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Heroin FAQ

Posted in Heroin Addiction Treatment on November 1, 2016
Last modified on April 26th, 2019

Heroin was once seen as a hardcore street drug that users shot up in back alleys. Now it’s more widely available and less costly than prescription opiates. Heroin is a mainstream drug that’s fueling an opioid epidemic. If you have questions about heroin, we can help you find the answers.

1. Where Does Heroin Come From?

Heroin is derived from morphine. This substance occurs naturally in the seed pods of opium poppy plants. Most heroin comes from:

  • Mexico
  • South America
  • Southwest Asia
  • Southeast Asia

2. How Is Heroin Made?

The seed pod of a poppy plant creates a sticky substance that can be extracted. This extracted substance is called morphine. Morphine is mixed with acetic anhydride to create heroin. The heroin is then purified using a chemical or mechanical method.

3. Is Heroin Natural or Synthetic?

Heroin is considered semi-synthetic. It’s derived from morphine, a natural substance, but it’s made via a synthetic process, with chemicals.

4. What Are Street Names for Heroin?

  • Big H
  • Black tar
  • Brown sugar
  • China white
  • H
  • Hell dust
  • Horse
  • Junk
  • Mexican mud
  • Skag
  • Smack
  • Thunder
  • White lady (or white boy, girl, or nurse)
  • White stuff

5. How Do People Use Heroin?

Heroin can be injected, smoked or snorted. Smoking heroin delivers the drug to the brain faster than any other method. Snorting the drug delivers a large portion to the brain. Injecting (shooting) heroin delivers the entire dose to the brain. This is the most dangerous way to consume the drug. High-purity heroin is usually smoked or snorted. Lower-purity heroin is usually injected.

6. Is Heroin a Depressant or Stimulant?

Heroin is a depressant. It acts on the central nervous system, causing drowsiness and respiratory depression.

7. Why Is Heroin So Dangerous?

Heroin is dangerous for several reasons:

  1. It’s highly addictive – It enters your brain quickly, causing a rush of euphoria that’s both physically and psychologically addictive.
  2. Heroin is sometimes cut (mixed) with other substances – Heroin dealers mix heroin with various substances—ranging from sugar or powdered milk to other drugs—to increase their profits. When you buy heroin, you don’t know how pure it is or what is mixed in with it. This increases the risk of a dangerous opioid overdose. Heroin mixed with fentanyl, a prescription opioid, is particularly lethal because fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin.
  3. People try to enhance the high with alcohol and other drugs – Combining heroin with alcohol and benzodiazepines is particularly dangerous, because these substances are also depressants. Using alcohol and heroin together greatly increases the risk of a heroin overdose.
  4. The long-term effects of heroin are treacherous – These include:
  • Liver and kidney damage
  • Heart infection
  • Acute pneumonia
  • Damage to the brain and central nervous system

 8. What Does Heroin Look Like?

The most common type of heroin is sold in powder form. The color of the powder depends on how pure the heroin is and what it’s been mixed with. Heroin is typically white or various shades of tan and brown. Another form of heroin, called black tar, is sold as a sticky brown/black substance or in rock-like form.

Some street names for heroin relate to the color of the powder. Brown-colored heroin is sometimes called “brown sugar” or “Mexican mud.” White or light heroin might be called “white lady,” “white boy” or “China white.”

9. What Does Heroin Taste Like?

The taste of heroin varies depending on what it’s mixed with. It may taste slightly sweeter if it’s cut with sugar, for instance. Most heroin has a bitter taste.

10. What Does Heroin Smell Like?

Heroin can smell different depending on:

  • The quality
  • The purity
  • What it’s mixed with

It may have a chemical smell, or smell like vinegar or whatever it’s mixed with. Its purest form will have little to no smell.

11. What Does Heroin Feel Like?

Heroin initially causes a rush of euphoria that dissipates into a feeling of relaxed warmth. Users feel detached from life and its problems, with less anxiety or worry. It often causes a twilight state of semi-consciousness that’s referred to as “nodding.”

The effects begin quickly, especially when the drug is smoked or injected. Depending on the dosage, the high can last several hours.

12. How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your System?

It takes eight hours for heroin to clear from the bloodstream, but it stays in your system for several days. Most is excreted in urine within eight hours of using the drug. Traces can still be found in urine after four days.

13. Is There a Genetic Component to Heroin Addiction?

Like other substance use disorders, the causes of heroin addiction are complex. Genetic components may be involved, but other factors are important too. Research suggests some people are genetically predisposed to have stronger reactions to addictive drugs. This may be because the way their brains respond to dopamine increases their addiction risk.

It is not yet possible to reliably identify specific genes that increase the risk of addiction, but research does continue to uncover new information about addiction genetics. However, genetic susceptibility is common to most types of substance use. This means it may not be possible to identify a specific risk for heroin addiction.

14. Is Heroin Dangerous to Use During Pregnancy?

Heroin use is not usually fatal in healthy adults, but fetal death is a risk in pregnant women who aren’t treated for opioid addiction. This is because infants are at risk of acute opioid abstinence syndrome. It causes prematurity, birth defects, gastrointestinal problems, respiratory and nervous system problems, and there is a risk of stillbirth or SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).

Get Evidence-Based Heroin Treatment

There’s life after heroin addiction. Contact The Right Step today to learn more about our addiction treatment programs and get more answers to frequently asked questions. We can help you or a loved one break free from addiction to heroin. Call 844-877-1781 today to learn how.

Krisi Herron

Medically Reviewed by

Krisi Herron, LCDC

The Right Step