Heroin has a reputation as one of the most addictive drugs out there, but what are its effects and what are the risks of taking it?
What is heroin?
Heroin is a painkilling drug made from morphine, which is derived from the opium poppy. Synthetic substitutes such as methadone are sometimes used as a substitute. Heroin is usually sold in the form of a brownish-white powder which users snort, smoke or prepare for injection.
What are the effects of heroin?
- In small doses, heroin gives users a profound sense of warmth and wellbeing.
- Some first time users may experience nausea or vomiting, especially after injecting.
- Larger doses can lead to drowsiness.
What are the risks of taking heroin?
- Heroin is a very addictive drug and many users may find their habit spirals out of control.
- Tolerance often develops, meaning the user needs more and more heroin to get the same effect.
- Many users who start out smoking heroin turn to injecting for a more intense hit.
- Sharing needles when injecting heroin leaves users at risk of dangerous infections like HIV, hepatitis and gangrene.
- Users trying to kick the habit may experience a period of diarrhoea, insomnia, vomiting, hot and cold sweats, and cramps.
- While many people give up heroin successfully, mentally it can take years to be free.
Heroin is also known as
Smack, skag, H, horse, junk, brown, gear and China white.
Other heroin-related terms
Chasing the dragon: to take heroin by smoking it.
Cold turkey: to abruptly stop using heroin and go into withdrawal.
Poor man’s speedball: a mixture of heroin and amphetamines.
Speedball: a mixture of heroin and cocaine.
Ten bag/ ten spot: a bag of heroin
How can I reduce the risks if I take heroin?
As a rule, never share needles. Sharing equipment just isn’t worth the risk. Clean works are available free from local needle exchanges and some pharmacies.
What is methadone?
If you’re coming off heroin, you may be prescribed methadone to help with your withdrawal. It has similar effects but is less addictive.
How can I reduce the risks if I take methadone?
- Stick closely to supervision instructions to avoid side-effects and other risks. For more details, consult your dispensing pharmacist or local prescribing service.
- Prescription methadone users in possession of a UK driving license are required to disclose their use to the DVLA. A medical may be required to evaluate whether you can continue to be licensed to drive.
What happens if I get caught with heroin?
Heroin, morphine, opium, methadone, dipapanone, and pethidine are all Class A drugs, so possession could lead to up to seven years in prison. Codeine and dihydrocodeine (DF 118) are Class B drugs, but both drugs become Class As when prepared for injection.
For more information about what could happen to you if you’re caught with heroin, read our article here.
Updated on 29-Sep-2015
Photo of heating heroin by Shutterstock
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