What Is Heroin?

Perhaps one of the most infamous drugs on the streets today, heroin is a DEA Schedule I substance. It has “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” An opioid, heroin, is highly addictive and can be extremely detrimental to a user’s mental and physical health. This overview should give you a complete understanding of heroin, where it comes from, what it is, and other important information about the substance and its use.

The Historical Background of Heroin

Heroin’s historical background is a bit convoluted, as it begins with opium, derived from opium poppies and used as far back as 3400 BCE by Persians and Egyptians. Its pain-relieving qualities were recognized in Europe and the United States in the 18th century, but physicians soon discovered just how addictive opium was.

To try to get the pain-relieving qualities of the substance without the detrimental effects, researchers synthesized morphine and codeine from opium in the early 19th century. Unfortunately, morphine proved to be just as addictive as opium, and by the mid-19th century, physicians were looking to synthesize a substance that would not be as addictive, and that would help morphine abusers get off the drug.

While it has no accepted medical value today, heroin was first synthesized in 1874 by a chemist in England to stop morphine abuse. Unfortunately, it, too, was found to be highly addictive, and users moved from abusing morphine to abusing heroin.

Details – How Is Heroin Used?

Heroin can be used in a number of ways, including:

  • Snorting
  • Smoking
  • Injection

Though injection is the most direct route, both snorting and smoking heroin will also deliver the substance to the brain very quickly. This fast delivery time, and the instant gratification that goes along with it, is believed to be a major factor in heroin’s high addiction risk and its incredible health risks.

Street Names for Heroin

Some of the most common street names you will hear for heroin include:

  • Horse
  • Smack
  • H
  • Skag
  • White horse
  • China white
  • Dope
  • Brown sugar
  • Mud
  • Junk

Side Effects of Using Heroin

Heroin has numerous side effects and damaging effects on the body and brain. Some of the most common acute, temporary side effects include:

  • Drowsiness and/or sedation
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Coordination impairment
  • Confusion
  • Breathing problems

Other health risks include:

  • Constipation
  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Contracting hepatitis, HIV, and other bloodborne pathogens
  • Addiction
  • Overdose

When heroin travels through the bloodstream to the brain, the body converts it back into morphine, and the brain’s opioid receptors take it up. Heroin use affects the brain dramatically, as these receptors are also linked to the brain’s pain and reward perception centers.

An overdose of heroin will almost always result in the depression of the body’s breathing functions, causing the user to stop breathing, or causing their breathing to slow dramatically. Even a non-fatal heroin overdose can result in long-term effects, such as brain damage or coma.

What Does the High From Heroin Feel Like?

Heroin users report having a state of complete euphoria and relaxation. Some have hallucinations, but most report that the experience is very tactile. The sense of touch is far more intense, but many users will nod off and dream for most of the experience.

Though the high of heroin is very intense and pleasurable to most users, it is important to keep in mind just how dangerous this drug is. Heroin is one of the deadliest of all Schedule I substances and should not be used recreationally.

  • Answered by:
  • Published: 10/06/2021
  • Updated: 03/14/2023
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