Drug Dictionary Series: Heroin



What is it?

Heroin is an opioid drug synthesized from morphine that was first manufactured in 1989 by Bayer pharmaceutical company of Germany. Although the original target audience included those with tuberculosis and individuals facing morphine addiction, today an estimated 9.2 million individuals are using heroin recreationally. Heroin is made from the seed pod of an opium poppy plant and appears either as a powder (white or brown) or a black sticky substance (called black tar heroin).

Heroin is a highly addictive drug, as about 23% of individuals who use heroin become dependent on it. It is also frequently combined with many other drugs. This can make it very difficult for users to know the strength and composition of the drug.

What does it look like?

Heroin in its purest form is a fine white powder. More often, it is gray, brown, or black in color, due to additives used to dilute it. There are various additives, such as sugar, caffeine, or strychnine, that can damage the blood vessels, leading to infection or destruction.

What are some other names for heroin?

Heroin has many other names, including dragon, dope, H, Big H, white, white lady, China white, Mexican mud, horse, scag, black tar, brown crystal, brown sugar, nod, chiba, chiva, tar, snowball, smack, junk, and black pearl. It is also combined with other substances, and the combinations have unique names:

  • When combined with cocaine, heroin is sometimes called speedball, belushi, boy-girl, H&C, murder one, one and one, smoking gun, snowball, and whiz bang.
  • The mixture of heroin and marijuana is called canade, woola, or woolie.
  • The combination of heroin and LSD is called beast.
  • Heroin and methamphetamine is known as meth speedball.
  • The blend of heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, Rohpnol, and alcohol is called “The Five Way.”
  • Heroin mixed with cold medication is called cheese.
  • Flamethrowers is the name used for the combination of heroin, cocaine, and tobacco.

How is it used?

Heroin can be injected, inhaled by snorting or sniffing, or smoked. All of these ways of using heroin deliver the drug to the brain quickly, contributing to the high risks for health and addiction. The first time a person uses heroin, the drug creates a sensation of being high.

What are the effects of the drug?

Short-Term Effects:

  • Rush
  • Clouded mental functioning
  • Slowed breathing
  • Hypothermia
  • Nausea and vomiting

Long-Term Effects:

  • Inflammation of the gums and bad teeth
  • Cold sweats
  • Muscular weakness or partial paralysis
  • Respiratory issues and illness
  • Pustules on the face (small bumps)
  • Loss of memory and decreased intellectual performance
  • Depression
  • Weakening of the immune system
  • Loss of appetite
  • Itching
  • Overdose and death

What is its federal classification?

Heroin is a Schedule 1 drug. This means that there is no currently accepted medical use, and there is a high potential for abuse.

Where can I find more information on it?