How Does Heroin Work?

 In Help & Resources for Families

There is no doubt that heroin has become a common term in the United States in the past 50 years. Heroin entered the US and has waged war on men and women throughout the states creating intense addiction in almost every demographic that exists in our country.

The substance heroin is derived from a flower called the opium poppy which grows naturally in places within the countries Mexico, South America and Asia. Heroin can come in many forms including: white or brown powder or black tar. At times heroin is mixed with other substances like ecstasy to heighten effects. Heroin is extremely addictive and has been illegal in the United States since 1924.  

Heroin can be snorted, smoked and injected. Most of the time a user will inject heroin for a more intense effect. Users who choose a method of injection are more susceptible to obtaining diseases from dirty needles and sharing needles during the time of use. This highly addictive substance is extremely fast acting and can impair the user in seconds.

 

How does heroin work?

Heroin is a powerful opiate drug, but what does that mean? What does heroin do once it enters the brain? What follows is an overview of heroin and its effects on the human body, in order to answer questions such as “What are the short-term effects of heroin?” and “What are the symptoms of a heroin overdose?”

 

How heroin works when it interacts with the brain

Heroin binds to and activates parts of the brain called Mu-Opioid Receptors (MORs). These receptors are part of the body’s central nervous system, which is packed with naturally occurring chemicals called neurotransmitters. When these neurotransmitters bind to receptors throughout the brain and body, they help our system naturally regulate pain, release hormones, and experience feelings of euphoria and well being.

MORs trigger a specific neurotransmitter called dopamine, an extremely addictive chemical that causes very pleasurable sensations and helps regulate important functions such as eating, sleeping, and sex. The consequences of artificially stimulating MORs through chemicals such as heroin are many, and depend on a variety of factors including method of ingestion, quantity consumed, and potency of the substance.

heroin effect on the brain

What are the short-term effects of heroin?

The short-term effects of heroin are a function of how quickly the brain converts the heroin into morphine, which binds to the MORS causing an intense feeling of pleasurable euphoria known as a “rush”. This is a feeling of warmth that users report surges through the entire body.

The rush is often accompanied by other symptoms as well, such as flushing of the skin, dry mouth (called “cottonmouth”), and a feeling of heaviness in the arms and legs. In addition, nausea, severe itching, and vomiting may also occur within moments of administering heroin.

Following these initial effects of heroin, users will be lethargic, appearing drowsy or sedated for several hours. Brain function is slowed, with thoughts becoming hazy or incoherent, and cardiovascular as well as respiratory function is severely impacted. It is these last symptoms that can cause life-threatening comas or brain injury, even death.

 

Heroin and the deadly effects it has on the body

A large dose of heroin that depresses a user’s autonomic functions past the point of survival without immediate medical assistance is known as an overdose. The symptoms of a heroin overdose include loss of consciousness, a blue overtone to the skin as oxygen depletion suffocates the body, and fits of shaking and spasms as the muscles fight to function without oxygen in the body. A life-saving drug known as Naloxone (Narcan) immediately reverses a heroin overdose.

Heroin overdoses can very often lead to death, which makes this one of the most dangerous drugs on the market. Many addicts who are frequent abusers of heroin over time take larger and larger doses of this deadly narcotic and these heavy doses often result in overdose. If a heroin user passes out and has a bad reaction that leads to vomiting, the user can suffocate and essentially drown in their own vomit.

Without a doubt, heroin is one of the most dangerous and addictive drugs on the market. Do not try to heal yourself or a loved one on your own. It is critical to seek professional help through a rehabilitation center or physician in order to get the best, most effective help and rehab opportunities that will lead you or your loved one on the road of recovery.

 

Support is critical, let us help you with any questions, comments or concerns you have about heroin addiction or narcotics.

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