Updated on February 6, 2024
7 min read

What Does Heroin Look Like?

Key Takeaways

What is Heroin?

Heroin is an addictive and illegal opioid made from morphine, a naturally occurring substance extracted from poppy seeds.4 Pure heroin is a white powder but heroin can be brown, black, beige, yellow, or pink.2

Heroin can be injected, snorted, smoked, or sniffed. The street names heroin is referred to include but aren't limited to:4

  • Dope
  • Boy or white boy
  • Capital
  • Dragon
  • Big H or H
  • Hell dust

Heroin is highly addictive, and repeated use can lead to serious health problems and drug abuse.

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The Different Types of Heroin & What They Look Like

There are several different types of heroin. Each type is extremely addictive and dangerous despite the differences in purity. These include:4

Black Tar Heroin

Black tar heroin is a dark brown or black sticky substance that looks like a hard ball. It is the least pure form of heroin and often contains other substances like talcum powder or rat poison (strychnine).

Its consistency makes it difficult to inject but can be diluted in water and heated for injection. Otherwise, it can be smoked using aluminum foil or ingested in another way.

Brown Heroin

Brown heroin is sometimes called brown powder. It's a powder that's similar to pure white heroin but tends to have a grittier texture because it isn’t as pure. It’s usually smoked but can be injected or snorted.

Asian Heroin

Asian heroin comes in various colors, depending on where it comes from. These include:2

  • White
  • Beige
  • Yellow
  • Pink
  • Orange

It comes in powder form and resembles ground-up candy or chalk.

Gunpowder Heroin

Gunpowder heroin is a stickier and more potent form of black tar heroin. It has a crumbled texture similar to dried coffee grounds. It’s commonly found on the West Coast of the United States. 

Purple/Blue Heroin 

Purple or blue heroin, or Purp, is one of the deadliest forms of the drug. It is mixed with fentanyl and carfentanil, a tranquilizer used to anesthetize elephants. A dose of purple heroin, as small as 20 micrograms (the size of a grain of sand), is enough to kill a user.

White Heroin 

White heroin is the purest form of heroin; the whiter the color, the purer it is. It often appears as a fine white powder. It's important to know that, like most heroin, its purity does not make it safe.

Pills and Tablets

Heroin can also come in tablet or pill form. These light blue pills are often called “Mexican Oxy” or “heroin pills.”

Heroin pills are deadlier than regular heroin because they contain a significant amount of fentanyl. It's also often mistaken for its prescription counterparts, like oxycodone or hydrocodone.

These pills are sold as a version of oxycodone, despite being three to six times as dangerous as their prescription counterparts. Using these pills can lead to significant health problems.

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What Does Heroin Smell & Taste Like?

Pure heroin has very little odor because its smell usually comes from the substances cut into it. It often smells like vinegar due to the process that makes it more acidic. It may also smell like vitamins or medicine.

On the other hand, heroin has a bitter taste but it depends on how it's cut. Cutting heroin with something acidic gives it an acidic flavor while cutting it with sugar makes it sweet. Meanwhile, black tar heroin has a chemical taste.

How Does Heroin Work?

Heroin binds to the brain receptors and activates the mu-opioid receptors (MORs). This causes a temporary release of dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of pleasure and satisfaction.1

This dopamine rush makes you feel good and increases the risk of repeated use. However, not all substances interact with the brain in the same way.1

The way you use heroin can affect the intensity of its effects. For example, injecting heroin is typically more immediate and intense than smoking heroin.1

How Addictive is Heroin?

The dopamine rush you experience from heroin can quickly cause an addiction. This is because when an external trigger causes the release of neurotransmitters repeatedly, the brain learns to depend on that trigger.1,4

Over time, the brain will need more heroin to achieve the same effects, leading to substance use disorders. Factors that affect how you develop an addiction to heroin include:1,4

  • How you use heroin
  • How often you use it
  • How quickly it reaches the brain
  • The potency of heroin

For many people, heroin addiction begins with dependence on prescription painkillers prescribed to treat a medical issue or to alleviate pain after a medical procedure. However, once an addiction develops, you may turn to heroin when you can no longer access prescription painkillers.1

Who is at Risk of Heroin Addiction

Anyone who uses heroin is at risk of developing an addiction. However, some factors that increase the risk of developing an addiction include:4

  • Family or personal history of addiction to any substance
  • Heavy use of tobacco
  • History of anxiety or depression
  • Exposure to high-risk environments
  • History of risk-taking behavior
  • Use of prescription painkillers

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Symptoms of Heroin Use

Compared to other drugs, heroin triggers various physical and mental symptoms that worsen over time. Moreover, substance abuse can lead to societal or legal problems.

Symptoms of heroin use and addiction include:4

  • Slurred speech
  • Itching
  • Agitation
  • Drowsiness
  • Constricted pupils
  • Flushed skin
  • Needle marks (if injecting the drug)
  • Runny nose (if snorting the drug)
  • Slow breathing
  • Depression
  • Memory problems
  • Constipation
  • Confused or disoriented feelings
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Reduced pain response
  • Changes in appearance
  • Decline in personal hygiene
  • Behavior changes
  • Financial issues
  • Problems at work or school
  • Engaging in risky, dangerous activities
  • Inability to stop using heroin even if there is a desire to do so

Heroin Overdose & Symptoms

Like most drugs, too much heroin can lead to an opioid overdose. This can have life-threatening symptoms that require immediate medical attention.

Heroin users have a high risk of experiencing the following symptoms:4,5

  • Shallow breathing
  • Gasping
  • Pale Skin
  • Bluish tint to the lips and/or fingertips
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Coma
  • Death

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), mixing heroin with other substances increases the risk of overdose.7 If you or someone you know is experiencing a heroin overdose, seek immediate medical attention.

Symptoms of Heroin Withdrawal

If you suddenly stop using heroin, you may experience withdrawal symptoms. Especially if you've become dependent on the drug.4

It can be challenging for people to quit heroin due to uncomfortable opioid withdrawal symptoms. These include:4

  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Insomnia
  • Agitation
  • Restlessness
  • Sweating
  • Anxiety
  • Muscle aches
  • Intense cravings for heroin

These symptoms are the most intense during the early stage of withdrawal when the body is detoxifying. The more comfortable a person is during this phase, the better the chances of successful recovery.

How Does Heroin Affect the Body? 

Not only can you develop an addiction to heroin, but you can also experience other dangerous side effects. How you use heroin can also have specific risks1

Side effects of heroin include:1

  • Insomnia
  • Constipation
  • Pneumonia
  • Tuberculosis
  • Depression
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Sexual and/or reproductive dysfunction
  • Lung damage (if smoked)
  • Damage to the mucosal tissue in the nose (if snorted)
  • Perforation of the nasal septum (if snorted)
  • Scarring, collapsed veins, and various infections (if injected)
  • Increased risk of HIV and hepatitis B and C (if injected)

Additionally, the substances mixed in street heroin pose risks like:1

  • Clogged blood vessels
  • Damage to the brain, liver, kidney, and other vital organs
  • Weakened immune system

Treatment for Heroin Use & Addiction 

Like many addictive drugs, treatment for heroin use and addiction varies from person to person. Treatment is also more effective when combined with other treatment plans.

The two most common heroin addiction treatment approaches include pharmacological and behavioral methods. Available treatment methods include:

Summary

Heroin is an addictive opioid made from morphine extracted from poppy plants. It is dangerous, leading to health complications and a substance use disorder.

Heroin is often described as a white powder but can have different colors and types depending on its purity. However, each type is dangerous and addictive regardless of purity.

Abusing heroin cause dependence, overdose, and withdrawal. An overdose is particularly dangerous because it can have life-threatening side effects.

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Updated on February 6, 2024

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