Heroin (C21H23NO5 -- diacetylmorphine, diamorphine, junk, horse, or smack) is a white crystalline alkaloid opiate, derived from morphine by acetylation.

Table of contents
1 History
2 Usage and Effects
3 Production and Trafficking
4 Short and long term effects of heroin
5 Cultural Influences
6 See also
7 External link


It was first synthesised in 1874 by C.R.A. Wright, a British chemist working at St. Mary's Hospital Medical School, London. He had been experimenting with combining morphine with various acids. He boiled anhydrous morphine alkaloid with acetic anhydride over a stove for several hours and produced a compound that he called tetra acetyl morphine, which we now call diacetylmorphine. The compound was sent to F.M. Pierce of Owens College, Manchester, for analysis. He reported the following to Wright.

Doses ... were subcutaneously injected into young dogs and rabbits ... with the following general results ... great prostration, fear, and sleepiness speedily following the administration, the eyes being sensitive, and pupils dilated, considerable salivation being produced in dogs, and slight tendency to vomiting in some cases, but no actual emesis. Respiration was at first quickened, but subsequently reduced, and the heart's action was diminished, and rendered irregular. Marked want of coordinating power over the muscular movements, and loss of power in the pelvis and hind limbs, together with a diminution of temperature in the rectum of about 4 [1]

Heinrich Dreser (who discovered aspirin), of Bayer in Elberfeld, Germany, noticed that diacetylmorphine was almost 10 times more potent than morphine. Bayer registered heroin (meaning 'heroic treatment' from the German word heroisch) as a trademark. From 1898 through to 1910 it was marketed as a non-addictive morphine substitute and cough medicine for children.

In 1924, the United States' Heroin Act made it illegal to manufacture or possess heroin in that country.

Usage and Effects

As a medicine, heroin is administered usually in the form of its hydrochloride as an analgesic. However it is very rarely used.

It is also illictly used as a powerful and addictive drug producing intense euphoric sensations. It is, in fact, highly addictive.

Methadone is another drug often used to substitute for heroin in treatment for heroin addiction. Methadone is just as addictive as heroin, has somewhat different effects, and has shown some success as a 'less harmful substitute'.

Heroin is chemically very similar to endorphins, the natural opiates of the body, but less potent. It competes with the endorphins for the specialized endorphine receptors found on the surfaces of some body cells. The body responds by reducing (or even stopping) production of endorphins when heroin is consumed. Endorphins are regularly released in the brain and nerves and attenuate pain. Their other functions, if any, are still obscure. The reduced endorphin production in heroin users makes them dependent on the heroin since lack of either endorphins or heroin results in the extreme symptoms including pain (even in the absence of physical trauma). This is what causes the withdrawal symptoms in heroin addicts; the body takes some time to restore endorphin production.

While heroin is inherently a dangerous drug, since it is a central nervous system depressant, it is the lack of available quality information, lack of quality control (few criminal drug dealers meet USP standards in their products), and infected syringes, which can transmit diseases such as AIDS, and hepatitis that cause the most trouble for heroin users. The money which can be made in supplying heroin addicts encourages a continuous supply, and the need to finance purchases generates considerable property crime. Critics of drug prohibition contend that since addiction can be treated, primarily by counseling and methadone substitution, most of the suffering surrounding heroin is indirectly caused by prohibition, not by the drug itself.

Production and Trafficking

Heroin is a controlled substance, but traffic is heavy worldwide, with the biggest producer being Afghanistan, which after a ban on poppy growing by the Taliban in 2001 dropped its production by 95% but revived it to record numbers following the US military occupation and fall of the Taliban government. The CIA has been accused of being among the world's biggest drug smugglers [1] as part of its support of assorted groups around the world. Heroin is one of the most profitable illicit drugs since it is compact and easily concealed. At present, opium poppies are mostly grown in the Middle East, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, and in Asia, Vietnam, and Indonesia. There is also cultivation of opium poppies in the Sinaloa region of Mexico.

Short and long term effects of heroin

  • mental confusion
  • euphoria
  • slow and shallow respiration
  • nausea and vomiting
  • spontaneous abortion
  • constipation
  • AIDS/HIV and hepatitis infections by shared needles
  • overdoses (sometimes fatally)
  • long-term criminal involvement to support heroin habits
  • malnourishment
  • skin conditions from constant injecting, often with poor technique
  • poisoning from contaminants added to 'cut' the pure heroin to something suited to street use.

Withdrawal symptoms

The withdrawal syndrome from heroin begins within 12 hours of discontinuation of the
drug: sweating, malaise, anxiety, depression, general feeling of heaviness, cramp-like pains in the limbs, yawning and lachrymation, sleep difficulties, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, cramps and fever occur. Most addicts also complain of 'itchy blood,' which is very painful.

Cultural Influences

Due to both the dramatic effects of the drug on the consumers life and the widespread use of heroin amongst artists, heroin consumption and addiction has been featured in numerous works of art, ranging from songs to novels. Amongst these are:

See also

External link