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Heroin

What is heroin?

Heroin is a highly addictive drug derived from morphine, which in turn is derived from raw opium (the dried sap of opium poppy). In its pure form, heroin appears as a white powder with a bitter taste. However, heroin sold in streets can appear as off-white to brown powder, or as black sticky goo. Heroin has a chemical formula C21H23NO5 but is also known by names such as smack, H, skag, junk, brown sugar, horse, and black tar. Almost all heroin sold today are made illegally in clandestine laboratories.

To make heroin, dried opium sap pieces are first boiled in water with lime to precipitate morphine at the top. This morphine is then drawn off, reheated with ammonia and filtered and boiled again. This process yields heroin that appears as a brown paste.

In the medical sense, heroin is called diamorphine or diacetylmorphine. Heroin is taken into the body via injection (most common, with almost instant effects), smoking and snorting, and less commonly, by oral consumption. Heroin is highly addictive and is therefore illegal in many countries. When people take it even for a short period of time, a strong need for heroin is quickly developed and long term heroin addiction treatment is needed. But what makes heroin so addictive? And why it is illegal in many places?

Heroin effects

Heroin is a strong opioid analgesic, like morphine. Heroin is considered a potent depressant because it reduces sensation of pain (anesthesia) and also slows breathing, lowers the heartbeat and blood pressure. What happens for heroin to take effect on the body?

When heroin is abused, it is transformed into morphine and goes straight to the brain in a very short span of time. However, unlike morphine, heroin has a markedly addictive effect after first few uses. Why? Because heroin effects include euphoria, an intense sense of well being.

In fact, heroin users feel a sense of relaxation plus intense acute euphoria (termed a ‘rush’) soon after administration of the drug. This rush may also be accompanied by flushing of skin, dry mouth with nausea, vomiting and severe itching. This rush lasts only for a short time, after which then it quickly subsides. To feel high again, the user must again take heroin, sometimes at a larger dose to overcome tolerance.

Another effect of heroin use is increased tolerance. Generally, heroin use causes tolerance quickly, which means you need to increase successive doses taken just to feel the same effect. Among habit-forming drugs, heroin is one of the most addictive. First time users of heroin can easily get addicted to it in a short period of time.

Heroin overdose

Heroin overdose is a medical emergency which happens when large amounts of heroin are suddenly introduced in the body. Injecting heroin makes you most susceptible to overdose because this method of delivery travels to and crosses the blood-brain barrier almost instantly. In the event of overdose, heroin sends the nervous system into delirium, disorientation and coma.

A person experiencing heroin overdose may manifest symptoms such as:

  • bluish fingernails
  • coma
  • constipation
  • discolored tongue
  • disorientation and delirium
  • drowsiness
  • dry mouth
  • pinpoint pupils
  • shallow or no breathing, or slow and difficult breathing
  • snoring
  • weak pulse, and low blood pressure

Heroin overdose is always a potential threat to life, and therefore must be addressed as soon as possible. When heroin overdose is suspected, you should call your local emergency phone hotline or national poison control center.

A person who you suspect is experiencing heroin overdose must be kept constantly awake, or must be awakened from sleep. Nothing should be put into their mouth due to risk of choking. If seizures occur, do not restrain the victim; move things away to prevent injury. Always stay with the victim until medical help arrives.

For more info on heroin’s addictive properties and treatment, see:

Heroin

2 Can you get addicted to heroin?

Can you get addicted to heroin?

January 20th, 2015

Yes, you can get addicted to heroin. More here on heroin’s addiction liability and how you get addicted in the first place.

Long term effects of heroin on the body (INFOGRAPHIC)

Long term effects of heroin on the body (INFOGRAPHIC)

December 28th, 2014

Heroin can affect all systems of the body. What long term effects exactly? A POSTER for printing, sharing, or using in the classroom. More here.

Adverse effects of heroin (INFOGRAPHIC)

Adverse effects of heroin (INFOGRAPHIC)

November 19th, 2014

Heroin can seriously affect your general health, behavior and relationships. Find out more about the adverse effects of heroin in this infographic here. Then, support us by SHARING or PRINTING out the poster for use in your school or medical practice.

Long term effects of heroin on the brain (INFOGRAPHIC)

Long term effects of heroin on the brain (INFOGRAPHIC)

November 7th, 2014

Heroin causes specific long term effects on the brain. A visual guide here. Check out! If you like the GRAPHIC, support us: PRINT, LIKE, OR SHARE it with your networks.

Can you die from taking heroin

Can you die from taking heroin

October 11th, 2014

Yes, heroin can cause death. More on the serious side effects of heroin and how to address heroin overdose here.

1 The heroin epidemic in America

The heroin epidemic in America

October 5th, 2014

A snapshot of what’s happening in America, and how emerging trends signal an increase in heroin use and related problems.

12 Heroin detox symptoms

Heroin detox symptoms

September 20th, 2014

Symptoms of heroin detox include body and muscle aches, vomiting, and mood disorders such as anxiety or depression. More on what to expect during detox and how to treat heroin detox symptoms here.

19 How to stop taking heroin

How to stop taking heroin

September 2nd, 2014

The best way to stop taking heroin is with medical supervision. More on the side effects when you quit heroin here and a list of who you can ask for help.

80 Detoxing from heroin at home

Detoxing from heroin at home

August 19th, 2014

Detoxing from heroin does not need to be severe or uncomfortable. But you increase your risk of relapse when you detox from heroin on your own. More on the protocols used during clinical heroin detox, as well as time, symptoms, and their treatment here.

11 Long term effects of heroin addiction (INFOGRAPHIC)

Long term effects of heroin addiction (INFOGRAPHIC)

August 13th, 2014

Repeated heroin use changes the physical structure and physiology of the brain. More here on the side effects from long-term heroin use, which aren’t only health-related.

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Leave a Reply

5 Responses to “Heroin
Steven
3:10 am August 27th, 2016

My son is a heroin addict and I have learned more about drugs and drug addiction over the last several year than I ever thought possible. I do, however, have one question I haven’t been able to find an answer for. What causes the blood spatter I find on the walls and even some ceilings? Can you help me? Thanks

Melissa
5:56 pm February 7th, 2017

It’s been a while since you posted your question, and I hope you have recived an answer by now, if not here is my theory.
I am a Phlebotomist (draw blood) by trade and in my experience the only time blood may splatter on wall or as high as the ceiling would be if the IV user removed the needle prior to releasing the tourniquet. I can imagine that this may occur if the person is ‘passing out’ after injection and the needle falls out, which can happen with the pressure built up in the users vein. Some people are just good bleeders, I have pricked a finger for a capillary test and the blood arched several feet into the air, so I could see this occurring with an untrained professional as well.
I hope your son gets/got the help he needs, and that you are able to see your way through this addiction.

Brooklyn
10:24 pm March 12th, 2017

I am a recovering heroin addict and it may be him doing when he is cleaning his needle with water and he may just be spraying it anywhere unfortunately

andrew
6:46 pm May 18th, 2017

Heroin after injection is turned rapidly in 6-Monoacetylmorphine which gives users that rush. The former metabolite is then turned into morphine after first pass metabolism.

joe
2:15 pm July 19th, 2017

I was a pretty heavy skin popper on herion for about 4 months. I had stopped using 14 days to 16 days before my doctor did a urine test. do you think it will show up in my urine?

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