Heroin is an opioid drug, synthesized from morphine that’s extracted from the seedpod of the Asian poppy plant. Initially, marketers sold heroin as a cough medicine in 1895. Now, heroin is an illegal substance under Federal law, but is still popular among recreational drug users. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about 4.2 million Americans had used heroin at least once in their lives by the year 2011.
A user might sniff, smoke, or inject heroin. All three routes of administration deliver heroin to the brain very quickly.
Physiological Effects of Heroin Use
Once inside the brain, heroin converts to morphine, which binds to opioid receptors. These receptors are located in many places in the brain, especially in the areas that perceive pain and pleasure. There are also opioid receptors in the brainstem that controls critical processes, including breathing, blood pressure, and awareness.
Many who inject heroin describe a rush, which is a surge of euphoria. In addition, sometimes they experience dry mouth, heaviness of extremities, and altered mental functioning. Sniffing or smoking may not cause this rush.
Like other opioids, heroin slows body function. People who use heroin say the drug soothes their anxiety and makes them feel warm, relaxed, and detached. Opioids also have an analgesic effect, so heroin diminishes physical and emotional aches and pains. After the initial euphoria, the user goes “on the nod” where he alternates between being wakeful and drowsy.
Heroin is fast acting and long lasting, so the effects appear quickly and continue for hours, depending on the dose and the route of administration. The speedy and long-lasting neurological changes caused by heroin increase its risks for health problems, as well as misuse, overdose, physical dependence, and addiction.
Someone who has used heroin only a few times may experience nausea and vomiting after administration. These effects fade with regular use.
Heroin Use and its Side Effects
Regular heroin use – especially at high doses – often results in physical dependence, psychological addiction, or both. Physical dependence means a person experiences flu-like withdrawal symptoms when they stops taking heroin. Heroin addiction is a chronic, relapsing condition where the individual craves and seeks out heroin, despite being aware of the consequences. About 23 percent of people who use heroin become addicted to it.
Injection poses the greatest risk for overdose as this administration route allows for large amounts of heroin to enter the bloodstream at one time. It is possible, however, to overdose while sniffing or smoking heroin. This is especially true when taking large doses or combining heroin with other depressants, including alcohol.
Symptoms of heroin overdose include slow and shallow breathing, seizures, coma, and possibly death. Heroin, like other opioids, acts directly on the breathing centers in the brain to suppress respiration in a way that calms the body; large doses of opioids may cause breathing to stop altogether.
The practice of sharing needles to inject heroin increases the risk for contracting infectious diseases, especially HIV, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C. The injection of heroin and sharing needles increases the risk for other diseases, such as endocarditis, blood clot, botulism, tetanus, and flesh-eating bacteria. Injection may also lead to painful abscesses that may result in blood poisoning.
Treatment for Heroin Addiction
Fortunately, treatment is available for those who become physically dependent upon or addicted to heroin. Medical heroin detox administered by a medical professional subdues withdrawal symptoms to help dependent individuals endure the withdrawal process. Rehabilitation, including behavior modification, helps control heroin addiction.
The Waismann Method of Heroin Detoxification
If you or someone you know is using heroin and experiencing heroin side effects, we can help. The Waismann Method of medical detoxification is a process that can get the person through withdrawal safely and comfortably, and without the unnecessary suffering usually involved with other drug detoxification methods.