Heroin is a major player in the ongoing opioid epidemic that has been sweeping the nation and killed over 60,000 Americans just last year. Its widespread availability and cheap cost have turned this otherwise niche narcotic into part of the mainstream drug scene.

The Dangers of Heroin In a Nutshell

The effects of heroin are drastic and damaging: a single hit can result in addiction or permanent brain damage that impairs your ability to breathe, sleep, and control your emotions; withdrawal symptoms such as seizures or insomnia can occur after just a few hours of using. With so much at stake, it’s hard to imagine why anyone would risk so much for a temporary high.

What Heroin Feels Like & How Long It Lasts

Heroin users have described heroin as a sudden euphoric sensation or “rush”. In addition to this intense feeling of pleasure, heroin can create false feelings of warmth or safety and a detached, dream-like state. These sensations are typically preceded by nausea, dry mouth, a feeling of heaviness in limbs, or severe itching. The most common post-heroin effect is drowsiness or dizziness due to heroin’s depressive effects on breathing and heart functions.  

Heroin is regarded as one of the quickest highs available and lasts longer than your average cocaine or methamphetamine trip. A single dose will yield a pleasurable rush for about a minute or two, although the user can remain in a semi-conscious state for several hours afterward. The exact strength and duration of a heroin high are determined by a number of physiological factors such as:

  • Weight
  • Age
  • Body fat content
  • Kidney and liver health
  • Hydration level
  • Metabolism

The Most Dangerous Way to Do Heroin

The impact of a heroin dose will also depend on the method of application which can be subcutaneous, intramuscular, or intravenous. Whether heroin is injected, snorted, or smoked will have a considerable difference in how the drug is metabolized in the body. This can additionally affect how long heroin stays in the system (how long heroin would be detectable by urine drug tests), as well as the extent of physical and psychological repercussions. 

According to a study, injecting heroin is the most harmful method. The use of needles puts users at risk of diseases such as HIV or hepatitis C and also increases the likelihood of overdosing. Additionally, intravenous heroin use puts a large amount of the drug directly in the bloodstream and causes significantly stronger reactions on the brain. This method bypasses the natural filtering that occurs by other means of consumption where the drug would be filtered or absorbed by the lungs or kidneys. 

How Heroin Affects the Brain

Heroin is a semi-synthetic opioid made from chemically processing morphine. Like all other opioids, this narcotic functions by quickly attaching itself to opioid receptors in the brain, spine, gut, and other parts of the body. Once heroin has reached the brain, it causes a sudden release of dopamine – the neurotransmitter responsible for the sensation of pleasure – up to 10 times higher than normal levels. This can also cause prevent pain from registering, temporarily increasing pain tolerance. 

Neurochemical activity is disrupted further by imbalances in neural and hormonal systems. These often result in long-term effects on the brain’s ability to regulate breathing, heartbeat, or sleep. The brain’s white matter has also been shown to be negatively affected, particularly the limbic system, which can impair the ability to make rational decisions, control mood and temper, or consider consequences of future actions. Brain damage caused by heroin is virtually irreversible, although professional treatment may be able to mitigate some of the effects.

The Dangers of Heroin Withdrawal

Consistent, long-term users can experience heroin withdrawal symptoms in as little as 6 hours after using. Severe – and potentially fatal – symptoms can occur between 24-28 hours after the last dose and persist for up to a week. Heroin comas are a common but dangerous possibility, as the long-term impairment of breathing functionality can cause a shortage of oxygen to the brain, resulting in hypoxia.

Whether someone is a first-time user or long-time heroin addict, the safest way to come down from a heroin high is with professional supervision. Find a trusted detox and addiction treatment program now!