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Street names: Smack, Skag, H, Shit, Brown, Horse, Harry and Brown
Heroin is derived from the opium poppy and is a refined form of opium. Opium is processed from the milk of the poppy seedpod, which is dried and has been used since ancient times as a pain medication. Recreational use of the drug is reported in ancient Sumerian texts.
Heroin is a white powder and is usually sold wrapped in paper (known as a "wrap") and is usually diluted with powdered glucose, although unscrupulous drug dealers sometimes diluted or "cut" heroin with talcum powder or flour, which is highly dangerous for users.
The powder mixes well with water and the solution is warmed, and then injected intravenously. Heroin powder may also be sniffed or heated (the fumes are inhaled - called "chasing the dragon"). Laudanum, opium dissolved in alcohol, was a very popular drug of choice in Victorian times.
Heroin is an opiate (the word is a play on "opium") and is classed with drugs such as morphine and codeine, which are also processed from the milk of the opium seedpod. Synthetic opiates, pethadine and methadone, are included in this class, and are also opiates.
The body will metabolize codeine and it will show as an opiate in a drug test. Codeine is a natural isomer of methylated morphine.
Heroin and most other opiates were made illegal in the 1900's, due to their addictive effects. It is interesting to note that opium was exported to China by Britain during the 1800's. This practice forced the Chinese to destroy the opium imports, which led to 2 wars between China and Britain, known as the Opium Wars.
The peace treaties signed after the wars led to Britain being given Hong Kong, extra trading rights and pounds in compensation for the burnt opium.
Long-term use of heroin and opiates causes the user to develop a tolerance to the drug (users are forced to use more of the drug to obtain the same effect).
Deaths have been reported from overdose, and commonly occur when an addict stops using the drug and then starts again, injecting the same dose last taken. When high doses are taken and then suddenly withdrawn, withdrawal symptoms occur.
These are usually very similar to 'flu: aches, sweating, tremors, sneezing, yawning and spasms. These symptoms usually occur within 7 to 24 hours after the last dose. The symptoms usually fade within a week to 2 weeks, but a general malaise is felt for an unspecified time after that.
The drug is taken recreationally for its euphoric effects and is calming, producing a warm feeling. The nervous system is suppressed as well as the coughing reflex, breathing and heart rate.
Blood vessels are dilated (producing the warm feeling) and the bowel functions are also suppressed, leading to constipation. It is reported that the drug does not effect the motor skills of a user, even when experiencing a "high".
Recovered addicts report that the euphoria is replaced by a simple craving for the drug, with stomach cramps and vomiting being the only effects felt, after long term use.
Psychological and physical dependence does usually occur, although it has been reported that some occasional users do not develop an addiction.
Users report apathy and loss of appetite and this may lead to poor diet and self neglect. The need to satisfy the heightened tolerance also leads to financial and major social problems.
Long-term use increases risk of damage to the body. Dirty needles may be used, and if shared, lead to an increased risk of AIDS, hepatitis and/or tetanus.
The product purchased from a dealer may also be impure and mixed with other drugs or substances, leading to bad "trips" or other dangerous reactions, including convulsions, delusions, coma and death.
Sniffing or "snorting" heroin leads to damage to the nasal membranes and septum.