There’s lots of ways to use marijuana. And there’s lots of ways of sneaking stuff into prison.
But an unnamed Australian man has taken entirely the wrong route for both, jamming a balloon of weed up his nose where it got stuck and stayed for nearly two decades.
The man had stuck the pot up his schnoz in an attempt to smuggle it past guards while in prison. But it seems getting it up there was easier than retrieving it – when he went to get it out he ended up pushing it further into his nasal cavity. Thinking it was beyond retrieval and that he would eventually swallow it, the man promptly forgot about it.
Fast forward 18 years and the now 48-year-old complained to doctors of headaches and recurring sinus infections. Sent to Westmead Hospital for a CT scan to track down the cause, doctors instead found a 19mm long, hard grey mass in his nasal cavity – the now ancient, calcified, rubber package containing the weed.
“On follow-up and specific questioning, the patient was able to recall an incident that occurred 18 years prior, while he was incarcerated,” the doctors write in the British Medical Journal Case Reports. “He remained unaware of the package’s presence until presented with the unusual histopathology report.”
It had been up there so long the weed balloon was legally allowed to drink and vote.
An ENT surgeon removed the lump. Given it was described as “degenerate vegetable/plant matter,” it’s unlikely it was still usable.
Three months later the man told his doctors the headaches and infections had vanished.
A new meaning for nose stone
The mass is referred to by doctors as a rhinolith, which translated from Greek literally means “nose stone”. Over the years, calcium and magnesium salts are slowly encrusted on an object in the nasal cavity, hardening into a concrete-like lump that can eventually block the nasal cavity entirely.
The good news though is that they’re not usually a common occurrence – with ENT specialists only seeing them in around 1 in 10,000 patients. They can form around nasal mucus, but usually from external objects such as beads or seeds that kids push up there, dislodged teeth (yep really), or in this case, a balloon of weed.
While small ones can be removed whole, in some cases ones over an inch in size need to be broken into smaller chunks to be removed. That was the case for a 15-year-old who had a rhinolith described as a “large staghorn”, which had formed around a piece of rubber sheet (the images are a bit gruesome).
Unsurprisingly the doctors in the current case say this is the first they could find of a rhinolith forming around prison-acquired marijuana. However, it’s not the first time illicit drugs have been the cause – a 2007 report described a case of a rhinolith forming around a mixture of codeine and opium wrapped in a nylon sheet.
Sticking stuff up your nose is a bad plan, but if you’re going to do it – make sure it comes out again.
This article was first published on Australia’s Science Channel, the original news platform of The Royal Institution of Australia.
Ben Lewis is a science communicator with the Royal Institution of Australia.
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