Heroin is an illegal, fast-acting opiate that is highly addictive and readily abused. It is derived from morphine, which is extracted from the seeds of the Asian opium poppy plant. Heroin is used recreationally, with users experiencing a euphoric high. It also has analgesic properties, and was initially prescribed by doctors as a cure for tuberculosis.
C. R. Alder Wright first synthesized heroin in 1874 while testing the effects of boiling morphine and acids. He combined anhydrous morphine alkaloid with acetic anhydride to produce a potent acetylated morphine, diacetylmorphine. Heroin was independently created again in 1898 by Felix Hoffmann of Bayer Pharmaceuticals, while attempting to produce codeine. Researchers found that diacetylmorphine was stronger than morphine and initially believed that heroin was non-addictive. Bayer began aggressively marketing the drug as a cure for morphine dependence as well as a cough suppressant.
The American Medical Association approved heroin in 1906, and encouraged its use as a morphine substitute. The epidemic of morphine addiction was rapidly eclipsed by heroin use. In 1914 the United States passed the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act in an effort to control the distribution of opioids, and in 1924 Congress outlawed heroin production. By 1925 possession and consumption of the drug was criminalized completely, and it remains illegal to this day.
Modern heroin production still relies on the opium poppy, which is primarily grown in the Middle East, Asia, and Central America. The seed pods of mature poppy plants are slashed to release raw opium gum. The gum is collected and refined into bricks of morphine, which in turn are synthesized into heroin. The drugs then enter the market.
Heroin is sold under a number of street names, including brown sugar, smack, horse, junk, skag, chiva, hell dust, negra, china white, and thunder. It can be purchased as a white or brown powder that is smoked, inhaled, or mixed with water and injected, or as a dark, tacky substance that is heated and injected (black tar heroin). Drug dealers charge premium prices for pure heroin. They may also cut their supply with powdered milk, sugar, quinine and starch to stretch their product.
The potency of heroin depends on its purity, but even cut heroin is powerful. Once consumed, users experience a feeling of euphoria followed by drowsiness. Inside the body, heroin is rapidly delivered to the brain where it is converted back into morphine. It binds to opioid receptors in brain cells/throughout the body, particularly in areas that process pain and reward. The drug has a number of physical effects, including nausea, dry mouth, heaviness in the extremities, and respiratory depression.
Since heroin is injected intravenously, users are at a higher risk for contracting blood-borne pathogens like HIV and hepatitis. Sharing needles dramatically increases the likelihood of infection. Additional risks of heroin use include collapsed veins, respiratory failure, overdose, and addiction.
Heroin is classified by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration as a Schedule I substance. It has a high potential for abuse with no accepted medical use, even under supervision.