Stimulants and the lung : review of literature

Clin Rev Allergy Immunol. 2014 Feb;46(1):82-100. doi: 10.1007/s12016-013-8376-9.


Illicit stimulants, such as cocaine, amphetamine, and their derivatives (e.g., "ecstasy"), continue to exact heavy toll on health care in both developed and developing countries. The US Department of Health and Human Service reported over one million illicit drug-related emergency department visits in 2010, which was higher than any of the six previous years. Both inhaled and intravenous forms of these substances of abuse can result in a variety of acute and chronic injuries to practically every part of the respiratory tract, leading potentially to permanent morbidities as well as fatal consequences--including but not limited to nasal septum perforation, pulmonary hypertension, pneumothorax, pneumomediastinum, interstitial lung disease, alveolar hemorrhage, reactive airway disease, pulmonary edema, pulmonary granulomatosis, infections, foreign body aspiration, infections, bronchoconstriction, and thermal injuries. Stimulants are all rapidly absorbed substances that can also significantly alter the patient's systemic acid-base balance and central nervous system, thereby leading to further respiratory compromise. Mounting evidence in the past decade has demonstrated that adulterants coinhaled with these substances (e.g., levamisole) and the metabolites of these substances (e.g., cocaethylene) are associated with specific forms of systemic and respiratory complications as well. Recent studies have also demonstrated the effects of stimulants on autoimmune-mediated injuries of the respiratory tract, such as cocaine-induced midline destructive lesions. A persistent challenge to studies involving stimulant-associated respiratory toxidromes is the high prevalence of concomitant usage of various substances by drug abusers, including tobacco smoking. Now more than ever, health care providers must be familiar with the multitude of respiratory toxidromes as well as the diverse pathophysiology related to commonly abused stimulants to provide timely diagnosis and effective treatment.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Granuloma, Respiratory Tract / etiology
  • Humans
  • Hypertension, Pulmonary / etiology
  • Illicit Drugs / adverse effects*
  • Immunization
  • Lung / drug effects*
  • Lung / immunology
  • Nasal Septal Perforation / etiology
  • Quality Improvement
  • Substance-Related Disorders / diagnosis*


  • Illicit Drugs