The effects of heroin have a harmful impact on both the individual and society, taking each year thousands of lives or assuming a large economic impact on health coverage.
Heroin is a type of semi-synthetic opiate that is derived from morphine. We can find two types in the market: white heroin and brown heroin. The first is of greater purity, while the second has more toxic effects because it is of a lower purity.
From this addictive opiate can derive some diseases such as hepatitis or AIDS, as well as being a source of violence and criminal activities.
Although there are many institutions and governments that fight against this hard drug, the demand has increased considerably in this century.
In the case of the United States, more than 8,200 people died from an overdose of heroin in 2013. A fact that does not alarm the American population, since since 2000 the consumption figures have quadrupled.
Effects of Heroin
But why is this illegal opiate so lethal? What are the effects on the body to cause an overdose? Who is most at risk of being addicted?
Throughout this article we will develop the main effects of heroin in the short and long term. From the first sensation that our body experiences to the fatal death or coma in which a habitual consumer may end up.
15 effects of heroin use
Before going on to describe the effects of heroin, it is necessary to note that they depend on several factors.
For example, the duration in which the effects remain active will be greater or less depending on the dose, its purity and the route of administration (inhaled, smoked or injected).
Since the 80s, the favorite option has been to consume it intravenously, which was more pleasant for the heroin addict. However, the risk of acquiring viral diseases such as hepatitis or AIDS resulted in the fact that for some time they have opted for the nasal or pulmonary route.
The type of consumer is another key factor. The person who consumes habitually and by physiological need (dependence) does not experience the same sensations as those who try it for the first time in search of pleasure.
And is that heroin, like morphine, acts on the central nervous system. Specifically in the opioid receptors located in the areas of perception of pain or gratification, as well as in the central stem, localization of important processes such as excitation, blood pressure or respiration.
Vomiting, nausea or dizziness are the first sensations that heroin causes when consumed. It is more usual that these effects occur in people who consume more periodically than those who ingest the first few times.
Also known as ‘flash’ or ‘rush’. It occurs after the first uncomfortable sensations and causes a state of pleasure dominated by a state of sedation, euphoria and relief.
Warmth, relaxation, tranquility … This is because, once the heroin reaches the brain, it becomes morphine and acts on the said opioid receptors.
During this phase we also experience dry mouth, contraction of the pupils and wetting of the eyes, loss of appetite, decreased sensitivity to pain and depression of the respiratory system.
In addition, the heart rate, body temperature and tension go down.
3- Stage of “fever”
At a certain peak of pleasure, sensations acquire characteristics similar to fever. It is usually given two hours after being ingested the dose of heroin and its effect persists only a few minutes.
The intensity of fever varies according to the amount of drug consumed and how quickly it reaches the brain and opioid receptors.
4- Feeling of heaviness in the extremities
It is common for the brain to activate or deactivate part of its functions during the ingestion of heroin. For example, the cerebral cortex does not send enough nerve impulses for the extremities to act normally, producing that sensation of heaviness.
The alert state in the brain can disappear and consumers can go into a state of drowsiness. This triggers in a state of wakefulness that can cause hallucinations ( visual or auditory, pleasant or horrifying), a certain state of hypnosis, a not clear thought and the sensation of stunned.
During this stage there is a serious deterioration of memory, detailed in several studies as there are alterations in concentration, attention and information processing. The result is poor verbal and visual performance in the short term.
6- Slowing of the respiratory rhythm
Heroin affects breathing by modifying neurochemical activity in the brainstem, an area dedicated to controlling the respiratory and also cardiac rhythm.
If this decrease in the respiratory rhythm stabilizes it is called bradypnea. Very common problem in obese or smokers. Its consequences in the long run can be fatal.
7- Constipation and intestinal constipation
In addition to the central nervous system, the peripheral nervous system is also damaged, being the cause of nausea and vomiting experienced by novice and sporadic users.
The gastrointestinal tract, whose functioning depends on both nervous systems, is a victim of heroin damage.
The process is a malfunction of peristalsis of the intestine, inhibition of basal secretions, increased absorption of water in the intestine and the density of feces and finally development of constipation.
However, the true role of heroin in this fatal intestinal process is still under discussion among the scientific community.
Every time we administer a dose of an addictive substance, our brain becomes more vulnerable and it is necessary to consume more and more of that element that causes such pleasurable short-term effects.
The reason for this is due to dopamine, the neutrotransmitter that processes positive states of emotion. Dopamine in situations of pleasure or risk segregates, maintaining a control by the brain so as not to cause an emotional imbalance.
However, in the case of drugs it is different, since it breaks that balance of dopamine. This causes a struggle between the brain and the chemicals for the control of sensitive receptors.
At first the brain compensates for the heroin flow, so that the initial amount begins not to give pleasure to the consumer who, eager to achieve the desired effect, resorts to higher doses.
This results in the brain starting to get confused and new neuronal routes are formed that directly connect heroin and pleasure. With it begins the first long-term symptom: addiction.
The addiction is the process by which the brain begins to sue the drug over the rest of their physiological needs or survival, such as eating, drinking or having sex.
For its development it is necessary to maintain a consolidation of consumption, to the point that heroin or any other addictive modifies dopamine levels, keeping them low.
This establishes neuronal connections that are activated after a learning process in which pleasure is associated with the drug, becoming a reward.
9- Infectious and bacterial diseases
In the most serious cases, it is normal for the addict to end up using the intravenous route to consume heroin. This is the most powerful way to feel the desired effects, but at the same time the most dangerous for all the risks involved, including the various infectious and bacterial diseases.
The use of syringes to administer and the exchange of these injection equipment among consumers, leads to the possibility of acquiring diseases as serious as AIDS (HIV) or hepatitis B and C, chronic diseases that can only be overcome with certain treatments.
An example of the seriousness of the matter is that it is estimated that approximately 80% of the 35,000 annual cases that occur of hepatitis C in the United States are due to the exchange of injectable drugs.
In Spain, about 59% of those affected by AIDS between 1981 and 1998 were due to a parental infection.
10- Collapsed veins
Again, the use of syringes seriously affects the person’s physique. The already heroin addict needs to inject the harmful substance intravenously to acquire greater pleasure, eventually leading to a deterioration in their veins.
The constant need to prick itself causes the veins to weaken forming varicose veins. This causes them to collapse and blood to accumulate, preventing the fluidity of it. Result? The deoxygenated blood accumulates without being able to be oxygenated by the lungs and a blue or purple coloration occurs in the skin that borders the veins.
This coloration will widen along the arm causing severe bruising.
11- Cutaneous abscesses
The action of heroin can infect an area of the soft tissue, remaining isolated and producing the accumulation of pus and other dead bacteria or tissues.
These boils can develop anywhere in the body.
12- Damage to the lungs and heart
The lungs and the heart are, after the brain, the organs most affected by this opiate. If these are flooded by heroin fluid, their function diminishes and can cause diseases such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, infections of the endocardium or in the valves of the heart and abscesses in the lung.
13- Rheumatological problems
Joint problems are quite frequent in heroin addicts. Swelling, pain or swelling are some of the symptoms of these rheumatological problems, among which arthritis stands out.
Most critical phase of heroin use. The poisoning by this substance is due, according to the WHO, to the “triad by opioid overdose”, composed of punctiform pupils ( miosis ), loss of consciousness and respiratory depression.
This combination serves as an impulse to a respiratory cardiac arrest that can lead the person to a coma or, in the worst case, to death.
It is estimated that about 69,000 people die from opioid overdoses each year.
15- Withdrawal syndrome
Once the dependence on heroin has been created, the organism becomes accustomed to its presence, is tolerated and demands it.
If at any time the drug addict decides to interrupt or reduce the doses to which he is accustomed to his body, the withdrawal syndrome occurs, assuming an abrupt series of physical or mental reactions of great intensity.
The first symptoms are restlessness, sweating, overwhelm, feeling of suffocation, nervousness, agitation, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting or uncontrolled movement of your extremities. They usually start at two hours after the last ingested dose and last between 24 and 48 hours. From then on, the most critical phase is passed, which lasts approximately one week.
Abstinence can have very serious reactions such as increased heart rate, arrhythmias, heart attacks, seizures, cardiovascular accidents , anxiety, stress and extreme depression and finally suicidal tendencies.
Some interesting facts
Heroin was marketed in 1898 by Bayer Pharmaceutical as a cough medicine with no addictive consequences. Its sale was legal until 1910.
According to a study carried out by the Drug Abuse Institute of the United States, heroin is the illegal drug with the greatest addictive capacity. The only compound that overcomes it is nicotine, for legal use and that we can find in tobacco.
According to a study on the effects of heroin abuse (Cicero, 2012), in the United States, the profile of the habitual consumer is a 23-year-old white male who lives in rural or suburban areas and belongs to a middle-class family. .
In 2010, 3,036 people died of heroin overdoses in the United States that had a prescription to treat their chronic pain problems with opioids.
Artists or celebrities such as Amy Winehouse, Heath Ledger, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimmy Hendrix, Whitney Houston or Cory Monteith have all died of heroin overdoses.
Afghanistan is the nerve center of heroin production in the world occupying 92% of the market. At a long distance, Southeast Asia, Colombia and Mexico follow.