Heroin: Addiction, Effects, Overdose & Withdrawal

Heroin is an illegal drug that is made from morphine, which is a natural substance extracted from the seed of the opium poppy plant. Heroin is considered an opiate, but delivers a much stronger effect than opium or morphine. Heroin is highly addictive drug used as an analgesic and as a recreational drug. It can be sniffed, snorted, injected and smoked.

Heroin: Addiction, Effects, Overdose & Withdrawal

What is Heroin?

Pronounced as /ˈhɛrəʊɪn/

Heroin is an illegal drug that is made from morphine, which is a natural substance extracted from the seed of the opium poppy plant. Heroin is considered an opiate, but delivers a much stronger effect than opium or morphine. Heroin is highly addictive drug used as an analgesic and as a recreational drug. It can be sniffed, snorted, injected and smoked.

In 1898, Bayer, a German pharmaceutical company was able to produce a drug that is 1.5 to 2 times much stronger than morphine. The head of Bayer’s research department was the one who reputedly coined the new name “heroin” based on the German word heroisch which means strog and heroic. While they were said not to be the first ones to make heroin, Bayer was the company that led the commercialization of the drug.

Heroin was first marketed as a treatment for tuberculosis and as a “non-addictive” treatment for morphine. Ironically, morphine was also used to treat opium addiction is the 1850’s. When people started to get addicted to morphine, heroin was introduced but was subsequently proven as a more addictive alternative.


What are the other names of heroin?

Heroin is also known by the following names:

  • Diacetylmorphine
  • Diacetylmorphine Hydrochloride
  • Diagesil
  • Diamorf
  • Diamorphine
  • Heroin
  • Heroin Hydrochloride
  • Hydrochloride, Diacetylmorphine
  • Hydrochloride, Heroin
  • Min-I-Jet Morphine Sulphate

What are the street names of heroin?

Heroin is known in the streets by different names, depending on the area or what it is mixed with.

Here are some street names for heroin.

  • Big H
  • Birdie Powder
  • Black
  • Black Eagle
  • Black Pearl
  • Black Stuff
  • Black Tar
  • Boy
  • Brown
  • Brown Crystal
  • Brown Rhine
  • Brown Sugar
  • Brown Tape
  • Chiba
  • Chieva
  • China White
  • Chiva
  • Dope
  • Dragon
  • H
  • He
  • Hera
  • Hero
  • Heron
  • Herone
  • Horse
  • Junk
  • Mexican Brown
  • Mexican Horse
  • Mexican Mud
  • Mud
  • Number 2
  • Number 3
  • Number 4
  • Number 8
  • Pluto
  • Sack
  • Scag
  • Scat
  • Skag
  • Skunk
  • Smack
  • Snow
  • Snowball
  • Tar
  • White
  • White Boy
  • White Girl
  • White Horse
  • White Lady
  • White Nurse
  • White Stuff
  • Witch Hazel

Spanish words for the drug include:

  • Bombita
  • Brea
  • Blanco
  • Bonita
  • Caballo
  • Calbo
  • Carga
  • Carne
  • Chapopote
  • Chatarra
  • Chicle
  • Cocofan
  • Gato Heroina
  • La Buena
  • La Chiva
  • Polvo
  • Tecata
  • Tigre
  • Tigre Blanco
  • Tigre del Norte
  • Vidrio
  • Zoquete

What does heroin look like?

The pure heroin looks like a white powder with a bitter taste. It is often mixed or cut with other substances such as sugars, starch, quinine or powdered milk. It can also be brownish in hue.

Heroin can also appear in black color which is more popularly referred to as black tar heroin. Black tar can be sticky or hard as coal. The black color is a result of crude processing methods that leaves impurities in the drug. When heroin is not pure, it is usually diluted and injected into the body.

What is heroin used for?

Heroin has been used as a recreational drug for many years. Heroin use in the United States have dramatically increased especially because of the opioid crisis, with 80% of heroin users admitting that they have started drug use with prescription opioids. When prescription painkillers were regulated, many opioid addicts switched to heroin which is a much cheaper and stronger alternative.

Like other types of opioids, heroin is a painkiller. It is considered as a Schedule I drug in the United States drug meaning it has no accepted medical use. Historically, it was used to alleviate acute pain including severe physical trauma, chronic pain, post-surgical pain or pain caused by end-stage cancer or terminal illnesses.

How does heroin work?

Heroin works by entering the brain rapidly and binding to the opioid receptors on cells. It activates the release of the neurotransmitter/hormone dopamine that controls the pleasure center of the brain. This is why heroin use, like other opioids, can give a feeling of well-being. Heroin users report a surge of pleasure immediately after taking the drug. However, users would usually feel drowsy or mentally confused for several hours after taking the drug.

How strong is heroin?

Heroin is two to five times stronger than morphine. It has the potential to enter the bloodstream very quickly making the effect very instantaneous.  Heroin can produce a rapid feeling of high especially when snorted or injected.

Compared to other prescription opioids like oxycodone and hydrocodone, the effect of heroin is much stronger. This is also the reason why opioid addicts switch to heroin, because they can get a much stronger high at a cheaper cost.

How does heroin use affect the brain and the body?

Being a strong painkiller, heroin provides similar effects as other opioids, albeit much stronger. Heroin can have different effects on the person depending on the dose or what it is mixed with.

A small dose of heroin can give a warm and fuzzy feeling while a larger dose can make you relaxed or feel drowsy.  For some people, the first dose of heroin can make them dizzy or make them vomit.

What are the short and long-term effects of heroin?

Aside from the feelings of pleasure and the painkiller effect, there are other short-term and long-term effects associated with meth use.

Short-term effects:  

  • dry mouth
  • warm flushing of the skin
  • heavy feeling in the arms and legs
  • nausea and vomiting
  • severe itching
  • clouded mental functioning
  • going “on the nod,” a back-and-forth state of being conscious and semiconscious

Long-term effects:

  • Abscesses
  • Collapsed or Clogged Veins
  • Constipation and Stomach Cramping
  • Damaged Tissue Inside the Nose for People Who Sniff or Snort It
  • Digestive Issues
  • Heart or Circulatory Infections
  • Hypoxia – Low Oxygen in The Blood
  • Infection of the Heart Lining and Valves
  • Insomnia
  • Irregular Menstrual Cycles for Women
  • Liver Damage and Disease
  • Lung Complications, Including Pneumonia
  • Mental Cloudiness or Cognitive Damage
  • Mental and Antisocial Personality Disorder
  • People Who Use Heroin Over the Long Term May Develop:
  • Sexual Dysfunction for Men
  • Sleep Disorders and Fatigue

How does one get addicted to heroin?

Because of is potent, powerful effects, heroin is considered a highly addictive drug. Repeated use of heroin can lead to dependence and addiction.

After the rise of the opioid crisis, many heroin users used to be prescription opioid users who transitioned to a stronger street drug.

How long does heroin stay in your system, blood, urine, saliva, hair?

If you are to undergo a drug test, you may be wondering how long heroin stays in your system.

  • Blood test: 6 Hours
  • Urine test: 2-7 Days
  • Saliva test: 5 Hours
  • Hair test: 90 Days

Why is heroin dangerous?

Heroin is a very dangerous drug because an overdose can lead to respiratory failure, coma and even death. If it is taken with other drugs or alcohol, the risk of overdose is higher. In recent years, there have been a rise in overdose deaths.

Another danger is that heroin is also being made much stronger than before. While it has always been mixed with other substances to extend the product and get more profits, many heroin manufacturers are now focusing on making it much stronger. May heroin sold in the streets are mixed with Fentanyl or Carfentanil – both very powerful drugs. Fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin while Carfentanil is 100 times stronger. Carfentanil is actually used as tranquilizers for large animals like elephants!

What causes heroin overdose?

Large doses of heroin can lead to overdose and even death. When you acquire heroin from the streets, you are not really sure of what you are getting and how strong the effect will be on your body. Furthermore, if the heroin you took was laced with other drugs such as Fentanyl, it can be so strong which can lead to an instant overdose.

Regular users of heroin could develop tolerance to the drug and seeking a higher dose would be a natural recourse to get the same feeling of euphoria as before.

What are the signs of heroin overdose?

When someone is suffering from a heroin overdose, respiratory failure could occur. This means breathing can be slowed down or even stopped. Other symptoms include:

  • Blue lips and fingernails
  • Coma
  • Delirium
  • Disorientation
  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Tiny pupils
  • Weak pulse and low blood pressure

How do you to treat heroin overdose?

Like other opioid overdose scenarios, a heroin overdose can be treated by giving Naloxene right away. Naloxene blocks the effects of heroin and other opioids. It is available as a nasal spray, injectable, or hand-held auto injector.

While Naloxene is a good first-aid treatment, a person who suffered from an overdose must be brought to the emergency room to seek medical help for additional support.

What are the withdrawal symptoms from heroin?

After heroin use, withdrawal symptoms may occur after a few hours after the drug is last taken, peaking 24 to 48 hours after use. These symptoms may last for a week but some may continue to experience symptoms after a few months.

Withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Cold Flashes
  • Diarrhea
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle and Bone Pain
  • Restlessness
  • Vomiting

How can you treat heroin addiction?

Heroin addiction is treatable. There are different proven treatment modalities that can help you today.

If you or a loved one is struggling with heroin abuse, it is important to speak to a professional to discuss your options. Please contact Lighthouse Treatment Center today to learn more about a safe and effective way to recover from heroin

We are happy to provide a no-cost, no-obligation consultation with one of our experienced treatment advisors. Help is available today.