The effect of chronic cocaine abuse on human olfaction

Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 1990 Dec;116(12):1415-8. doi: 10.1001/archotol.1990.01870120061010.


Cocaine has been used for many decades as both a stimulant and as a topical anesthetic/vasoconstrictor. Illicit "snorting" or freebase smoking has increased markedly in recent years. Decreased olfaction has been an often reported subjective complaint of cocaine abusers, but quantification of smell loss using sensitive psychophysical tests has not yet been done, leading to the present study. Eleven cocaine abusers were recruited from a drug treatment clinic. Olfaction was assessed using a butanol threshold test, the UPSIT, and a 7-item discrimination test. One patient tested anosmic, one had a mild discrimination problem, and one had a large septal perforation but was normosmic. From the present study, it appears that most cocaine abusers, even heavy users or those with intranasal damage, do not develop permanent olfactory dysfunction. It is not clear what factors may have resulted in complaints of olfactory loss in previous studies.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cocaine / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nasal Septum / drug effects
  • Smell / drug effects*
  • Substance-Related Disorders* / complications


  • Cocaine