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What is Heroin?

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

Heroin is a very addictive chemical called diacetylmorphine. Heroin is a modified form of morphine, a highly abundant opium derived from the seedpods of the poppy plant.

Appearance and route of administration of heroin

Heroin is most commonly sold as a white or off-white powder. The color changes from pure white as the level of impurity in the chemical rises. In some areas, heroin is also available as a sticky dark brown or black substance.

Heroin can be taken via several different administration routes and can be injected, snorted or smoked.

Epidemiology of heroin abuse

Data from the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse estimates that nearly 3 million U.S. residents aged 12 and older have used heroin at least once in their lifetime. Initially, school aged children and young adults commonly smoke or snort the drug, under the impression that this is less addictive. In most cases, these individuals move onto using the injectable form of heroin at a later stage.

Effects of heroin

Heroin is one of the most potent and potentially addictive opioids. Some of the short-term effects of heroin use include:

  • Euphoria
  • Alternate alertness and sleepiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Flushing and itching of the skin
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Slowed and laboured breathing

Some of the long-term effects include:

  • Serious addiction that leads to the symptoms of opioid dependence
  • Development of tolerance or an inability to achieve the same "high" as previously with a certain dose leading the addict to increase the dose
  • Raised blood pressure and heart rate
  • Slowed respiration
  • Susceptibility to respiratory tract infections and pneumonia
  • Liver damage
  • Skin infections and abscesses

Risks of heroin use

The risks associated with heroin use include over dose, coma, convulsions, transmission of HIV or hepatitis, death and criminal activity.

Street names of heroin

Some of the common street names of heroin include H, Big H, Capital H, Good H, China white, White junk, Chiva, Boy, Diesel, Dope, Junk, Hell dust, Horse, Mexican horse, Poppy, Smack, Eighth, Mud, Thunder and Train.

Reviewed by , BSc

Further Reading

Last Updated: Nov 18, 2013

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