Category: central nervous system depressant, analgesic, opiate
Chemical name: diacetylmorphine.
- Heroin is derived from morphine. Morphine is extracted from opium which is found in poppy plants. It is sometimes used as a pain reliever by doctors and in hospitals.
- Heroin, as sold on the street, consists of approximately 20-80% pure heroin. By the time the heroin gets to the user, dealers can cut it with all kinds of other substances such as caffeine, sugar, starch or licorice tablets.
- Its appearance varies from crude white powder to yellow brownish chunks to a sticky dark tar.
- It is known for its fast action when injected into a vein. Injecting intramuscularly, smoking or snorting heroin leads to a slower onset and less intense peak.
*Reactions and experiences may vary dramatically from person to person.*
Effects on brain:
- Before it reaches the brain, the liver converts heroin into morphine. This morphine then goes to the brain where it steals the receptors from our natural opiates (endorphins). This activates the events that lead to euphoria and pain relief (analgesia).
- When injected, the drug reaches the brain almost immediately. When smoked or snorted, the drug will take about a minute to reach your brain.
- Since heroin ‘replaces’ the natural endorphins made by the brain, heroin abuse causes a dysfunction in the brain. The brain eventually stops producing its natural endorphins, because it is getting them from an outside source (the heroin).
Effects on body:
- Possible short term effects include reduced pain, pain relief (analgesia), drowsiness, nausea, reduced respiration, itching and burning skin, headaches, constipation, dryness of the mouth, weakened muscular strength, unconsciousness
- Possible long term effects include impaired night vision, malnutrition, physical dependence, sexual dysfunction and loss of sex drive, and missed menstrual cycles for women.
- Sharing equipment (straws, syringes, spoons, pipes etc) can result in transmission of HIV, Hepatitis B and C and other viruses and bacteria.
- Regular and repeated injection can cause abscesses, collapsed veins, infections and other complications. Regular smoking can cause chest pain and breathing difficulties. Regular and repeated snorting can cause serious damage to the nose such as a chapped, runny nose, sinus infections, nose bleeds and developing a hole in the cartilage wall between nostrils.
Effects on behavior:
- Possible short term effects include euphoria, feelings of warmth and well-being, dulled emotional state, reduced appetite, vulnerability, disconnection from reality, and the neglect of personal basic needs such as eating, drinking, hygiene and maintenance of relationships.
- Possible long term effects include unstable mood, depression, preoccupation with craving and getting the next hit.
Addiction: Physical and psychological can occur quickly.
Tolerance: Metabolic, situational and neurological tolerance develops very quickly, making the doses one needs to get the desired effects will quickly increase. Regular users may actually lose all pleasurable effects of the drug, but keep using it to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
Withdrawal Symptoms: Can include diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, stomach cramps, sweating, itching, insomnia, loss of appetite, dehydration and weight loss, flu-like symptoms, muscles spasms. These intense physical symptoms will usually last about 24-72 hours. You will likely experience fatigue for up to another month.
- When addicted, heroin must be taken every 6-12 hours in order to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
- Some chemical substances such as methadone and clonidine can be given to patients to reduce and eliminate withdrawal symptoms.
*Disclaimer! Nothing you do can make using heroin completely safe. All drug use has inherent risks and dangers. The suggestions in this section can only help you reduce some of the associated risks. The best way to avoid the harms related to drug use is to not take the drug at all.*
- Heroin is illegal therefore if you are caught possessing, exchanging, buying or selling this drug it can result in criminal charges.
- Drug use affects the developing mind and body differently than developed ones. Waiting until your mind and body have more fully developed before using substances can have long term health and mental benefits.
- Heroin and its metabolites can be detected in urine for up to 72 hours and in hair samples for as long as the hair has been growing.
- Heroin is extremely addictive, no matter how it is used.
- Overdose is always a risk, even for experienced users. Always do a small amount first, to test the potency.
- Most heroin overdoses occur when heroin is used with other depressants (e.g., alcohol) or after a break of a few days because your tolerance will have decreased.
- Avoid using heroin alone or in a locked room.
- When using in a new place, use a much smaller amount than you are used to. Simply being in a new environment to use heroin will increase its effects because your body is not as prepared as it usually is.
- When injecting, use new, clean syringes and equipment. Prepare your shot on a clean surface. Clean the area you are planning to inject with soap and water or an alcohol pad. You can get clean injection supplies from a syringe exchange, a pharmacy, or your local health department. If you can’t get new needles, try smoking or snorting instead.
- Cleaning needles and works is not risk-free; it’s a last resort. Rinse with cool water 3 times, bleach for 30 seconds, then clean water 3 times.
- Avoid sharing equipment (straws, syringes, spoons) since this could lead to transmission of Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV.
- Know the signs of overdose (no breathing, no pulse, lips, fingertips or skin turning blue, pallor, pinpoint pupils, unresponsive) and call 911 if they appear. Tell the paramedics what the person took so they can give them an antidote.