Heroin, also known as diamorphine, is an opiate typically used as a recreational drug since it gives its users a euphoric effect. Many countries allow use of heroin in medical sphere, where it performs the role of a pain killer or as a part of opioid replacement therapy. Generally used in injectable form, heroin can also be snorted, smoked or inhaled. Users get a high very quickly and generally lasts for few hours.
Heroin was developed from morphine, a natural opiate derived from opium poppy, for the first time in 1874 by C. R. Alder Wright. Globally, heroin is controlled under UN’s Single Convention on Narcotic Drug’s Schedule I and Schedule IV. A person requires a license to either make, possess or sell heroin. In 2015, Afghanistan was world leader in production of opium, with nearly 66% of global production coming from the country. Heroin is quite often sold on the street in combination with strychnine and sugar.
What is Heroin?
Heroin is an extremely addictive illegal street drug coming from opioid family. It is a morphine derivative, and morphine is chemically derived from opium poppy. Generally available in brown or white powder form, it can also be bought as black tar heroin, a black sticky substance. Heroin can be cut or diluted with inert substances such as the sugar or starch, but dealers, who care very little about people’s health, generally use harmful substances like strychnine or more powerful prescription opioids such as fentanyl to cut heroin. These combinations make it more hazardous than heroin abuse itself.
How it Works on the Body and the Mind
Heroin is used as a recreational drug and users can either smoke, inject or snort it. Once heroin enters bloodstream and travels to the brain, the user starts feeling its’ effects. When injected, users feel the effect almost instantly, whereas smoking or snorting heroin can result in a delay of 10-15 minutes before user gets a high.
Heroin metabolizes into morphine in the brain, which later on interacts with opioid receptors for weakening perception of pain. When the threshold level of drug is attained within the brain, morphine start interfering with vital organs such as heart and lungs. A few minutes of all-pervading euphoria followed by an hour of relaxation is the main effect of heroin.
After the euphoric feeling wears off, other common short term effects like itchy skin, nausea and vomiting take centre stage. Though unsafe, heroin doesn’t affect everyone in same manner. Factors like age, weight, gender, pre-existing medical condition, tolerance level, mood and use of other stimulants also play a role in impacting severity of short term effects. Users of heroin can also have suffer from disability or even death.
Addiction, need, craving, yearning, overdose or dependency are most common long-term mind-altering effects of heroin. Common side effects may include respiratory problems, dry mouth, as well as euphoria which produces aftereffects, and addiction. It may include abscesses, constipation, infected heart valves, and pneumonia. Long term use may also cause withdrawal symptoms within hours of last heroin use. Behavioral therapy and medications are often included in treating heroin addiction.
In 2015, around 600,000 users were abusing heroin in the US, while approximately 13,000 addicts lost their lives in the same year. Globally, out of 17 million people who consumed heroin in 2015, approximately 122,000 suffered fatal consequences.
Effects / Side Effects of Heroin
Physical health, career, finances, and relationships get affected with long-term heroin use. Despite many negative side effects, the intense euphoric feeling and heavy sedation is so addictive that it draws users to wilfully consume it. Vitals functions as well as circulation gets slowed down with heroin use.
Consumption of heroin results in slowing down of central nervous system (CNS). It suppresses body’s involuntary functions like respiration while also supressing impulse to cough, a healthy reflex which aids in clearing mucus, debris, and other harmful organisms from lungs.
Long-term heroin use makes the person prone to lung diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis. Smoking heroin can harm the respiratory tract with the protective lining getting scarred. In short, long-term heroin use can impact user’s general health, which weakens body and aggravates any pre-existing lung condition.
The most significant side effect of long term heroin use is overdosing and even addicts who have built up tolerance to the drug are at perpetual risk of overdosing on it. Some of the overdosing symptoms may include shallow or no breathing, lower blood pressure, drowsiness, constricted pupils, bluish nails, lips and tongue, and even fainting.
Risk factors for overdose increases if the user has been abusing heroin through injections. Also, if the user has reduced tolerance level on account of being sober for some time, the risk of overdosing increases. Even long-term users of heroin face the risk of overdosing. Addict faces overdosing risk if he mixes heroin with other substances like alcohol, cocaine or tranquilizers.
Even past overdosing episodes can pose a risk for overdosing. Lastly, if the addict is depressed or suicidal, the chances of overdosing is very high. The most important thing to worry during an overdosing event is the sudden drop in blood pressure and breathing. The addict can be saved through medical intervention by using naloxone, provided he/she gets to hospital on time.
Thing to keep in mind is that if one has decided to go clean, then tolerance to heroin will decline. There have been many incidences where persons who have been sober for several weeks or months have overdosed themselves when they relapsed, since they were not able to tolerate increased doses of heroin.
As one gets accustomed to heroin, the pleasurable short term effects gets overshadowed by numerous unwanted side effects. This happens because body gets used or, as they say, adapts to heroin. Few side effects of heroin use include bluish lips, hands, and feet ; confusion; nausea and vomiting; constricted pupils; dry mouth; light sensitivity; grogginess; slow or shallow breathing; reduced heartbeats, and low body temperature.
Overdosing is a major concern for heroin addicts, since it is nearly impossible to measure the dosing on account of differences in purity. Most complications and side effects worsens when user starts using it with other substances, especially depressants, such as sedatives or alcohol. Combination effects are very dangerous and can lead to slow breathing; reduced brain oxygen; heart complications; coma and even death.
Immediate and Short Term Effects Heroin Abuse
Effects of heroin abuse in immediate and short term will vary according to administration route and quantity of heroin used. Injecting heroin directly into veins generally gives users a faster and more powerful high, while smoking or snorting produces a delayed or lesser intense onset of effects.
Euphoric feeling that the user gets often tags along with it other side effects like drowsiness; feeling of heaviness in extremities; nausea; vomiting; flushing and/or itching of skin, and slow respiratory and heart functions.
These effects may easily transition into serious ones, but effects involving lungs and heart can prove dangerous or even lethal. Heroin use can lead to medical emergencies which require immediate medical attention. Immediate and short-term effects of heroin can be treated using naloxone which blocks interaction of heroin with opioid receptors. It works like magic when used as an antidote to an overdose as it rescues people from brink of respiratory failure and save lives.
Once heroin gets into the brain, it changes to morphine, binding quickly to opioid receptors. People who abuse heroin feel a surge of pleasing sensation which is a ‘rush.’ The rush demonstrates amount of drug consumed and how rapidly it has entered the brain. This rush is complemented by flushing of the skin, xerostomia and a feeling of heaviness in extremities, which is usually followed by severe itching, nausea and vomiting.
These are then followed by drowsiness for several hours, clouded mental functions, and decreased cardiac and respiratory functioning, which can sometimes become life-threatening. Slow breathing can cause coma and resultant permanent damage to the brain. The rush lasts for few minutes with lasting feelings of sedation that persists for few hour afterwards.
The duration of all the effects depends on the heroin’s purity, dose and route of administration. Throughout the heroin high, user may move between periods of being awake and asleep and this is referred to as ‘nodding.’
Opioids such as heroin leave impact on different nerve and brain centres. It changes neurochemical activity in user’s brainstem which leads to depressed breathing. Brainstem regulates autonomic body functions like heartbeat and breathing. Opioids increase pleasurable feelings by changing the activities in emotion-controlling limbic system. Opiates also block pain messages transmitted through spinal cord to higher brain centres.
Some of the medical effects that are serious and can even result in fatalities either directly or indirectly include infection of lining and valves of heart; infectious diseases like HIV, hepatitis B and C as a result of shared needles; blood clots or tissue death resulting from collapsed veins; bacterial infections; liver disease; rheumatologic problems like arthritis, and seizures.
Long term effects of Heroin Abuse
Heroin withdrawal is terrible experience that starts to agonise the body within hours of the last fix. Effects on human body are destructive and frequent injections could result in collapsed veins which leaves user susceptible to infections relating to blood vessels and heart valves.
Users can also contract tuberculosis on account of generally poor health condition. Another long term side-effect of heroin addiction is arthritis. Furthermore, using and sharing needles can lead to AIDS as well as other communicable infections. Out of estimated 35,000 new HCV infections diagnosed in the United States every year, nearly 70% are a result of shared needles among drug users.
Long-term effects also include bad teeth; constipation; cold sweats; inflammation of gums; itching; muscular weakness; weakened immune system; depression; respiratory illness; coma; partial paralysis; pustules on the face; insomnia; reduced sexual capacity; long-term impotency in men; menstrual disturbances in women; inability to attain orgasm (both genders); memory loss and decrease in intellectual performance; introversion, and appetite loss.
Irreversible liver or kidney damages pose the biggest risk factors of long-term heroin effects. The brain can also be adversely affected due to decreased brain oxygen. Furthermore, the brain’s physiology changes tremendously due to repeated heroin use creating long term neuronal and hormonal imbalance that are not easily reversed. There is deterioration of the brain’s white matter, which directly affects decision-making abilities and the ability to regulate behaviour and responses to stressful situations.
Pregnant women who abuse heroin risk themselves to miscarriage as well as placing their children at risk of communicable disease. They risk being addicted to the drug from birth.
Psychologically, heroin addicts can suffer from anxiety, social isolation, depression, dependency, addiction, and inability to feel happiness.
Along with these long term effects, an addict can also experience personal consequences like financial issues; school or job dilemmas; relationship turmoil, and also legal consequences.
Heroin is harmful: A question mark and a statement!
Continuous use of heroin can bring ruin to physical as well as mental health of a user. This drug is available illegally in the market in different varieties with more purity as the white powder. White powder doesn’t equate to purity all the time, and there are chances that it is mixed with other white substances like sugar, powdered milk, starch or quinine.
Another known version of heroin is black tar heroin, which is black sticky substance. Heroin is smoked, injected or snorted and regardless of the mode of intake, it acts in the body to bring out intense results, often with serious or fatal consequences.
Heroin, being a powerful opiate drug, produces drastic, immediate and long-term physical effects on body and brain of the user. It is this speed and intensity which gives rise to major worries. The immediate effects of heroin are obvious. The following effect of heroin use is tolerance.
As the human brain gets used to presence of heroin, the body adjusts as well. This results in user needing more heroin ingestion to obtain same level of euphoria as earlier. It is this tolerance and increased use which leads to addiction. Continued use of this substance brings only devastation sooner or later with number of social and legal implications for the user.
In short, Heroin is Harmful and everyone should stay out of it.