Heroin is an opioid or narcotic analgesic. It is made from a sticky resin secreted by the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum). Heroin is most commonly injected intravenously, but can also be smoked or snorted (alternatively, it can be heated on tin foil and the vapours inhaled, a practice known as "chasing the dragon" or "tooting"). Heroin is made from the opioid morphine (or from the synethetic opioid codeine) by a chemical process. This process produces a white, brown or pink powder or granules. Street heroin is often cut with various additives. Hence it is difficult to know the actual contents or purity of a street deal of heroin.
Heroin's main effects are depressant and euphoric. The initial effect of heroin, experienced immediately after injecting, is a "rush" of intense pleasure and feelings of well-being. This lasts about half an hour and gives way to three to four hours of lethargy. Heroin reduces pain, hunger and libido and slows breathing and pulse rate. Blood pressure decreases and the pupils of the eyes get smaller (or "pinned"). Heavier doses cause a feeling of warmth and sleepiness. Heavy doses can also lead to nausea and vomiting. Overdoses can cause respiratory failure and death. When heroin is taken in combination with other depressant drugs (such as alcohol or benzodiazepines) its effects are magnified as is the risk of overdose.
Long-term heavy use of heroin can lead to a loss of appetite and sex drive, sexual dysfunction, pneumonia and constipation. Pure heroin is relatively non-toxic but is very addictive. Psychological and physical dependence are common results of long-term use and can lead to financial, dietary, lifestyle and health problems. Additives in street heroin can cause health problems including collapsed veins, abscesses and tetanus and even damage to the brain and internal organs.
Dependent users develop a tolerance and need higher doses to achieve the same effects. Withdrawal symptoms are similar to influenza. Babies born to heroin using mothers may be born dependent on heroin.
The side-effects of heroin and other opiates (such as morphine and methadone) include constipation and weaker breathing. However, most of the dangers of heroin come from overdose, and from injecting the drug.
What is sold on the streets as heroin often contains other substances, such as sugar, flour, talcum powder or other drugs. These substances may seem harmless, but when injected can cause huge damage to a person's body, such as blood clots, abscesses and gangrene. The HIV and hepatitis B and C viruses can be spread through sharing injecting equipment. Addiction to heroin is often the result of regular use, especially when injected.
Methadone is used as a heroin replacement drug to treat heroin addiction. It comes in the form of a green liquid, which people drink once a day to keep away the cravings for heroin. The most serious risk from methadone is death by overdose.
Heroin is illegal throughout Europe. Heavy penalties apply to possession and supply of heroin.
Common Street Names
Smack, skag, hammer, H, horse, rock, white, beige, slow, Harry cone, China white.