has certain types of acids mixed with the ingredients. When snorted, cocaine causes the blood vessels to contract very strongly, and the nasal septum is sensitive to reduced blood flow. After using cocaine a few times, the nasal structure can begin to die, causing perforations.” Dr. Balaji can sometimes perform facial reconstruction surgery on cocaine addicts’ noses, but when the damage is severe, addicts will require a prosthetic nasal device that they must remove every night before bed.

Cocaine is Harmful by Itself, and the UK’s Cocaine is Even Worse

Pure cocaine produces a long list of harmful health effects, including but not limited to:

  • Asthma
  • Nausea
  • Nosebleeds
  • Restlessness
  • Loss of smell
  • Dilated pupils
  • Severe bowel decay
  • Respiratory distress
  • Frequent runny nose
  • Constricted blood vessels
  • Fast or irregular heartbeat
  • Problems swallowing
  • Scarring or collapsed veins
  • Skin or soft tissue infections
  • Tremors and muscle twitches
  • Higher risk of infections like pneumonia
  • Raised body temperature and blood pressure
  • Higher risk of contracting HIV, hepatitis C, and other blood-borne diseases

Unfortunately, much of the cocaine being circulated through the UK may cause all of the above side effects and other previously unknown and unpredictable side effects because recent batches of cocaine have tested positive for cleaning agents, veterinary medicines, and other chemical additives that have unpredictable harmful effects when consumed by humans.

What is the Scope of Cocaine Use in the United Kingdom?

UK walking street
Photo by Sampajano_Anizza/

It is difficult to determine exactly how many Brits are addicted to cocaine, as using the drug is illegal in the UK, and researchers rely on people admitting they’re addicted to an illegal drug. According to the Office of National Statistics report cited earlier, about 2% of adults aged 16 to 59 years say they’re using cocaine, and 4% of adults aged 16 to 24 say they use the drug. These rates of cocaine use, while likely a gross underestimate, are still much higher than the reported figures for 1995 when estimates were first recorded.

In Scotland, cocaine use has spiked far higher than rates in the UK. Cocaine was implicated in 403 drug-related deaths in 2021, 30% of all drug deaths in Scotland. Further, the number of people seeking treatment for addiction who report cocaine as their drug of choice has increased in Scotland. In 2021, the figure was 18%, following a peak of 21% in 2020. But between 2006 and 2016, the figure had been about 5%, suggesting that cocaine addiction has at least tripled, if not quadrupled, in Scotland.

What is the Answer to Cocaine Addiction?

People who use cocaine and cannot stop must receive professional help immediately. As cocaine abuse spikes across the UK and as the cocaine that addicts use becomes more toxic and more likely to cause permanent, potentially life-altering harmful effects, the need for treatment couldn’t be more clear. If you know someone who is addicted to cocaine, please help them enter a qualified residential drug addiction treatment facility as soon as possible.


  • ONS. “Drug misuse in England and Wales: year ending June 2022.” Office of National Statistics, 2022.
  • BBC. “Patients face losing noses due to cocaine use, medics warn.” BBC, 2023.
  • NIDA. “Cocaine DrugFacts.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2023.



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.