Heroin is a drug with a lot of representation in the media. There are shows like “Breaking Bad,” who take the serious route of attempting to display the effects of drug abuse, however, as it is entertainment, there is a lot that can be misconstrued. There’s also the card game “Cards Against Humanity,” where you may pick up the infamous card option that says “black-tar heroin” as a response to a fill in the blank to create a funny statement. However, a highly addictive narcotic like heroin is no joke. Heroin is one of the most addictive drugs due to the short length of time it takes to infiltrate the brain.
Heroin is made of morphine, which comes from the seeds of various opium poppy plants grown in regions in Asia, Mexico, and Colombia. To extract the opium, and processed juice with immature poppy heads. In the late 1800’s, heroin proved to be more effective than morphine during drug studies, so The Bayer Company began to commercialize on what many believed to be a wonder drug. However, the patients that were administered heroin ended up with problematic addictions to the drug. In the 1910s, morphine addicts realized that heroin resulted in a high, especially when inserted through the veins. The abuse of heroin spread rapidly, and while many restrictions were made to help control said abuse, underground productions of the drug helped the addicts get their fix.
Heroin is one drug from the group classified as “opioid.” This means that when administered, the drug activates receptors in the brain that usually regulate pain, hormone release, and feelings of well-being. When activated with heroin, they stimulate the release of dopamine, which is a naturally occurring chemical in our bodies. However, too much of it being released unnaturally at once creates a high, which in turn, creates what many would call an addict, as addicts chase the feeling of dopamine release. However, these highs do not last forever. Because the user experiences small, but very high highs, use of it causes very low lows as well. The symptoms of heroin addiction that effect the user’s mood are depression, euphoria, mood swings, anxiety, and hostility.
The physical symptoms are track marks on arms and legs, a constantly running nose, short breath, nausea and vomiting, respiratory infections, dry mouth, heated skin, constricted pupils, heaviness in arms and legs, extreme amounts of itching, weight loss, and the last one (in my opinion, the worst), scabs or bruising due to picking at the skin in order to get high again from the needle insertions. Psychologically, addicts also experience delusions, disorientation, hallucinations, and paranoia.
It doesn’t take much for heroin to take an effect on one’s body. The level of toxicity for negative impact/lethal dose for 170lbs user is between 75 and 375 mg, depending on the way it is administered. The long-term effects of regular use of heroin are intense sadness, irregular periods and/or difficulty having children, constipation, damage to heart, lungs, liver and brain, vein damage and skin, heart and lung infections from injecting, and dependence.
In addition to the previous symptoms, the development of a tolerance to heroin causes the user to need to use more in order to get the same high they experienced with way less. While some of this damage is irreversible, there are ways to help stop addiction, such as medications developed to ween the users off the drug, similar to nicotine patches for someone with an addiction to cigarettes. There are also behavioral treatments such as therapy with voucher-based systems in which the patients earn points based off staying sober, which they can exchange for items that encourage healthy lifestyles.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse – Heroin
- PubMed – The pharmacokinetic properties of heroin metabolites in systemic circulation: rapid and systematic usefulness of metabolites to prove heroin abuse
- The Conversation – How opioids kill by disturbing the body’s natural painkiller system
- The New York Times – Heroin
- Mayo Clinic – Prescription drug abuse
- Drugs.com – Heroin