What is Heroin? Definition, Structure, Abuse and History

Heroin is an opiate categorized as Schedule I on the DEA drug list. Heroin is an opioid analgesic agent initially intended for use in the relief of severe pain associated with surgical procedures, myocardial infarction, or pain in the terminally ill, and for the relief of dyspnea in acute pulmonary edema. Heroin is a narcotic analgesic that may be habit-forming and has led to illicit use and addiction. It is a controlled substance (opium derivative) listed in the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, Title 21 Parts 329.1, 1308.11 (1987). The sale of heroin is forbidden in the United States by Federal statute.  

Heroin is derived from poppy plants and synthesized into a powder or tar-like substance which can then be ingested intravenously through injection or snorted. The medical form of heroin is referred to as diamorphine which is also a controlled substance under Schedules I and IV of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. 

Jump To Section

How Is Heroin Made?

Heroin is a drug that is processed from morphine, which exists naturally in nature within poppy plants. The substance is extracted from the seed pod of certain varieties of poppy plants and then cut and chopped until it’s made into a powder-like substance. After the pure heroin is extracted from poppy plants it is usually mixed with sugars, starches, powdered milk or quinine. Recently, fentanyl has been added to heroin which has made it lethal and led to many overdoses because it is much more powerful than a dose of heroin. 

Heroin is made differently than cocaine even though both are derived from plants, heroin is made from poppy plants whereas cocaine is made from coca leaves.

What Does Heroin Look Like?

Pure heroin is a white powder with a bitter taste. Heroin is usually made in South America, Southeast Asia or Afghanistan and then imported to other countries through illegal smuggling routes. After heroin makes it to America, the drug is most commonly distributed and then cut and mixed with the above-mentioned substances and then bagged and sold in 10 increments that add up to 1 gram. 

Not all heroin looks the same. It comes in several different forms and can be abused in several different ways, including snorting, smoking, and injecting.

  • Fine white powder
  • Brown or black powder
  • Black tar heroin

The Side Effects Of Heroin

Heroin users have described the drug’s high as an intense feeling of well-being. When users inject heroin, they often experience a “rush” from the drug reaching the brain so quickly. The initial intravenous heroin use rush is very short-lived, lasting about 2 minutes. However, as it travels through the bloodstream, the high lasts for 4 to 5 hours. Intravenous users have likened the rush to orgasm in terms of pleasure. The general effects of using Heroin include:

  • Contentment
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Relieved tension
  • Drowsiness
  • Apathy

The effects of heroin can seem harmless to those who are experimenting with the drug despite it producing some dizziness and drowsiness, which in most cases these effects may feel enjoyable. Unlike with substances such as alcohol or Ecstasy, there generally isn’t a hangover or comedown from initial heroin use — which is an attractive benefit to new users and contributes to heroin addiction and abuse.

How Is Heroin Used?

Diamorphine, the prescription drug in the United Kingdom that is the same as heroin and it can be taken in pill form for patients in extreme pain or that suffer from a terminal illness. In the United States, heroin is completely illegal and is only used illicitly. Most users abuse heroin and become addicted to opiates. The drug is most commonly snorted or “shot” once it is mixed with water and injected into a vein with a needle. Injecting heroin with a needle intravenously is the most common way to use heroin but it can also be smoked or snorted. Injecting heroin is the most common way that people use it because it has the strongest effect and is the fastest way to get heroin directly into the bloodstream.

What is Heroin

Chemical Compounds in Heroin

The chemical compounds of heroin are as follows:

(5α,6α)-7,8-Didehydro-4,5-epoxy-17-methylmorphinan-3,6-diol diacetate (ester),3,6-Diacetylmorphine,7,8-Dihydro-4,5-alpha-epoxy-17-methylmorphinan-3,6-alpha-diol diacetate,Diacetylmorphine,Diamorphine,Heroin,O,O’-Diacetylmorphine

Heroin is a small molecule that is categorized as illicit and can be dangerous when used recreationally or misused.

Lifespan Of Heroin In The Human Body

The half-life of heroin means the amount of time that stays in your system before it is fully absorbed. The half-life of heroin is in humans, administered diamorphine has a half-life of approximately two to three minutes.

Heroin Street Names

Common general slang terms for heroin itself include:

  • Diesel
  • Dope
  • Smack
  • H
  • Junk
  • Skag
  • Snow
  • Horse
  • China white
  • Tar
  • Brown
  • Beast
  • Hero

Brand Names For Heroin

Since heroin is produced illegally there are no brand names for heroin other than Diamorphine which is used in the UK for medical purposes.

How Does Heroin Become Activated In The Human Body?

The onset of heroin’s effects is dependent on the method of administration. Taken orally, heroin is totally metabolized in vivo via extensive first-pass metabolism into morphine before crossing the blood-brain barrier; so the effects are the same as orally administered morphine. When heroin is injected, acetyl groups facilitate rapid crossing into the brain causing a euphoric effect. Once the blood-brain barrier is crossed, heroin is rapidly metabolized into morphine by removal of the acetyl groups, therefore making injection the fastest form of delivery for morphine. Once in the central nervous system, the morphine metabolite of heroin binds with opioid receptors and produces the narcotic opioid effects commonly associated with the substance.

The Difference Between Heroin And Other Drugs

Heroin is an opioid analgesic agent used in the relief of severe pain associated with surgical procedures and is different from benzodiazepines which interact with neurotransmitters like gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Opioids are primarily used for the treatment of pain and pain relief whereas benzodiazepines are primarily used for treating anxiety and other mental health disorders. Heroin can be an effective pain reliever but it is also different from prescription painkillers because it is not extended-release and the benefit comes and goes too fast for commercial use. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Heroin

  • How Much Does Heroin Cost?

    Heroin typically is less expensive than pharmaceutical opiates or painkillers which is why it has continued to grow in popularity. Even though it’s completely illegal and unregulated, many times for addicts, heroin is easier to obtain and cheaper to buy. A typical bag of heroin costs $20 and 10 bags equal a gram. A full gram of heroin is many times referred to as a bundle since it includes 10 grams if sold in powder form. If sold in tar form, the numbers are similar but it is usually not broken down into such small increments.

    People with severe Heroin addictions have described purchasing 10 to 15 bags of the drug per day. Following this model of use, an individual would spend between $450 and $1,750 per week and between $22,800 and $92,000 per year on Heroin, depending on the price at which it is bought and how much is ingested. 

  • Why Is Heroin So Widely Abused?

    Once chemically dependent on heroin it is very difficult to get off because the heroin withdrawal symptoms are severe. Heroin is highly addictive and the user can start experiencing withdrawal symptoms as soon as 3 hours after their last use. This makes people that have become chemically dependent on heroin need the drug consistently throughout the day which leads to severe dependency and a lowered quality of life. 

  • What Is the Largest Seizure of Heroin?

    There have been many large drug bests involving heroin. Recently in Ohio, law enforcement seized more than 210 pounds of heroin narcotics including 115,000 pills, nearly half a million in cash, 7 firearms, and 4 vehicles. Another large heroin drug bust occurred recently in the Mount Hope neighborhood of the Bronx which resulted in the seizure of approximately 110 kilograms of heroin.

History Of Heroin

Heroin was discovered through the acetylation of morphine in the late 1800s where it was deemed to be more effective than codeine to treat pain. The Bayer Company started the production of heroin in 1898 for commercial use and it was deemed a medical breakthrough even being coined a “wonder drug”. 20 years later, morphine addicts discovered how euphoric the properties of heroin were and a cycle of abuse started which lasted over 100 years. 

According to statistics published by the government, More than 70,000 Americans died from a drug-involved overdose in 2019, including illicit drugs and prescription opioids. In the same year, Deaths involving fentanyl continued to rise with more than 36,359 overdose deaths reported in 2019.

Heroin Detox and Recovery

Heroin detox can be severe but it is possible to recover from heroin addiction. If you have become chemically dependent on heroin, you may experience withdrawal symptoms but there are treatment protocols that can be followed. Thousands of people overcome heroin addiction every year and take the step towards sobriety. For more information on heroin rehab and recovery, you can start the admissions process today.

https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/data-and-analysis/bulletin/bulletin_1953-01-01_2_page004.html https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11862675/

Find Treatment Near You

Contact NewVista For Addiction Treatment Services