Heroin

Synonyms The most common synonyms are:
  • Black tar, Horse, China white, Diacetylmorphine, Diamorphine, Dope, H, Hard stuff, Hero, Dust, Point, Powder, Jazz, Junk, Skag, Smack.
Classification Central nervous system depressant:
  • Refers to a substance that slows mental functions by reducing the brain's overall activity and alertness. Has a calming effect on the user.
Visual description
  • Sticky brown paste
  • White, beige or brown powder
Mechanism of action
  • Heroin exerts its effect by binding to the opiate receptors in the brain.
Routes of administration
  • Mainly injected. Can also be smoked or snorted.

Effects sought out by the user

  • Analgesia
  • Euphoria (heightened sense of well-being)
  • Sedation
  • Soothing

Common toxic effects

  • Agitation
  • Anorexia
  • Chills
  • Constipation
  • Constricted pupils
  • Decreased respiratory rate
  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Dysphoria (sadness, anxiety, irritability)
  • Headache
  • Itching
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea
  • Ostealgia (pain in the bones)
  • Reduced visual acuity
  • Slowing of cognitive and physical functions
  • Slurred speech
  • Sweating, clammy skin
  • Vertigo
  • Vomiting

Overdose effects

  • Cardiorespiratory depression
  • Coma
  • Death
  • Pneumonia
  • Stupor

Effects associated with chronic use

  • Absence of menstruation
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Constipation
  • Loss of interest in sex
  • Personality changes
  • Social exclusion

The most harmful physical consequences associated with heroin addiction depend on how it is taken, the impurities found within the drug and the addict's living conditions.

The most serious effects are usually the result of intravenous use and the use of dirty needles and syringes (skin infections, tetanus, hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, etc.).

Tolerance (need to increase the dose to feel the same effect)

Develops quickly. Users can increase their dose 100-fold from the initial dose.

Addiction

Yes (physical and psychological). It can develop very quickly, within a few weeks in most cases. The risk of addiction increases when the drug is injected.

Withdrawal

Heroin addicts may become so preoccupied by the powerful need to get heroin to prevent withdrawal that it takes over their daily life. Withdrawal symptoms usually begin within 6 to 12 hours after the last use (muscle aches, malaise, watering eyes, runny nose, fever, sneezing, chills, shivering, tremors, excessive sweating, anxiety, agitated sleep). Symptoms reach their peak over the next 36 to 72 hours (abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, mydriasis (dilation of the pupils), intense drug cravings, aggression, rage, paranoid delusions, tachycardia (increased heart rate), hypertension). Most symptoms subside after about 5 to 10 days.

Onset and duration of action

Route of
administration
Onset of
action
Peak
Duration of
action
InjectedA few seconds10 to 20 minutes3 to 5 hours
Smoked10 to 15 minutesN/A3 to 5 hours

Intoxication management

  • Antidote available: naloxone. This medication is available with a prescription.
  • Treatment is mainly symptomatic.

Many different street drugs are sold under the same name. Furthermore, nothing guarantees the quantity, purity or even the content of a street drug in spite of the fact that it may, in some cases, look like medication.

If you need help or want to learn more:

Partnership for a Drug-Free Canada.

www.canadadrugfree.org

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