What is heroin?

Heroin is an illegal opiate drug that is derived from morphine. “Opiates” is a term used to describe narcotic opioid alkaloids that are derived from the opium poppy plant in both natural and semisynthetic forms. Its properties can vary and can be sold in the form of a white or brown powder, or as a blackish-brown tar-like substance.

What makes heroin so dangerous?

Pure heroin is slowly becoming more common, but heroin is still often ‘cut’ with other substances as filler. Some of these fillers are sometimes relatively harmless, like that of sugar or powdered milk. Unfortunately this is not always the case, and street heroin is commonly cut with substances that are dangerously poisonous unbeknownst to the user. Because heroin users are rarely aware of the actual strength and true contents of the heroin they are using, this poses a serious risk of heroin overdose and possible death. If that’s not enough, those who inject heroin run the risk of contacting and transmitting HIV and other diseases when needles and injection equipment are shared.

How can heroin be administered?

Heroin can be snorted, smoked or injected (either intravenously or intramuscularly). Out of all the ways in which heroin can be administered, intravenous injection offers the most intense high and most rapid onset of the drug (approximately 7-8 seconds).

Why is heroin abused?

Heroin is very potent, highly addictive and extremely fast acting. Upon entering the bloodstream, heroin heads straight for the brain and completely takes it over. Heroin feels amazing for the user for a while. It produces an intense high that makes the user worry-free and experience a powerful sense of wellbeing. Once this high passes, however, negative and often debilitating symptoms begin to appear, prompting the user to get high again as soon as possible.

Why is heroin so addictive?

Like all substance dependencies, heroin addiction is caused by a user’s compulsive need to use the drug in order to function normally. Since the high is so short and the effects are so intense, users are very susceptible to becoming physically dependent on the drug. They are in constant search of the ultimate high. This behaviour often leads to heroin tolerance and addiction.

What does heroin do to the brain and nervous system?

Opiates affect many parts of the brain and nervous system in several ways. Shortly after heroin in injected or inhaled, it crosses the blood-brain barrier. The heroin then converts itself into morphine and binds to and stimulates the opioid receptors found in the brain, which often produces the ‘rush’ that many heroin users describe. Opiates affect the limbic system, the section of the brain that controls emotion, and increases feelings of pleasure as a result. Opiates also affect the brain stem, which is responsible for regulating and controlling the body’s automatic functions. This can result in such things as depressed breathing. Furthermore, opiates block the pain receptors of the spinal cord, producing a feeling of invincibility and significantly higher pain thresholds for the user. As the heroin begins to wear off, cardiac functions start to slow down and brain function becomes clouded by the depressive effect that the drug has on the body’s central nervous system. Regular heroin use causes the number of opioid receptors in the brain to reduce significantly.

What are the short-term side effects of heroin?

Short-term side effects of heroin use can include an intense high with a very rapidonset, nausea, vomiting, mental confusion, sweating, itchiness, analgesia, constricted pupils, depressed breathing, slurred speech, slowed heart rate, slowed breathing, sedation, a feeling of warmth, drowsiness, a powerful sense of wellbeing and dreamlike state.

What are the long-term side effects of heroin?

As mentioned above, long-term heroin use often leads to a significant reduction of opioid receptors in the brain. This causes the user to need greater amounts of the drug to achieve the same high, which increases the severity of the health consequences associated with heroin use and can often lead to tolerance, physical dependencies and an increased risk of heroin overdose. There are many, many symptoms and negative health consequences associated with heroin use, especially in the long-term. Symptoms of long-term heroin use can include collapsed veins, pneumonia, organ damage, malnutrition, skin infections, cognitive impairments, track marks (injection scars) and infectious blood diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C.

What are the symptoms of a heroin overdose?

Overdosing on heroin can easily be fatal. Symptoms of a heroin overdose can include shallow breathing, convulsions, extremely constricted pupils, coma, cold or clammy skin. A heroin overdose can often be prevented with an injected dose of naloxone, which works to counteract the life-threatening depression of the nervous system that is associated with a heroin or morphine overdose. Unfortunately, in many cases of overdosing on heroin or morphine, users die before health care workers arrive on the scene in time to administer the drug.

What is a heroin withdrawal like?

Symptoms of heroin withdrawal can include nausea, depression, yawning, excessive sweating, vomiting, diarrhea, anxiety, headaches, stomach cramps, restlessness, muscle aches and pains and/or runny nose.

What effects does heroin use have on pregnancy?

Women who use heroin during pregnancy increase the risk of causing low birth weights, possible miscarriages, infant opiate addiction, obstetric complications, abnormal fetal growth and run the risk of transmitting various blood diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C to the baby.

What heroin treatment options are available?

Heroin addicts have several treatment options available to them. Not only are there 12 step support groups to take advantage of, but opiate replacement medications, such as methadone or buprenorphine, medical detoxification programs and psychological addiction treatment programs are available across the globe.