Heroin is a highly addictive, illicit drug derived from morphine, an opiate alkaloid found in the opium poppy. Moreover, heroin is produced from opium using a single chemical product. Other such alkaloids in opium include codeine and thebaine. Heroin also usually contains various other potentially toxic and non-toxic products, such as other drugs or powders similar in appearance to that of the heroin in which they are laced, such as baking soda, sugar, or starch.
Morphine is a powerful painkiller and the primary psychoactive ingredient in heroin that induces the euphoric heroin high. Unfortunately, it also gives heroin its addictive potential and can swiftly produce chemical dependence among its users.
When heroin is ingested and crosses the blood-brain barrier, it’s converted back to morphine. Moreover, heroin is a more addictive and potent form of morphine. Part of the reason for its increased capacity to be habit-forming is that when administered, it reaches the brain more rapidly and intensely than if pure, untampered morphine were taken.
White, Brown, and Black Tar Heroin
The purest and most well-known heroin comes in a whitish powder and is the salt form of the drug (diacetylmorphine hydrochloride), although it will most often be adultered with other white powders. These additives can reduce the drug’s potency and increase the risk of contamination and vein damage if the drug is administered via injection.
Black tar heroin appears similar to what its street name suggests—a chunk of a blackish or brownish tacky/tarry substance. It is produced using a crude process in which the final product is unrefined compared to white powder heroin. Black tar heroin is popular in some regions of the U.S. because it’s inexpensive and easier to produce than its lighter, powered counterparts.
Additional processing of black tar heroin and the addition of lactose can produce powdered heroin that is brownish in color.
Deaths related to opioid overdose have increased dramatically in the U.S. in the last decade. This is mainly due to the inclusion of illicitly-made fentanyl in heroin, an extremely potent painkiller, approximately 50 times more powerful than heroin. Even a tiny amount may be enough to cause a life-threatening overdose.
In addition to morphine and fentanyl, heroin may consist of various other illicit street and prescription drugs, such as cocaine and methamphetamine, also commonly referred to as a “speedball.” Although meth and cocaine are central nervous system (CNS) stimulants and heroin is a depressant, both types of drugs can induce euphoric feelings. Dealers can often get away with lacing any euphoria-producing drug with heroin if available at a lower price.
Heroin is illegally manufactured in clandestine facilities on a large scale or in home labs by individuals. For this reason, there may be no way for a potential heroin user to know where a product they buy originated or additional ingredients that have been added. Heroin may contain contaminants that are byproducts of the manufacturing process, including ammonia, acetic anhydride, calcium oxide, chloroform, and hydrochloric acid. These can prove harmful to the skin at injection sites or even cause death.
Street heroin may also contain local anesthetics, such as xylocaine. Although anesthetics are used legally for medical and dental purposes, they carry risks, have side effects, and potential allergens, coming with additional risks of adverse health complications.
Fillers are ingredients added to bulk up heroin so that dealers increase their profits. Many of these are relatively harmless and even edible substances, such as cornstarch, flour, powdered milk, or sugar.
Other fillers can be more dangerous, however. For example, black tar heroin can be combined with black shoe polish or dirt. Large amounts of quinine can cause a condition known as cinchonism (nausea, vomiting, and tinnitus) and also blindness that may not be noticed until the day after the acute toxicity has resolved.
It’s also possible for toxins to be added to heroin. For example, strychnine, used in rat poison, is one toxic ingredient sometimes combined with heroin. Psychological symptoms of strychnine poisoning include anxiety, agitation, restlessness, and an increased propensity to be startled or alarmed.
Physical symptoms may include the following:
- Jaw tension
- Muscle spasms
- Rigidity of the extremities
- Pain in neck and back
Getting Help for Heroin Abuse and Addiction
Heroin addiction can be a devastating, life-threatening condition that wreaks havoc on an individual’s mind and body. It can also adversely impact loved ones close to them in any number of ways. Fortunately, heroin dependence, though not curable, can be treated, and those with this disorder can reclaim their lives and learn how to function healthily without the bane of substance abuse.
Just Believe Recovery Center offers an intensive, multifaceted approach to addiction treatment and overall emotional, physical, and spiritual health and wellness. Our programs feature various holistic and traditional therapeutic approaches, including psychotherapy, individual and family counseling, peer group support, health and wellness education, psychoeducation, art and music therapy, relapse prevention, aftercare planning, and more.