Recreational drugs and asthma

Recreational drugs are drugs that you take for non-medical reasons. There are many different types of recreational drugs, most of which are illegal in the UK. Recreational drugs can be harmful to your physical and mental health.

We also have information about how smoking and drinking alcohol can affect your asthma.

Why do recreational drugs trigger asthma?

You cannot be sure how you’ll react to drugs, even if you have taken them before.

Most recreational drugs are unregulated, so you will never know what’s really in them or how strong they are. Misusing prescription medicines can also be very dangerous.

Most recreational drugs can be addictive, and they can all cause a wide range of side effects that impact your physical and mental health.

If your asthma's not well managed

you’re more at risk from asthma triggers. Find out what to do if your symptoms are getting worse.

When your asthma is well managed, you should be symptom free, and won’t need to use your reliever inhaler often (if at all).

Abusing recreational drugs can also trigger your asthma symptoms, increasing your risk of having a potentially life-threatening asthma attack. Below we have listed some of the side effects of commonly used recreational drugs and explain how they might impact your asthma.

Slow/shallow breathing

These recreational drugs can reduce how well we breathe:

  • Ketamine
  • PCP (angel dust)
  • Benzos (like Valium and Xanax)
  • Heroin

This can be dangerous, especially if you have also drunk alcohol.

Emotional changes

Any intense emotions – good or bad – can impact your breathing and cause your asthma symptoms to worsen. Recreational drugs can seriously affect your emotions:

  • All recreational drugs can impact your mental health, and most can make you feel anxious, depressed, or panicked.
  • Cocaine and ecstasy (MDMA) may trigger feelings of euphoria and panic.
  • LSD (acid) and other hallucinogenic drugs might cause you to feel excited, giggly, or worried.
  • NOs (laughing gas) can cause you to feel euphoric, excited and laugh uncontrollably.

Increased physical activity

Cocaine, ecstasy (MDMA), and speed can cause you to feel energetic, alert, and restless. Any increase in physical activity may trigger your asthma if it isn’t well controlled.

Worse asthma management

Drugs users tend to have worse asthma management because they are less likely to take their asthma preventer medicines every day as prescribed.

Chest infections

Marijuana (weed) and heroin can increase your risk of getting chest infections, including pneumonia.

Lung damage

Smoking marijuana (weed) and crack cocaine can cause long-term lung damage.

Nasal irritation

Inhaling solvents, aerosols or any chemical with a strong smell can trigger asthma symptoms.

Staying safe

The best way to look after your asthma is to avoid taking recreational drugs altogether. However, we know that this isn’t always the case, so it’s important that you know how to stay safe.

Taking your preventer medicines as prescribed every day is the best way to keep your asthma under control. This stops inflammation from building up in your airways and means that you’re less likely to react to your asthma triggers.

Five ways to stay safe:

  1. Try not to use drugs by yourself. Being around people you trust means they can help you in an emergency.
  2. Keep a photo of your asthma action plan on your phone so you or a friend can quickly check what to do if you get asthma symptoms or have an asthma attack.
  3. Avoid mixing drugs with alcohol, as this worsens their effects.
  4. Always keep your reliever inhaler (usually blue) on you so that you can manage any symptoms quickly.
  5. Take regular breaks if you’re dancing or on your feet all night.

Seek medical help straight away if you notice that your asthma symptoms are getting worse. It’s incredibly important that you tell a healthcare professional everything you have taken. Knowing this information will make sure they give you the best care possible.

Frank, an anti-drug advisory service, has more advice about what to do in an emergency.

More help and support

  • Visit Frank for honest information about drugs and their side effects.
  • You can get regular updates about dangerous strains of drugs circulating in the UK from The Loop.
  • DAN is an English and Welsh helpline and text service for anybody who needs advice about drugs or alcohol.
  • You can also talk to your GP if you’re worried about drugs. They can help you choose the most appropriate treatment or refer you to a local specialist drug service.

Get support

Call our Helpline for support with your condition. Get advice on your medicines, symptoms or travelling with a lung condition, or just call us to say hello.

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