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Understanding the Effects of a Heroin High

Table of Contents

man injecting heroin into his arm

Have you ever watched someone get high on heroin – or gotten high yourself – and wondered how one little injection could get someone so incredibly high? The answer is all in your head: heroin interacts with your brain and nervous system to produce an immense euphoric rush.
Some describe a heroin high as beautiful or peaceful. Others say it has a magical, mystical effect that feels better than sex or even love. Frequently abused and often misunderstood by those who use it, heroin makes a comeback among recreational drug abusers who have no idea of the damage and risk the drug is causing them.

What is Heroin?

Heroin is an opioid, meaning it comes from the opium poppy plant Papavar somniferum. Poppy growers harvest and dry the milky resin seeping from the unripe poppy seedpod to create opium, which contains several alkaloids. One such alkaloid is morphine, which works on the central nervous system to reduce pain. While morphine also causes feelings of detachment and euphoria, it does not get someone as euphoric as heroin can. It comes in a white or brown powder or a black sticky substance known as black tar. Common street names are Brown sugar, China White, Dope, H, Horse, Junk, Skag, Skunk, Smack, White Horse.

How do People Use It?

People use heroin in many ways. The most common forms are injecting, sniffing, snorting, or smoking the drug. Some people even mix it with crack cocaine (speedballing).
Heroin gets you high by acting on the body’s opioid system inside your central nervous system. The opioid system controls pain, reward, and addictive behaviors. When you are not stoned on heroin, substances already inside your body latch onto and activate particular opioid receptors, and the nervous system to cause various effects. Drugs like heroin and morphine can also latch onto and activate these opioid receptors. In other words, heroin gets you high by mimicking something your body already does but doing it in a much more significant way.

Is It Addictive?

Heroin is a highly addictive drug. It first creates a physical tolerance, making the user need higher and more frequent doses to get the desired effects. What also leads to physical dependency is that the withdrawal will occur if they stop using the drug abruptly. Withdrawal symptoms begin as early as a few hours after the dose, and it can include:

  • restlessness
  • severe muscle pain
  • sleeplessness
  • diarrhea
  • nausea and vomiting
  • sweating
  • cold flashes
  • anxiety
  • uncontrollable sneezing
  • intense cravings

Studies have also shown that some loss of the brain’s white matter can be a consequence of heroin use. This deficiency may decision-making, behavior, and emotional responses, consequently affecting one’s quality of life.

What is Heroin High?

Heroin gets you high because it activates these receptors. In addition to getting someone obliterated, activation of these receptors reduces pain, slows breathing, causes pinpoint pupils, and slows down food digestion. Drowsiness, nausea, and mental clouding occur. Unfortunately, activating these opioid receptors can have adverse effects and result in dysphoria, the emotional opposite of euphoria. Receptor activation can even cause delusions and hallucinations.
Illicit drug makers make heroin from morphine, but heroin is much stronger – about three times more potent – than morphine. This illicit opioid gets you much higher than morphine or other opioids because heroin has a chemical structure that allows it to pass through the protective blood-brain barrier very quickly. Once inside your brain, heroin overwhelms your body’s opioid system to cause the warm rush associated with this drug.
In other words, morphine works its way slowly into your brain and latches on to a few opioid receptors to ease mild pain and cause slight relaxation. Intravenous injection of morphine causes relatively mild euphoria in about 5 minutes after injection. Heroin blasts into the brain in about two minutes after injection and saturates all available opioid receptors to cause a tsunami of euphoria.
Heroin leaves the brain much quicker than morphine too. The peak effects of heroin last for an hour or two, and the overall effects wear off in three to five hours. The effects of a morphine injection will last for four to six hours.


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