In This Article
What is Heroin? How is it Used?
Heroin is an illegal opioid drug made from morphine, a prescription pain relief drug. Heroin comes in various colors and forms and can be ingested in different ways, including smoking.
People use heroin because it provides an immediate rush, followed by a mellow feeling. The brain converts heroin back to morphine once it enters the brain, which eases pain.
Heroin has experienced an increase in popularity in the last two decades, in part because of the co-occurring spike in prescription pain medication, substance misuse, and addiction.
When people addicted to prescription drugs can no longer obtain their drug of choice, they turn to heroin for pain relief and other effects.
Many start by snorting or smoking the drug and eventually progress to injecting heroin for the most intense and efficient high.
Can You Smoke Heroin?
Yes. People sometimes choose to smoke heroin because they have concerns about injecting it with a needle. Injections increase the risk of contracting HIV and hepatitis B and C.
Additionally, frequent heroin users might smoke a small amount of a new batch of heroin to test its potency. Some heroin users believe this reduces the risk of overdose when injecting the drug.
In many cases, people who smoke heroin eventually move on to injecting the drug because it provides a more potent high. The high that comes from smoking heroin is less intense and doesn’t happen as quickly.
How is Heroin Smoked?
Heroin users smoke the drug in powder, tar, or brown base form.
One of the most common ways to smoke heroin is to place the drug on a small piece of aluminum foil.
It is then heated by holding a flame below the foil. The vapor created by heating the drug is inhaled through a tube or straw.
Heroin can also be smoked in a pipe or cigarette form.
Heroin cigarettes are made by sprinkling the powder onto the tobacco in a regular hand-rolled cigarette.
Some people also “lace” marijuana cigarettes with heroin powder. This creates a more intense high and increases the risk of addiction.
Sometimes, marijuana dealers mix heroin into the cigarettes they are selling to increase the risk of addiction. This creates a greater opportunity for “repeat customers.”
Smoking heroin through a pipe is another popular way of using the drug.
Any straw-type tube can be used as a pipe. But people who prefer this method of ingestion tend to use glass pipes, also called crack pipes.
What Happens to Your Body When You Smoke Heroin?
Smoking heroin triggers physical and psychological effects in the body. The activity puts users at risk of developing drug tolerance and, eventually, an addiction.
The initial rush of euphoria followed by the pleasant, warm feeling becomes something heroin users crave.
Physical Side Effects of Smoking Heroin
The physical side effects of smoking heroin include:
- Quick and intense sense of euphoria
- Warm sensation throughout the body
- Heavy feeling in the limbs
- Dry mouth
- Nausea and vomiting
- Slowed breathing
- Clouded thinking
Some people choose to smoke heroin instead of injecting it because smoking prevents some dangerous side effects, such as needle infections and blood vessel damage.
However, smoking heroin poses respiratory risks not linked to injecting the drug.
Over time, heroin users develop a physical tolerance to the drug. Long-term users also face an increased risk of asthma attacks and emphysema.
What Happens to Your Brain When You Smoke Heroin?
In addition to the physical side effects someone experiences when smoking heroin, there are also psychological effects:
- Dull mental functioning
- Slowed thinking
- Relaxed feeling
- Cravings for the drug
What are the Dangers of Smoking Heroin?
Heroin is an extremely dangerous drug. Dangers of smoking heroin include:
- Lung complications, including a higher risk of developing pneumonia
- Liver disease
- Temporary and permanent brain damage
- High risk of overdose
Does Smoking Heroin Increase the Risk for Overdose?
The risk of overdose exists no matter how someone ingests heroin.
However, the risk tends to be higher when someone injects the drug.
Symptoms of a heroin overdose include:
- Blue-tinged nails or lips
- Dilated or “pinpoint” pupils
- Decreased blood pressure
- Weak pulse
- Shallow or stoppage of breathing
Heroin Addiction Potential & Symptoms
Smoking heroin poses a slightly lower risk of addiction, but the risk still exists.
Many people who begin smoking heroin eventually transition to injecting it because they’re chasing a more potent high.
Symptoms of heroin addiction include:
- Track marks
- Weight loss
- Mood swings
- Owning paraphernalia associated with heroin use, including foil, spoons, and syringes
- Experiencing cravings and other withdrawal symptoms when not using the drug
The withdrawal symptoms associated with heroin are intense and potentially dangerous. They include nausea, diarrhea, aches and pains, overall feelings of flu, and more.
Treatment for Heroin Use & Addiction
Addiction treatment is available for people who use and become addicted to heroin.
Someone addicted to the drug has the best chance of sobriety when they address the physical, mental, and environmental factors related to their addiction.
The first stage of recovery from heroin addiction is detoxification. During detox, the body rids itself of the drug. During this time, cravings tend to be the strongest, and the risk of relapse is high.
There are also health concerns during the detox phase that are best addressed with medical supervision.
During medical detox, health professionals monitor the patient to ensure there are no serious physical complications. They are also there to ensure any usual symptoms of detox don’t lead to secondary complications.
Addiction treatment must also address the emotional symptoms. People recovering from a heroin addiction may experience anxiety and depression.
Stopping the use of heroin also leads to a dip in dopamine levels. The brain of a heroin user loses its natural ability to produce dopamine, which increases the risk of anxiety and depression.
These symptoms are intensified when a heroin user is battling a co-occurring mental health condition, such as a mood disorder.
Heroin Detox & Withdrawal Timeline
Heroin detox begins before heroin completely leaves the user’s system.
It usually takes between 5 and 7 days. Someone with a more severe addiction could experience symptoms of detox for up to 10 days.
This doesn’t mean that cravings for the drug are gone after 10 days. Someone with a heroin addiction can experience occasional cravings for the rest of their life. This is why ongoing care and support are an important part of recovery.
If you or a loved one is struggling with heroin use, addiction treatment can help. Contact an addiction specialist today to learn how treatment can help.