The commercial production of heroin as a “wonder drug” proven to be more effective than morphine or codeine in pharmacological studies, began in 1898, and was facilitated by the Bayer Company. The first clinical trials came back with amazing results, proving the drug to be more effective in the treatment of respiratory diseases than other medications such as codeine. But the excitement was short-lived. In the years leading up to the 1910s, clinicians began to notice that although heroin worked wonders in treatment, if it was continuously used on a patient, that individual would begin to develop a tolerance to the drug quickly, requiring more of the medication in order for the desired effect of pain reduction to be achieved.

Heroin began to be abused for its other, euphoric effects around this time, and by 1931, strict regulations were put in place in an attempt to manage the growing heroin abuse problem. Pharmacies began to limit the amount of the drug they would produce, but by the 1970s the illicit heroin market had increased the drug’s production by tenfold.

What is Heroin?

Now, that is a lot of history to read over. But it may leave you with the question, “what is heroin exactly?” What heroin is an opioid drug derived from morphine. It is a highly addictive, illegal drug, that in its original pharmaceutical intent, was used as a prescription painkiller, but has since been used for its euphoria inducing capabilities.

What is Heroin Made Of?

So, you may be wondering now, what is heroin made of, and how do people become addicted to it? First, it is important to keep in mind that heroin comes in many different forms. There is pure heroin, highly pure heroin, and there is the heroin that is mixed with other substances to be sold on the street. Heroin itself is made from, or derived from morphine, a naturally occurring substance that can be extracted in its base form from the seed pod of specific varieties of poppy seed plants.

What is Heroin Cut With?

So, that answers the question “what is heroin made of?” But it may have left you with another question about the different forms of heroin. What are the different forms of heroin then? Well, we mentioned above that there is pure, or highly pure heroin, and then the heroin that is sold on the streets for “recreational” use. Pure, or highly pure, heroin is the pharmaceutical grade manufacturing of the drug as a medication, which is derived from morphine and typically white in color and is often distributed as a fine powder.

Heroin that is not pure, and sold on the streets for illicit drug use, can come in black, brown, or white powder forms. But, what is heroin cut with that makes it look so different? What’s the difference? There are many different substances that heroin can be cut with (some more dangerous than others) including – but not limited to:

  • Baking Soda
  • Sugar
  • Starch
  • Rizzy Powder
  • Talcum Powder
  • Crushed Over-The-Counter-Pain-Killers
  • Laundry Detergent
  • Caffeine
  • Rat Poison
  • Powdered Milk
  • Fentanyl

Some of these substances that make up what heroin is cut with, may seem harmless enough (like sugar), but imagine pumping sugar directly into your bloodstream, or snorting it up into your nasal passages. It is not a pleasant picture. Then imagine doing the same thing, but with rat poison or fentanyl. Neither pure or impure heroin should be perceived as safe to use, heroin can cause major health issues, including addiction, and can lead to life-threatening circumstances.

What Does Heroin Look Like?

So, you already know that heroin can come in a black, brown, off-white, or white colored powder. But, is there anything else heroin can look like? Heroin can be produced not only in its powder form for illicit use, it can also be produced as a sticky substance, like tar, or hard coal. Normally, the sticky or coal-like substances are darker in color, due to the impurities left behind by the substances they have been cut with. The same goes for black, brown, and even off-white powders. Typically, pure white powder is pure heroin, but it could be mixed with sugar to give off the appearance of pure heroin, and not actually be so.

What Color is Heroin?

The appearance of heroin can vary vastly. But, what color is heroin most often? Quite generally, heroin in powder form can come in four colors, including:

  • Black
  • Brown
  • Off-White
  • White

Other forms of heroin, like the sticky or coal-like substances, often emerge in varying shades of brown or black colors, due to impurities left behind by the substances used to cut the heroin with.

How is Heroin Used?

At this point, you may be wondering about how heroin may be used. When heroin was used in the medical setting years ago, the drug (used as a medication) would be injected intravenously to a patient, with fast-acting effects. Today, as heroin is an illegal substance to use in the U.S., people make use of heroin in predominantly three different ways. Typically, individuals who use heroin “recreationally”, do so by:

  • Snorting
  • Smoking
  • Injecting

Now, there are also a number of ways in which heroin can be produced, so you may be wondering, “if it comes in a powder, or even a tar-like substance, how do people inject it?” Heroin in its powdered form is ready to snort at a moment’s notice. Individuals who snort the drug may lay out a line of heroin in its powdered form, and use a straw or small tube of paper (like a dollar bill) to snort the substance directly into their nostril. For users who choose to smoke heroin, they may turn to a number of different methods.

Once such a method is to combine heroin with marijuana and roll it like a cigarette, and another is to acquire a specially designed heroin foil to roll and smoke the drug. Heroin foils are extremely difficult to get a hold of though, so most individuals who do smoke the drug tend to roll their own heroin filled cigarettes instead. Lastly, those who inject heroin also have a few methods they typically use, including injecting the drug under their skin (skin popping) or into the muscle (muscle popping or muscling). This method requires heroin (in powder form) to be dissolved into another liquid substance to make it possible to inject, or for the tar and coal-like substances, to be cooked down into a soluble, injectable form. All of these methods of use are incredibly dangerous, with fast-acting effects, but typically, the injecting of heroin is perceived to have the most added risk factors, including the risk of contracting more serious, blood-borne disease like HIV and hepatitis B and C, as well as many other chronic health conditions.

Heroin Street Names

So, if heroin is illegal and dangerous to use, how is it that individuals are still obtaining the drug, and misusing it? The illicit drug trade has been around for a long time, and has cultivated many ways to exchange information, sell, and distribute drugs as a result. One of these methods includes the use of street names for heroin. Heroin street names or slang names for heroin include:

  • Dogfood
  • Black Tar
  • Smack
  • Big H
  • Brown Sugar
  • China White
  • Chiva Dope
  • H
  • Horse
  • Junk
  • Skunk
  • Skag
  • White Horse
  • Cheese (with OTC nighttime cold medicine)
  • A-Bomb (with marijuana)
  • Hell Dust
  • Negra
  • Thunder
  • Dope

 Heroin Side Effects

We know it may be a little overwhelming to read, but heroin has more than just a lot of street names. The dangers of heroin use are also varied. The side effects of heroin use can be both short-term and long-term, and with most side effects associated with drug addictions, even the seemingly “harmless” effects can lead to severe long-term consequences. Heroin side effects can be life-threatening, and you should be very careful to avoid them, but quick to recognize them.

Short Term Effects of Heroin

The most immediate heroin short-term side effect is the rush, or euphoric high, that accompanies its use. This rush of pleasure that keeps abusers returning to the drug again and again can onset the immediate sprouting of other heroin short-term effects, including:

  • Flushed skin
  • Dry mouth
  • Heavy feeling in limbs

Once the initial high has died down, other short-term effects of heroin begin to surface, including:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Severe itching
  • Severe, slow breathing
  • Severe, slow heartbeat/heart function
  • Drowsiness
  • Clouded mental function / thinking
  • Analgesia

Long Term Effect of Heroin

Of course, these short-term effects of heroin can lead to longer-lasting consequences. Research has shown that prolonged, repeated use of the drug results in the short and long effects of heroin combining to physically, chemically, and psychologically change the structure of the brain, and the way the mind works. The long-term side effects of heroin use are not only immediately dangerous and life-threatening, but they can lead to other types of physical and mental complications arising in the human body. The long-term effects of heroin use include:

  • Neuronal imbalances
  • Hormone imbalances
  • Heroin tolerance/dependence
  • Collapsed veins
  • Abscesses (swollen tissue with pus)
  • Infection of lining and values of the heart
  • Constipation
  • Stomach cramps
  • Pneumonia
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Miscarriage
  • Neonatal abstinence syndrome
  • Low birth weights
  • Higher risk of contracting HIV
  • Higher risk of contracting Hepatitis
  • Higher risk of contracting other infectious diseases
  • Dangerous slowing of heartbeat
  • Dangerous slowing of breathing
  • Higher risk of coma
  • Impaired ability to make decisions
  • Reduction of white-matter in brain
  • Impaired ability to regulate behavior

How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your System?

After learning about all of those symptoms, and what can occur after repeated and prolonged heroin use, you may be curious about the amount of time it takes for the substance to leave the body. So, how long does heroin stay in your system?

It is important to keep in mind that heroin, like many other types of drugs and illicit substances, affects each individual differently. The normal list of diverse factors that can influence how heroin affects you specifically apply, including:

  • Age
  • Weight
  • Height
  • Genetics
  • Metabolism
  • Pre-existing health issues
  • History of use
  • Quality of the drug taken
  • Amount of the drug taken
  • Hydration

Heroin typically has longer-lasting effects than most other types of illicit drugs, including cocaine and meth, but its half-life normally lasts only 30 minutes or less. But, where heroin use is still detectable in the body can differ, and specific toxicology tests have been designed to catch trace amounts of the drug as a result.


So, how long does heroin stay in your urine or how long does heroin stay in urine, in general? Only FDA approved urine tests can be used in the screening for heroin, which is very similar to normal urine tests, meaning you pee into a cup or tube, and then a laboratory or medical professional will take the urine from you and use a specific test kit designed to alert to different substances within your body. Of course, in order to be effective, the test must be done within a certain amount of time after the drug has been administered, otherwise, the trace amounts of the drugs can have already exited the body. Typically, heroine lasts in urine for only a few hours, but can sometimes be detected up to 2 days after your last use of the drug.


What about how long does heroin stay in your saliva? Research has shown that FDA approved saliva tests can also determine how long heroin stays in saliva. A saliva test performed to detect heroin traces is easy to undergo. Much like urine collection, a saliva test is quick, to the point, and easy to collect. A medical professional will simply use an approved swab to run along the inside of your cheek, the swab will remain in your mouth for a minute or two to ensure it is fully saturated, and afterward removed and taken for testing. But, how long does heroin stay in your saliva specifically? Trace amounts of heroin can show in a saliva test anywhere from 1 hour to 24 hours after consumption. Depending on the method in which a person takes heroin, the drug can “appear” and “disappear” in salvia at different rates, with smoking detection lasting longer than injection or snorting.


What about blood then? How long does heroin stay in your blood system? Well, the answer to “how long does heroin stay in your blood” is largely similar to that of saliva. Most often, when medical professionals begin to test for trace amounts of heroin in your system, they will not bother with a blood test, because the test can only determine whether or not you have used the substance within 24 hours of your last consumption, at a maximum. And the process to determine how long heroin stays in the blood is much more invasive and time-consuming than it is truly worth when a time crunch is in place. Otherwise, heroin can remain traceable in your blood for sometimes a mere 5 to 10 minutes.


So, how long does heroin stay in your hair, you wonder? Hair follicle testing may be the best way to test someone for heroin drug use. It takes longer for the substance to be detectable in a hair follicle, but once the substance becomes traceable, heroin can be detected in a hair sample from anywhere from 1 week to 3 months after the last use, sometimes even longer. A hair follicle test is also rather easy to undergo, much like urine and saliva testing, this kind of screening only needs a small sample of hair from the individual, which can be taken at home, in a medical facility, or the workplace, and sent in for testing. The turn around time for a hair test tends to take longer, as it undergoes a two-step process to ensure accuracy. Hair follicle testing is largely more popular for heroin detection than most other screening methods.

Breast Milk

Lastly, you may be curious about how long heroin stays in breastmilk. Unfortunately, heroin use while breastfeeding has not undergone a large amount of study as of yet. Although some research has shown that due to heroin’s high metabolizing rate, a mother who uses heroin anywhere from an hour to 2 days or so before breastfeeding can dangerously expose her infant to the adverse effects of the drug, including dependency, and the child could potentially end up in the hospital shortly after consuming breast milk contaminated by the drug, and need to undergo intensive care and therapy.

Is Heroin Addictive?

At this point, you may be wondering, why is heroin so addictive? Is heroin always addictive? Yes. Heroin is a highly addictive drug that is not only made from morphine but produces morphine in the brain, which over time, alters the brain physically and psychologically. This is ultimately why heroin is addictive. Heroin first tempts individuals to use for its pain reliving, euphoria producing effects. But the drug works quickly to change the way in which the brain operates, distorting the user’s world until they become physically dependent on the drug.

Withdrawal symptoms are not inherently life-threatening but can lead to life-threatening circumstances, just like “normal” heroin side effects. Remember, the best way to prevent a heroin addiction is abstinence, but if you find yourself, or one of your loved ones, struggling with a heroin addiction, Saint John’s Recovery Place is here to help. Do not hesitate to call us to start on your recovery journey today. Every step towards healing and recovery is a step in the right direction, and we are here to help you along the way.