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Heroin
Basics
by Erowid
DESCRIPTION #
Heroin is a semi-synthetic opiate derived from morphine. Intravenously-injected heroin causes a rush of powerful euphoria lasting a few minutes, followed by sedation lasting a few hours. When injected IM or insufflated, there is a slower onset and a less intense peak of effects.

Heroin is primarily produced in Colombia, Mexico, Southeast Asia (especially Burma), and Afghanistan. Depending on how it is processed, it ranges from a thick sticky "black tar" to a brown, tan, or white powder. Street material varies greatly in potency from as high as 95% purity to as low as 5 or 10% purity. Heroin is most commonly injected (intravenously, intramuscularly, or subcutaneously), smoked, or insufflated (snorted).
Dose depends greatly on the purity of the heroin and level of tolerance. Common IV doses generally fall between 5 and 10 mg; smoked heroin doses may range from 15 to 25 mg. Heroin users typically use small quantities of new material to determine potency and reduce the risk of overdose.
Price #
According to the United Nations Office of Drug Control, in 2005 heroin cost between $40 and $350 per gram retail in the United States, while the price in the United Kingdom was much lower at about $27 per gram.
Heroin is illegal to possess and sell in the United States (Schedule I) and in most other countries.
The chemical name for heroin is diacetylmorphine (C21H23NO5). It is a semi-synthetic opiate made by extracting morphine from the opium produced by opium poppies and then acetylating the morphine into diacetylmorphine (heroin).
Pharmacology #
Heroin itself is believed to be inactive, but after administration it is rapidly metabolized into the mu-opioid agonists 6-monoacetylmorphine and morphine. Heroin delivers a more intense "rush" and more potent analgesia than morphine, probably because it crosses the blood-brain barrier more rapidly. It is also more soluble in water than morphine, and forms a more concentrated solution. Smoking yields rapid delivery, but relatively low bioavailability as a considerable amount of the drug is destroyed in combustion.
Production #
Production Summary Needed.
Opiates have been used for thousands of years for their euphoric and analgesic effects. Heroin was first synthesized in 1874 by English chemist C.R. Wright. But its commercial value was first recognized in 1897 by Heinrich Dreser and Felix Hoffman at the Bayer pharmaceutical laboratory -- the same researchers who invented aspirin, which is is made by a similar process. Heroin was intended to be a less-addictive substitute for other common opiates.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, heroin was common in over-the-counter medicines, but it was made illegal in the United States in 1924 through the Heroin Act. In the second half of the twentieth century, heroin was widely stigmatized as the quintessential illicit drug, as images of urban heroin addicts were propagated by media reports.
Terminology / Slang #
The Substance:
Heroin; Dope; Smack; Junk; Horse; H; Chiva.
The Experience:
No common terms known.
EFFECTS #
The effects of heroin vary greatly depending on the quality of material, route of administration, the person, and the dose. Possible effects may include feelings of euphoria and well-being, relaxation, sedation, and analgesia. Negative effects may include nausea or vomiting (sometimes severe), constipation, dizziness, and blackout.
Onset #
Intravenous injection can produce strong effects in as little as 3-5 seconds. Smoking produces milder effects within 5-15 seconds. Intramuscular and subcutaneous injection produce a more gradual onset in 5-10 minutes. Insufflated heroin produces effects within 2-10 minutes. Oral use can take 60-90 minutes to produce effects.
Duration #
When injected intravenously, smoked, or insufflated, heroin produces a wash of euphoria followed by a period of sedation lasting for 2-4 hours. Intramuscular and subcutaneous injection typically lack the initial wave of intense euphoria, and cause feelings of sedation lasting three to five hours.
Visual Effects #
Visuals Summary Needed.
PROBLEMS #
Heroin use can cause death by respiratory failure. Several factors can increase the risk of overdose, including the strong tolerance effects that develop with repeated use. Tolerance effects wear off over time, and users who take a break may find that a previously-safe dose is now dangerously large. The purity of street heroin is also highly variable (and may have risen in recent years) and users often do not know how much heroin they are taking.

Street heroin is frequently impure, and some adulterants are dangerous. Several hundred heroin users died in 2006 in the U.S. after unwittingly taking heroin cut with fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opiate.

Repeatedly snorting heroin can cause severe damage to the nose, especially with long term exposure. Smoking heroin can cause breathing difficulties.

Contraindications #
  • Do not operate heavy machinery. Do Not Drive.
  • Heavy or frequent opiate use during pregnancy may cause dependence in the fetus, who may undergo withdrawal after birth. It has also been associated with lower birth weight and increased infant mortality.
Addiction Potential #
One of the most problematic aspects of heroin is that it causes rapid tolerance and physical dependence. In combination with its euphoric effects, this leads many people to become addicted, having difficulty controlling their own use. Once physically dependent, discontinuation generally causes extremely unpleasant (but not life-threatening) withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, insomnia, diarrhea, and sweating.
Long Term Health Problems #
Major problems associated with repeated recreational use of heroin include loss of interest in other activities (a type of anhedonia), increase in amount of pain medications (especially opiates) needed for medical purposes, and side problems from over use of central nervous system depressants. The most commonly described long term problems associated with heroin are addiction, physical dependence, and compulsive behaviors related to addiction. Those addicted to heroin will often have lasting health complications not from the direct pharmacological effects of the drug itself, but from injuries, diseases, and traumas that occured as a result of intoxication and willingness to engage in risky behavior while high, to achieve the heroin high, or to acquire the substance.

Intra-Venous (IV) drug use can lead to exposure to viral hepatitis and other serious, life-threatening diseases, injection site infections, collapsed and scarred/hardened veins, damage to heart, and related issues. Other health problems associated with recurring use of heroin are: insomnia, depression, weight gain, and general health decline with worsening diet. Another major problem is that strong physical addiction and unreliable access to the drug can result in withdrawal symptoms, including shaking, an overwhelming feeling of anxiety, physical discomfort or pain, inability to sleep, use of other sedatives and depressants to reduce the severity of the withdrawal symptoms, diarrhea, cold flashes, and a strong desire to find and take any opiate of any quality.
Risk of Death #
All methods of using heroin have resulted in deaths from depressed breathing and general autonomic suppression from overdoses. Risks of death from using heroin are substantially worse when heroin is injected. Intra-Venous (IV) use of heroin results in fatalities from allergic reactions to contaminants, injection-site infections, and overdoses associated with large variations in concentration of heroin in the materials uses. Some harm reduction organizations strongly advocate that heroin users switch to smoking it to avoid IV-specific risks.
CAUTION & DISCLAIMER #
Erowid Basics pages are summaries of data gathered from site visitors, government documents, books, websites, and other resources. We do our best to keep this information correct and up-to-date, but the field is complex and constantly changing. Information should always be verified through multiple sources.