EncyclopediaHeroin

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Heroin

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Heroin is an opiate. On the street, this drug is also called smack, junk and brown. It is a brown or white powder with a bitter taste. Dried heroin is odourless. When you heat it and it starts to melt, a typical fragrance is observed. This fragrance is perhaps best defined as animalic. Think of the fragrance at the zoo especially the feline section.

heroin powder and pills

Heroin is one of the most addictive drugs one can obtain. Mid-twentieth century there were many heroin addicts. Fortunately, that number is decreasing steadily. Thanks to good information the addition of new addicts is slowing down.

One is strongly dissuaded to use heroin, although there are a number of interesting things to say about it. In this article, we will therefore not only reflect on the dangers, but also on the history and the economic value of this substance.

The History of Heroin

Heroin is made of opium. Opium is a type of hash which contains several anaesthetising substances. These substances are called opiates. Opium is obtained from the red poppy plant. A cuneiform text dating from 3500 BC describes how to cultivate poppy and how to obtain opium from the flower buds.

In 1804 Friedrich Sertürner isolated de substance morphine as the active component from opium. This isolated substance, however, proved to be a much more powerful pain-killer than the mixture of opiates in the red poppy plant. Morphine was named after to the Greek god Morpheus. This was the god of dreams. The discovery of morphine can be regarded as a breakthrough in medicine. When you break a leg, are terminally ill or have to recover from an operation, you probably will be thankful for the existence of morphine.

Bayer heroin bottle

Morphine was not only used as a pain-killer, at first it was also applied as a substance that could help kick an opium addiction. Unfortunately, it proved to be more addictive than opium. Therefore a less addictive alternative was sought. In 1874, people thought to have found just that in the form of diacetylmorphine. This substance is a derivative of morphine. It was even more powerful than morphine.

In 1898, Bayer marketed this new substance under the brand name Heroin. Nowadays this name is so common that it is used as a generic name. The name is derived from the Greek god Heros as a reference to heroin’s power. Many morphine drug addicts changed to heroin. History repeated itself; because soon it was apparent that heroin was even more addictive than morphine. Unfortunately, people only started to realize this after many had become addicted.

As a consequence of the high number of drug addicts, a conference on opium was held in 1911 at the urging of the U.S. This was the first attempt to prohibit opiates as recreational substances. Because there were many economic interests involved in the opium trade it took three conferences to finally present an opium treaty in 1912. These were finally signed after the First World War. From that moment on opiates could only be used for scientific and medicinal purposes. Recreational use was prohibited. In 1924 the use of heroin as a medicine was also prohibited in the U.S. In The Netherlands it has not been prohibited as a medicine, although it is rarely prescribed by doctors.

Methadone to kick heroin

In 1941 the synthetic substance methadone was introduced. Like heroin, this was an antagonist of morphine. That means the substance imitates the action of morphine. It attaches to the morphine sensor resulting in a narcotic effect. Methadone, unlike heroin, has no intoxicating effect. At first, it was thought that methadone would be less addictive, but again history repeated itself. It proved to be as addictive, if not more addictive, as heroin.

Those who were given methadone to kick the heroin habit reported during detox of methadone that they experienced heavier and prolonged withdrawal symptoms. However, the advantage of methadone is that its use can be reduced in phases. This is not possible when you use heroin. You continuously crave more of it. When a heroin addict changes to methadone, his physical and social conditions will improve significantly. This is mainly due to the disappearance of the intoxicating effect as a result of which physical care and social contacts become interesting again.

The Rise of Heroin Junkies

At the start of the Seventies, the use of heroin bloomed. The Chinese mafia introduced very cheap heroin on the market. At that time it was still cheaper than hash. For this reason, it is not surprising that the number of addicts increased. Within ten years ten thousand drug addicts could be found in the city of Amsterdam alone. Many people died of overdoses, lack of personal care and HIV-infections.

As a consequence heroin got a very bad reputation, which in turn made starting unattractive. Also much was done in the form of information. Luckily because of this, the number of drug addicts decreased noticeably. Therefore we nowadays speak of an ageing demographic of heroin addicts. The average age of a heroin addict nowadays is 47 years. In the nightlife, the substance is hardly offered. The heroin junky is slowly dying out, which is something we as a society can only welcome.

Chemical background of heroin

heroin chemical formula

The chemical name of heroin is 6-mono-acetyl-morphine. It is a derivative (derived substance) of morphine. When injected it works much faster than morphine. This is the result of six extra acetyl groups. These ensure that the substance is rapidly transported through the blood-brain-barrier. [2] Once it arrives in the brain the acetyl groups separate, resulting in morphine. For this reason, it is also called a pro-drug of morphine. [3] Heroin attaches itself to the opiate sensors and has a stimulating effect. It activates the receptor and is therefore called an agonist. By activating the opiate receptor a euphoric feeling arises. Compared to morphine heroin releases more histamine, which results in a body-high that is more intense. [4]

How does heroin addiction begin?

When the opiate receptors are stimulated other opiate receptors break down, this is the basis of heroin addiction. The receptors become hyperactive through use of heroin and to preserve the balance their number decreases. This effect is called down-regulation. [5]

That's why you need more for the same effect. If you have built up some tolerance and you decide to stop with heroin you will have much less opioid receptors compared to a non-addicted person. As a result, certain chemical processes will run insufficiently. This will make you ill. Fortunately, if you quit your body will rapidly produce new receptors. It takes approximately three days for the number of opiate receptors to reach their old level. You, therefore, are ill for three days.

Effects of heroin

After ingestion the following physical effects are experienced:

  • The body temperature is lowered
  • The heartbeat slows down
  • Breathing slows down
  • Constriction of the pupils
  • Reduction of libido
  • Urination and defecation become more difficult

  • A very intense euphoria and warm feeling flows through the body. Some describe it as a feeling which exceeds multiple orgasms and you feel it in every part of your body.
  • One becomes calm. Feelings of fear, pain, sorrow and anger disappear. In fact, nothing else matters anymore. Only the feeling of that moment is still important. Talking to other people becomes irrelevant.
  • An extremely relaxed and calm feeling takes hold.
  • You enter a dream state.

Heroin side effects

When you use heroin you can become nauseous and in some cases feel so terrible that one vomits. Because of this it frequently happens that someone has a very bad first experience and never wants to use it afterwards. In that case, you could say that nausea is a positive effect.

Administration of heroin

One can smoke, sniff, swallow and inject heroin. At Azarius we do not want to go into details here. The best way to use heroin is: Non-use!

How heroin addiction is developed

It is sometimes said that if you use heroin once you´ll be addicted immediately. This is not true, but that makes it even more dangerous. It is a substance that slowly takes you over. The effect is not that special, especially if you compare it to ecstasy or LSD. Because it does not heavily tax the body, one can delude oneself into thinking it isn't that bad.

This way someone can experiment just once with heroin. You could call this the experimental phase. Due to the fact that heroin really does not result in a severe hangover and you don't really need to take it again the next day, the idea arises that you can do it again. Often, novice users delude themselves that others do worse things and that heroin has been unfairly given a bad name.

Using once every three months becomes once a month. Then it changes to once every two weeks. One starts to use it every week. That's usually the point that friends and relatives start to worry for the first time. Unfortunately, heroin results in a flattening of emotions, a feeling of indifference. Someone who uses heroin withdraws has no concerns for his surroundings and starts to use more frequently. Eventually one arrives at the third stage which is addiction. Someone uses several times a day. If you don't, you will get sick.

How heroin continues to pull

Of course, other scenarios are also possible. As previously mentioned, there are many who have had a 'once but never again ' experience. There are however also people who very consciously use heroin a couple of times and stop afterwards. If they have a pleasurable experience the substance often tends to pull at them for some time. It occasionally takes months before they don't long to return to that euphoric state.

Dangers of heroin use

Heroin is dangerous for several reasons:

  • It is extremely addictive. Once you're addicted you become largely disinterested. Scoring a new hit is the only thing that really counts. The social problems that eventually arise are far greater than the physical toll.
  • Heroin in itself is not that taxing on the body, for example, compared to speed. However, if someone has been addicted for a long time physical symptoms can indeed occur. Heroin can completely swallow up a person, as a result of which a drug addict loses all interest in personal care.
  • If one takes too much, one can lose consciousness. If one vomits, which happens frequently, there is a risk of choking on your own vomit.
  • Lack of interest grows more and more once one becomes addicted. This can result in risk-taking behaviour. Think of the use of dirty needles, which can result in HIV-infection.
  • Injecting can result in infections. Because heroin is strongly anaesthetising this is not always noticed, with all consequences.
  • Heroin is accompanied by a fast development of tolerance. A novice user, therefore, needs much less than an experienced user. When an experienced user prepares a shot for a starting user a big mistake is sometimes made. This way one can easily overdose. As a consequence breathing comes to a stand-still, which in the end kills the user. Treating an overdose happens by administering the substance naltrexone. It occupies the opiate sensors without stimulating them. They displace the heroin so to speak. [6]

In conclusion

It should be clear that experimenting with heroin is to be dissuaded. Should you do it anyway, try to realize that you aren't the first person to become increasingly dependent without noticing it. There are undoubtedly safer substances available. Besides, psychoactive substances from which you can learn things are of course more interesting than ones which just numb you.

1. "DrugFacts-Heroin". National Institute on Drug Abuse. October 2014. Retrieved 19 October 2016.
2. Klous MG, Van den Brink W, Van Ree JM, Beijnen JH (2005). "Development of pharmaceutical heroin preparations for medical co-prescription to opioid dependent patients". Drug and Alcohol Dependence. 80 (3): 283
3. Sawynok J (January 1986). "The therapeutic use or heroin: a review or the pharmacological literature". Can. J. Physiol. Pharmacol. 64 (1): 1–6.
4. Histamine release by morphine and diamorphine in man. & Cutaneous Complications or Intravenous Drug Abuse Nature Neuroscience 11, 1053 - 1058 (2008)
Published online: 1 August 2008 | doi: 10.1038/nn.2165
5. Prefrontal cortex AMPA receptor plasticity is crucial for cue-induced relapse to heroin-seeking Michel C Van den Oever1, Natalia A Goriounova2, Ka Wan Li1, Roel C Van der Schors1, Rob Binnekade3, Anton N M Schoffelmeer3, Huibert D Mansvelder2, August B Smit1, Sabine Spijker1,4 & Taco J De Vries1,3,4
6. Haasen C, Verthein U, Degkwitz P, Berger J, Krausz M., Naber D (2007). "Heroin-assisted treatment for opioid dependence: Randomised controlled trial." The British Journal of Psychiatry. 191: 55–62



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