Heroin is an illegal, highly addictive drug. It is both the most abused and the most rapidly acting of the opiates. Heroin is processed from morphine, a naturally occurring substance extracted from the seed pod of certain varieties of poppy plants.
It usually appears as a white or brown powder. Street names for the drug include “smack,” “H,” “skag,” and “junk.” Other names may refer to types of heroin produced in a specific geographical area, such as “Mexican black tar.”
Heroin is a highly addictive drug, and its use is a serious problem. It is both the most abused and the most rapidly acting of the opiates. It is typically sold as a white or brownish powder or as the black sticky substance known on the streets as “black tar heroin.”
Although purer heroin is becoming more common, most street heroin is “cut” with other drugs or with substances such as sugar, starch, powdered milk, or quinine. Street heroin can also be cut with strychnine or other poisons. Both new and experienced users risk overdosing on this drug because it is impossible for them to know the purity of the drug they are using. (Heroin sold on the street often is mixed with other substances such as sugar, starch, or quinine. An added risk results when the drug is mixed with poisons such as strychnine.) Heroin overdoses–which can result whether the drug is snorted, smoked, or injected–can cause slow and shallow breathing, convulsions, coma, and even death.
The drug is usually injected, sniffed/snorted, or smoked. Typically, a heroin abuser may inject up to four times a day. Intravenous injection provides the greatest intensity and most rapid onset of euphoria (7 to 8 seconds), while intramuscular injection produces a relatively slow onset of euphoria (5 to 8 minutes). When this drug is sniffed or smoked, peak effects are usually felt within 10 to 15 minutes. Although smoking and sniffing the drug do not produce a “rush” as quickly or as intensely as intravenous injection.
Short term effects of heroin
Soon after injection (or inhalation), heroin crosses the blood-brain barrier. In the brain, the substance is converted to morphine and binds rapidly to opioid receptors. Abusers typically report feeling a surge of pleasurable sensation, a “rush.” The intensity of the rush is a function of how much drug is taken and how rapidly the drug enters the brain and binds to the natural opioid receptors. Heroin is particularly addictive because it enters the brain so rapidly. With this drug, the rush is usually accompanied by a warm flushing of the skin, dry mouth, and a heavy feeling in the extremities, which may be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and severe itching.
After the initial effects, abusers usually will be drowsy for several hours. Mental function is clouded by heroin’s effect on the central nervous system. Cardiac function slows. Breathing is also severely slowed, sometimes to the point of death. Heroin overdose is a particular risk on the street, where the amount and purity of the drug cannot be accurately known.
The same way that freebase is used, namely, by placing the substance in a glass pipe (or hash pipe) with a fine mesh screen under it, then heating it and inhaling the vapors.
Heroin Long term effects
Heroin abuse is associated with serious health conditions, including fatal overdose, spontaneous abortion, and—particularly in users who inject the drug—infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS and hepatitis. Chronic users may develop collapsed veins, infection of the heart lining and valves, abscesses, and liver or kidney disease. Pulmonary complications, including various types of pneumonia, may result from the poor health of the abuser as well as from heroin’s depressing effects on respiration. In addition to the effects of the drug itself, street heroin often contains toxic contaminants or additives that can clog blood vessels leading to the lungs, liver, kidneys, or brain, causing permanent damage to vital organs.
As higher doses are used over time, physical dependence and addiction develop. With physical dependence, the body has adapted to the presence of the drug and withdrawal symptoms may occur if use is reduced or stopped. Withdrawal, which in regular abusers may occur as early as a few hours after the last administration, produces drug craving, restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea and vomiting, cold flashes with goose bumps (“cold turkey”), kicking movements (“kicking the habit”), and other symptoms. Major withdrawal symptoms peak between 48 and 72 hours after the last does and subside after about a week. Sudden withdrawal by heavily dependent users who are in poor health can be fatal.
Treatment of Heroin Addiction
The first step in overcoming heroin addiction is drug detox – the process of cleansing the body of the harmful toxins found in heroin. There are two primary types of heroin detox – natural and medical. With natural detox, the individual goes “cold turkey”, ceasing intake of the drug entirely and allow their body to readjust. This method can bring about very uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms that often lead to relapse.
Those individuals who are fearful of heavy withdrawal symptoms may choose medical detox. The most common form of medical heroin detox is methadone treatment. Methadone is a synthetic opiate given in gradually smaller and smaller doses until the individual has overcome their physical heroin addiction. The main benefit of methadone detox is the reduced withdrawal symptoms during this particular type of detox treatment.