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December 1990

The Effect of Chronic Cocaine Abuse on Human Olfaction

Author Affiliations

From the Departments of Otolaryngology Head Neck Surgery (Drs Gordon, Jafek, and Strahan, and Ms Eller) and Cellular and Structural Biology (Dr Moran), University of Colorado School of Medicine, Denver.

Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 1990;116(12):1415-1418. 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.

(Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 1990; 116: 1415-1418)