Heroin is made from morphine, a naturally occurring substance that comes from the opium poppy plant. Pure heroin is a fine, white, bitter-tasting crystalline powder. Heroin sold on the street varies in colour and consistency depending on the way it is made and what other substances are added to it. It can look like a white powder, a brown grainy substance or a dark brown sticky gum. It can range in purity from 2 to 98 percent.
Sometimes quinine is added to imitate the bitter taste of heroin. (Quinine is a chemical found in some drugs to treat malaria.) This can fool a buyer into thinking he or she is getting a more pure form of heroin.
Heroin may be:
"mainlining"), muscle, or under the skin (
"chasing the dragon")
Also Known As: diacetylmorphine, diamorphine, black tar, dope (heroin), dust, H, horse, junk, smack, scag
Category: Central Nervous System (CNS) Depressants
After taking heroin, it travels through bloodstream and easily enters the brain. In the brain, heroin is converted back into morphine. Morphine interacts with specific proteins on the brain cells called opioid receptors. These opioid receptors send signals between brain cells (neurons) and ultimately change the way a person experiences pain.
How quickly heroin reaches the brain depends on how it is taken. When it is injected into the vein, it takes seconds for the drug to take effect. The effects after smoking or snorting are not as rapid and occur within 10 to 15 minutes. The effects heroin usually last for about three to five hours.
The effects of heroin are unpredictable. It is different for everyone. The way a person feels after taking heroin depends on many factors:
Heroin is a dangerous drug whose effects are unpredictable, partly because the user does not know its purity or strength. A person on heroin may feel confused and dizzy. It may also temporarily relieve anxiety and depression.
When heroin is injected into the vein, heroin can produce a pleasurable
sensation called a
"rush" that lasts up to a few minutes. A
associated with a sense of relaxation, happiness and an absence of
emotional and physical pain. After the initial feeling goes away, the
user enters a tranquil phase (
"on the nod") that can last for up to
Short-term use of heroin can produce many other effects:
An overdose of heroin can be deadly. The risk of overdose with heroin is high and unpredictable because users do not know the actual strength or the amount of drug that they are using. A person who has overdosed may have one or more of the following symptoms:
Heroin affects the breathing centre in the brain. It can cause a person's brain to stop telling his/her lungs to breathe.
Heroin has a very rapid onset. A person who overdoses may fall unconscious very quickly after injecting the drug. An overdose is more likely if heroin is taken along with other depressants such as alcohol, benzodiazepines, or other opioids such as methadone.
There is an antidote called naloxone that can reverse the effects of heroin. If you think that a person has overdosed, contact emergency services immediately.
Some substances used to mix or dilute heroin may lead to problems. For example, strychnine and chalk are sometimes used. Strychnine is poisonous and chalk does not dissolve. If injected, chalk can block small blood vessels.
Effects associated with long-term use of heroin include:
Using drugs by injection puts the user at risk for:
Sharing drug supplies, such as needles, pipes, and spoons, can spread tuberculosis, HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. Malnutrition, life on the street, untreated infectious diseases, and dependence on heroin and other drugs all contribute to a decreased resistance to disease and poor health.
Yes. Heroin can harm a developing fetus. Using heroin while pregnant is associated with:
These effects are also caused by poor nutrition, smoking, and inadequate prenatal care. Heroin withdrawal can be dangerous in a pregnant woman. It can lead to spontaneous abortion in the first trimester and premature labour in the third trimester.
The developing fetus is exposed to heroin in the womb. Babies born to regular heroin users may sometimes go into withdrawal. A baby in heroin withdrawal will be irritable, sweaty, and will shake. The baby will have trouble feeding, may vomit, and have diarrhea. Occasionally a baby in severe heroin withdrawal will develop seizures and die. Heroin withdrawal can be treated.
Yes. Heroin is a very addictive drug. The need for heroin develops from repeated use. Addiction, psychological and physical dependence can develop within two or three weeks of regular use. Regular users also become tolerant to heroin.
A person who is addicted to heroin finds it very hard to stop using the drug. Some people who are addicted no longer find the drug pleasurable but need to keep using heroin to prevent withdrawal.
People addicted to heroin must inject the drug every 6 to 12 hours to avoid withdrawal symptoms. Users may become so preoccupied by the powerful need to get heroin to prevent withdrawal that it takes over their daily life.
The severity of symptoms of withdrawal from heroin depends on the:
Symptoms of withdrawal begin within 6 to 12 hours after the last use. It peaks over the next 24 to 48 hours and then subsides after about a week. During this period a person is extremely uncomfortable and has:
Heroin withdrawal is rarely fatal.
Heroin addiction can be treated effectively with methadone, a long acting drug that is taken by mouth. Methadone maintenance treatment prevents heroin withdrawal and reduces or eliminates the cravings.