Heroin is produced from morphine, which is a natural substance that derives from the opium poppy plant. While morphine is often used by doctors to treat pain and other illnesses, heroin is illegal. Pure heroin is a fine white crystalline powder that has a bitter taste.
The heroin sold on the streets varies in colour and consistency because it is often “cut” with other substances by those who sell it. By reducing the amount of pure heroin in a dose and mixing it with other substances, it allows the seller to sell more doses with less heroin and therefore gain a bigger profit. Its purity can range from 2% to 98%. In short, someone doesn’t really know what he/she is buying because there’s no way to tell for sure what is in the substance (Health Canada).
- In 1888, doctors thought they had found a replacement for morphine and named this substance the “heroic” medication. But instead, an estimated 500,000 Americans were addicted to heroin at the time of the First World War (Parlons drogue);
- The majority of people that try heroin are in their teens or twenties, however most regular users are over 30 years old (CAMH).
Smack, dope, H, horse, black tar, dust, point, etc.
How it works
Heroin enters the user’s body through the bloodstream then reaches the brain and transforms into morphine (Health Canada). There are a few ways to consume heroin; it can be snorted, smoked or injected (into the vein, the muscle or under the skin). The pace at which the drug will take effect depends on the method of consumption (CAMH).
Side effects are really hard to predict partly because it is impossible for the user to know the exact purity and strength of the drug. Some common side effects include nausea, vomiting, headaches, itching sensations, etc.
The high comes in two phases; “the rush” (relaxation, happiness, absence of emotional and physical pain) and “the nod” which is a tranquil phase that lasts about an hour.
The risk of overdose with heroin is quite high and unpredictable. The drug affects some functions of the brain, including when it tells your body to breathe, which can cause someone to stop breathing and die. The risks become even higher when someone is taking heroin with other drugs such as alcohol, prescription medication or other similar substances to heroin such as methadone or morphine. Some signs of overdose are: pinpoint pupils, cold skin or bluish, slower breathing, unconsciousness, among others.
For more information on side effects and signs of overdose, visit the Health Canada’s website.
Tolerance and dependence
Both tolerance and dependence develop very quickly. The physical dependence is quite intense and can cause severe withdrawal symptoms such as strong cravings, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, flu-like symptoms, insomnia, and a rapid heart-beat (Health Canada).
In Canada, heroin is governed by the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Unlawful possession, traffic, production, and any other related drug activities are considered criminal offences.
What you can do
If you have more questions regarding heroin, please talk to your doctor, community health nurse, a parent and/or a school counsellor. If you or someone you know is using or has an addiction to heroin, talk to one of the trustworthy adults cited above or call Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868, they will know where to guide you for help.