a powerful, addictive pain-killing drug. It is one of the most-used,
most-rapidly acting, and most addictive of the opiate family,
which includes opium, morphine, and codeine.
are derived from opium, a naturally occurring juice extracted
from the seed pod of certain varieties of poppy (Papaver somniferum
and Papaver setigerum). Heroin or 'diacetylmorphine' is a semi-synthetic
derivative of morphine.
increasingly used in clubland as a chill-out drug and has also
recently become popular on the gay scene. It's relatively cheap
and many smoke it to ease comedown from E, speed or coke.
is a class A illegal substance in the UK, schedule I in the US.
Pure heroin is a white powder with a bitter taste. Street heroin
comes in granule, powder, solution or pill forms and varies in
colour from white to dark brown thanks to additives or impurities
left from the manufacturing process.
the UK often resembles packet chicken soup. In fact, strictly
speaking, it isn't heroin at all - true heroin is a hydrochloride
salt, soluble in water. The brown sold in the UK is diamorphine
base - a product intended mainly for smoking, and is not soluble
Most regular users inject either intravenously (into a vein) or
intra-muscularly (into a muscle, usually the shoulder) after heating
heroin powder in a little water.
heroin that dominates the UK and Dutch - market is insoluble in
water and must be dissolved in acid, usually citric acid from
However, an increasing number of people choose to smoke or snort
lines of heroin, rather than inject.
heroin is heated on foil and the vapour inhaled through a tube
or rolled-up bank note. This is known as 'chasing the dragon'.
Heroin is an opioid - a very powerful painkiller. The body and
the brain are packed with opioid receptors, meant for endorphines,
the body's own natural pain-killing substances produced in emergency
moments of shock or injury.
endorphines and binds rapidly with endorphine receptors, extending
and magnifying their natural painkilling effect. The result is
a surge of pleasurable sensation, or "rush." This rush
is usually accompanied by a warm feeling and a sense of well-being.
The effects are rapid but depend on method on ingestion. Intravenous
injection provides the greatest intensity and most rapid onset
of euphoria (7 to 8 seconds).
injection produces a relatively slow onset (between 5 to 8 minutes).
Sniffing or smoking usually provides peak effects within 10 to
or infrequent users often experience nausea and vomiting.
Once the initial
rush has passed there can be a feeling of heaviness, as though
your bones have melted down into your feet; followed by a feeling
of distance from events around you, as though you've been wrapped
in cotton wool. The result is a comforting glow. Nothing matters.
injection (or inhalation), heroin crosses the blood-brain barrier.
In the brain, heroin is converted to morphine and binds rapidly
to opioid receptors. Abusers typically report feeling a surge
of pleasurable sensation, a "rush."
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 heroin, 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.
initial effects, abusers usually will be drowsy for several hours.
Mental function is clouded by heroin's effect on the central nervous
system. Cardiac functions slow. 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.
Heroin sedates the central nervous system, clouding mental function
and making you feel drowsy for several hours after a dose. You
may appear to be asleep, but actually be awake.
effects of heroin use
myths, heroin is a relatively harmless drug, especially compared
to alcohol or nicotine.
heroin abuse can result in scarred and/or collapsed veins, bacterial
infections of the blood vessels and heart valves, abscesses and
other soft-tissue infections, and liver or kidney disease.
caused by a combination of poor eating and the effects of the
drug on the bowels can lead to haemorrhoids. Addicts can also
suffer from malnutrition because they're never hungry.
One of the
most detrimental long-term effects of heroin is addiction itself.
Addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease, characterized by compulsive
drug seeking and use, and by neurochemical and molecular changes
in the brain. Heroin also produces profound degrees of tolerance
and physical dependence, which are also powerful motivating factors
for compulsive use and abuse.
As with abusers
of any addictive drug, heroin abusers gradually spend more and
more time and energy obtaining and using the drug. Once they are
addicted, the heroin abusers' primary purpose in life becomes
seeking and using drugs. The drugs literally change their brains.
develops with higher doses of the drug. With physical dependence,
the body adapts to the presence of the drug and withdrawal symptoms
occur if use is reduced abruptly. Withdrawal may occur within
a few hours after the last time the drug is taken. Symptoms of
withdrawal include restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia,
diarrhea, vomiting, cold sweats with goose bumps ("cold turkey"),
and leg movements. Major withdrawal symptoms peak between 24 and
48 hours after the last dose of heroin and subside after about
a week. However, some people have shown persistent withdrawal
signs for many months. Heroin withdrawal is never fatal to otherwise
healthy adults, but it can cause death to the fetus of a pregnant
At some point
during continuous heroin use, a person can become addicted to
the drug. Sometimes addicted individuals will endure many of the
withdrawal symptoms to reduce their tolerance for the drug so
that they can again experience the rush.
and the emergence of withdrawal symptoms were once believed to
be the key features of heroin addiction. We now know this may
not be the case entirely, since craving and relapse can occur
weeks and months after withdrawal symptoms are long gone. We also
know that patients with chronic pain who need opiates to function
(sometimes over extended periods) have few if any problems leaving
opiates after their pain is resolved by other means. This may
be because the patient in pain is simply seeking relief of pain
and not the rush sought by the addict.
Medical complications of chronic heroin use
of chronic heroin use include scarred and/or collapsed veins,
bacterial infections of the blood vessels and heart valves, abscesses
(boils) and other soft-tissue infections, and liver or kidney
disease. Lung complications (including various types of pneumonia
and tuberculosis) may result from the poor health condition of
the abuser as well as from heroin's depressing effects on respiration.
Many of the additives in street heroin may include substances
that do not readily dissolve and result in clogging the blood
vessels that lead to the lungs, liver, kidneys, or brain. This
can cause infection or even death of small patches of cells in
vital organs. Immune reactions to these or other contaminants
can cause arthritis or other rheumatologic problems.
sharing of injection equipment or fluids can lead to some of the
most severe consequences of heroin abuse - infections with hepatitis
B and C, HIV, and a host of other blood-borne viruses, which drug
abusers can then pass on to their sexual partners and children.
The biggest risk is death from overdose. It's impossible to judge
the purity of street heroin. Many accidental overdoses have occurred
when a batch of particularly pure heroin is released onto the
streets, overwhelming the built-up tolerances of regular users.
snorting, rather than injecting, reduces the chance of OD'ing
but does not eliminate it.
on the central nervous system. The heartbeat slows. The breathing
is dramatically slowed. Consciousness may be lost. Any of these
effects can be fatal if the dose is too high.
on purity and the user, a lethal dose of heroin may range from
200 to 500mg, but hardened addicts have survived doses of 1800mg
street heroin there is no absolutely certain "safe dosage".
It depends on tolerance, amount and purity taken.
Overdose can occur when a dose taken is greater than that you're
used to. A tolerable dose for an addict could be fatal to a first-time
Take a little
to begin with and wait.
to heroin in particular is quickly acquired. Even occasional weekend
users need to take more to get the same effect over time.
tolerance can drop. Some users have overdosed on their 'regular
dose', after just a few week's break.
Making and selling illegal drugs is not a precise science. Often
drugs from the same dealer and batch have varying strengths. The
active ingredient need not necessarily be evenly mixed in. If
it's a powder, chop it through. If it's in a bottle, shake it
users can be caught out by a different level of purity in a sample
and accidentally overdose
risk of overdose
There is clear evidence that death from heroin-related overdose
is rarely instantaneous and therefore an overdose is not automatically
can lessen the chances of a fatal OD, and steps that can be taken
to help someone who's OD'ing.
* never using
heroin when you're alone, particularly behind a locked door
* never mix heroin with any other drugs
* always source from a trusted dealer (if you're buying from a
new source, always take a small amount first)
We strongly advise you not to inject heroin.
has two main safety problems: the transmission of HIV and other
diseases (especially Hepatitis B & C) through sharing needles,
and the dangers of injecting crap under your skin.
of London's drug users are HIV-positive
50% have Hepatitis B
80-90% have Hepatitis C
As a rule,
never share needles. Sharing equipment just isn't worth the risk.
Clean works are available free from Needle Exchanges and some
Heroin is often cut with as nutmeg, sucrose, starch, caffeine,
chalk, powdered milk, flour, talcum powder.
of these substances are dangerous themselves, when injected they
can cause chronic problems such as itchy and inflamed skin and
veins. The powder solution injected is also likely to contain
While its addictiveness has been much exaggerated, heroin remains
a highly habit forming substance.
One dose of
heroin will not make you an addict. An estimated 25 to 40% of
street users are not physically dependent. There are plenty of
regular users who set strict limits on their heroin-use and do
not become addicts.
is highly physically addictive, more so than morphine, and on
a par with nicotine. Regularity of use is as important as the
amount in the development of addiction.
things, the body quickly builds a tolerance to the drug. Long
term, larger and larger doses are needed to achieve the same effect.
tolerance also appears to be partially related to the environment
where the drug is taken. Studies have shown that users who take
heroin in an unusual or different place to normal are more likely
why this should be, but one theory is that the bodies of addicts
who go to the same location to take the drug every time become
conditioned to taking it there: their body gears up for what's
to come and therefore they have a higher tolerance in that location.
When they shoot up somewhere else, their body hasn't prepared
itself and they overdose. This, however, is only speculation.
with other drugs
a bad mixer and will only make the chances of unconsciousness,
vomiting and choking greater. Only 21% of fatal overdoses in a
recent Australian survey came about through using heroin on its
there have been very few scientific studies into the effects of
combining psychoactive drugs. The information presented here is
anecdotal. It is based on the subjective reports of experienced
users. Different people will respond differently to different
drugs and drug combination. Know your body.
alcohol and heroin both depress the central nervous system. The
combination has proven fatal
mixing uppers and downers is not good; speed's stimulant effects
may mask the opiate effects of heroin and make overdoses more
mixing the two (known as a 'speedball') is especially dangerous;
the two drugs potentiate each other, increasingly their effectiveness
twofold. The cocaine acts as a powerful stimulant raising the
heartbeat but its effects wear off quickers than heroin which
in turn slows the heart. As a result, the heart can lose rhythm
entirely. John Belushi and River Pheonix both died after taking
effects may mask opiate effects of heroin and make overdose easier
GHB is a liquid sedative anaesthetic; mixing it with heroin could
fatally depress the central nervous system
drugs mess with the effects of opiates, making them unpredictable
and usually unpleasant