What Are the Effects of a Heroin High?

What Are the Effects of a Heroin High?

Many people who have a loved one they suspect is using heroin have questions regarding what heroin is and how it works.  This article will seek to provide some information regarding heroin, specifically: What is heroin and how does it work?  How does heroin affect the body?  And when do these effects take place?  We hope to shed some light on this topic so others, who may be seeking information for a loved one, can do so in an informed manner.

What is Heroin and How Does It Work?

Heroin, or diacetylmorphine, is an illicit opiate analgesic whose closest legal analog is morphine, from which heroin is processed.  Heroin is produced through a series of steps that begins with extracting the liquid of the seed of the poppy plant, Papavar somniferum.

This liquid is dried into opium, which is then chemically treated to extract a morphine base.  Again a series of chemicals, primarily acetic anhydride and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), are added to the morphine to extract a brown heroin base.  Further steps of refinement can create a white heroin from brown heroin.

The yield of this final product from opium is about 6%, by weight, and is often achieved using relatively crude methods and utilizing very common chemicals.  At the final point in production, heroin is approximately 75% pure.  Once heroin is smuggled into the United States and cut for street sale, purity can range from 11-72% with an average of over 40% in the United States.

Heroin is typically administered either intravenously (injection into a vein), through insufflation (snorting), or inhalation (smoking).  Within 2-6 minutes of heroin entering the body it is metabolized into 6-monoacetylmorphine (6-MAM), a substance with 6 times the potency of morphine, and then further broken down into morphine within 6-25 minutes.

Because heroin and 6-MAM are more lipid soluble than morphine, they are able to more easily enter the brain tissue of the user.  This, in conjunction with the increased potency of heroin, results in a rapid and intense onset of effects.

How Does Heroin Affect the Body?

The effects of heroin depend greatly on previous use patterns, tolerance, and the potency of the heroin being taken.  Morphine, and its derivative heroin, both affect the body’s central nervous system.  Upon entering the body, heroin interacts with various receptors within the central nervous system that affect pain, the respiratory system, and the dopamine sensory pathways in the brain.

Users feel a rapid onset of euphoria, combined with dry mouth, heavy limbs, and a warm flushing of the skin.  Psychologically, heroin produces an overall feeling of euphoria and well-being.  It relaxes, sedates, and makes the user drowsy and lethargic.

Physiologically, heroin suppresses pain receptors, decreases heart rate and respiratory function, and depresses the central nervous system.  Additionally, heroin use can cause vomiting and nausea, constipation, sweating, cramping, constricted pupils, diminished reflexes, and flushing of the face and neck.

How Long Does a Heroin High Last?

Each method of heroin administration has a different rate of onset.  The high after snorting can be felt within 2-5 minutes.  After smoking, the high is felt in 10 seconds or less.  Injection results in an almost immediate high.  The rate of onset and intensity of effects is also affected by the dosage and purity of the product, with higher purity or higher dosages resulting in more intense effects more quickly.

On average, heroin’s initial rush of euphoria lasts from less than a minute to several minutes.  Further peak effects of heroin, including drowsiness, relaxation, and sedation, last between approximately 1 and 2 hours.  The overall effects of heroin wear off between 3 and 5 hours after administration.

It is important to note that between 6 and 12 hours after heroin is administered the user will begin to experience withdrawal effects that increase in intensity.  Physical withdrawal symptoms for heroin can last between 5 and 10 days, depending on the tolerance and habit of the user.

Because heroin has a very rapid half-life in the body, it has a rapid onset of a high, but also is quickly broken down and expelled from the user’s system.  As such, people who have a physical dependence on heroin will need to continue to use it to experience the euphoric high, as well as to avoid the onset of withdrawal symptoms.

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