Medical use of heroin
There are only few instances where heroin is used for medicinal purposes. In some countries, heroin (asdiamorphine) has been or is currently used as a substitute for morphine. In countries such as the United Kingdom, heroin is prescribed by doctors as treatment for persistent and recurrent opiate dependence (remember that heroin is also an opiate) that is not relieved by methadone or buprenorphine .
Because it has the same anesthetic properties like morphine, heroin is sometimes used in cases of severe pain if morphine is unavailable, like in surgery, childbirth, respiratory diseases and severe burns, and cases of terminal cancer. But the use of heroin as an anesthetic is very limited.
Other than for these uses, heroin has no other documented medical uses. Even if used for medical purposes or for treating heroin addiction itself, doctors still carefully calibrate heroin doses because it is so addictive. Furthermore, heroin is so addictive that doctors prefer to use other narcotics in its place.
Recreational use of heroin
People abuse heroin despite of its dangers because it causes a sensation of pleasure soon after administration. Users of heroin often report a rush of good and pleasurable sensation moments after heroin is administered. However, this pleasurable “high” lasts in about only few minutes and wears off pretty quickly. Because of this, users may administer higher amounts of heroin to get high and risk overdosing.
Here are the most common routes of administration of heroin and some of its dangers. Take note that heroin is still addictive, regardless of how it is used:
- By mouth – Usually does not result in immediate euphoria, but may cause dryness of the mouth that can lead to tooth decay and gum problems .
- By smoking – Heroin can be vaporized in pipes too. But this method is not likely to result to an intense high.
- By snorting – Heroin can be administered through nasal insufflation. Heroin is very irritating to the nasal passages, leading to persistent runny discharge on the nose.
- By suppository – Administration of heroin through the anus may bring rush due to rich blood supply in the rectum. However, this route may also result to heroin overdose.
- Intravenous injection – Heroin can be injected into the veins (called mainlining), allowing it to quickly reach the bloodstream and straight to the brain. This route produces the quickest, almost instant, effect. However, injecting heroin in the veins carries the most risk compared to other routes. Injecting heroin and using dirty or shared needles can result to blood-borne infections.
What is long-term heroin use?
There is no existing definition for long-term heroin use. In medicine “long-term” is synonymous with the term “chronic”, which means something that persists for at least 6 months or more.
Whether used on short- or long-term, the immediate effect of heroin use is addiction to the drug. No one can use heroin regularly for 6 months without getting addicted to it. In fact, it is very easy to get addicted to heroin after using it only a few times because it goes to the brain immediately and because it provokes tolerance.
Here are the adverse effects of long term heroin use:
- collapsed veins
- death due to overdose
- frequent lung problems
- itching of the skin and appearance of pustules in the face
- loss of appetite
- reduced mental performance
- reduced physical strength and muscle paralysis
- sexual dysfunction (inability to orgasm), impotence and low interest on sex
- tooth decay and gum disease
- weakened immune system and frequent infections
Prolonged use of heroin
Using heroin regularly for some time can result in physical dependency and harsh heroin withdrawal symptoms when you attempt dose reduction or cessation. The mechanism on how interacts with the brain and causes addiction is still not well known, but experts theorize that heroin primarily acts on the central nervous system by promoting release of neurotransmitters that inhibit communication between neurons, causing analgesia, sedation and slowing of breathing and heart rate.
The exact mechanism of how morphine and heroin can cause withdrawal symptoms is also unknown. However, when you have developed physical dependency on heroin and stop or reduce doses of heroin suddenly, specific symptoms manifest. These include (but are not limited to):
- changes in temperature sensation
- dilated pupils, high blood pressure and rapid heartbeat
- disturbed sleep, anxiety and irritability
- flu-like symptoms
- frequent urination, diarrhea, abdominal cramps
- intense craving for heroin
- nausea and vomiting
- profuse sweating, crying and runny nose
- twitching, pain and cramps in joints
Due to the harshness of heroin withdrawal symptoms, people are generally referred to undergo heroin detox at a medical clinic under the monitoring of professional doctors and nurses.