How Long Does Heroin Stay in your System?

Reviewed by Dr. Michael McGee - Board Certified Physician in General Psychiatry, Addiction Psychiatry, and Psychosomatic Medicine.

Generally around 1-3 days, but it depends on how it is tested which we discuss below.

Last updated: June 25, 2018
Abstract heroin effect

Heroin is an illegal and highly addictive derivative of the opium poppy pod. People have used opioids in various forms for centuries. Opioid use disorder has recently become a national epidemic in the United States. Heroin is a powder-like substance that is only found on the streets. It can be incredibly dangerous when used long term.

How Your Body Reacts to Heroin

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, when heroin enters the brain, it is immediately converted to morphine and then binds to one of the opioid receptors in the brain. When you use heroin, you experience a rapid rush of pleasure from stimulation of the brain’s endorphin receptors.

In addition to the rush, the physical effects often accompanied with heroin use include dry mouth, a warm flush of the skin, and a heavy feeling in the user’s extremities. According to research from Medline Plus, slowed breathing from heroin can sometimes lead to life-threatening damage, including permanent brain damage.

The high from heroin can typically last for up to five hours after the last hit, although the half-life of heroin is only around 30 minutes. The amount of heroin the user takes will significantly affect the duration of the drug in the body.

How long does it stay in your blood?

Heroin stays in the body for a relatively short period when compared to some other drugs. In the blood, heroin is present for around 12 hours after the last use. In some cases, however, tests can detect heroin in the blood for up to a day depending on the frequency of use and how much heroin the person used.

How long does heroin stay in your urine?

Heroin is detectable for a more extended period after last use through urine tests. In many cases, tests can detect the presence of heroin in a person’s urine for up to three days after the previous use of the drug. This is highly dependent on the amount of the drug that the person took and the method in which they consumed it.

Is heroin detectable in hair?

Heroin, like most other drugs, is detectable in hair follicles for much longer than any other part of the body. For this reason, when testing for the use of drugs over an extended period, or if testing for infrequent use, most employers or other entities will use hair follicle tests.

With this test, it is possible to see heroin use up to three months after use. Keep in mind that the more frequently someone uses heroin, the stronger the presence it will have in the follicle. One-time use likely won’t show up in a hair follicle test.

Smoking vs. Injecting

Although the two methods of using heroin are different, heroin still inevitably reaches the brain, so the effects of heroin are typically the same with smoking and injecting. With that in mind, when injected, heroin enters the bloodstream directly, and the full potency of the drug reaches the brain rapidly. This can be extremely dangerous; it can be a cause of overdose.

When smoking, on the other hand, the drug must enter the bloodstream through the lungs. Some of the drug’s potency is lost in the smoke. Heroin must also pass through lung cells to reach the blood before it reaches the brain.

When injected, heroin is detectable in the system for longer than with smoking, because it has a higher bioavailability. The metabolites of heroin are the same with smoking or injecting.

Smoked heroin loses much of its bioavailability through the smoke. Smoked heroin’s bioavailability is around 52%. Because it is less concentrated when smoked, the body can metabolize it quicker. Therefore heroin isn’t as detectable for as long when smoked as it is when injected.

Can you flush it out sooner?

The most effective way to beat a heroin drug test is to get sober. Professional addiction treatment can help you get through the withdrawal symptoms and help keep your addiction in remission.

Apart from getting sober, other ways to help clear heroin out of your system as quickly as possible include drinking lots of water, light exercise, eating healthy, and taking dietary supplements.

Drinking water will help hydrate your body and speed up the process of expelling exogenous substances, toxins, and metabolites.

Light exercise, including walking or slow jogging, can increase blood circulation and boost your metabolism. This helps your body expel toxins.

Supplementation of vitamins and minerals that support liver and kidney function can help prevent heroin from lingering around longer in the body by speeding up the person’s metabolism.

Types of Tests for Heroin

There are a few ways that employers and others test for the presence of heroin in a person’s body. The most common FDA approved drugs of abuse screenings include the hair follicle test, urine test, blood test, and saliva test. Because traces of heroin last for differing times in different body fluids, the sensitivity of these tests can vary.

Urine tests are the most affordable and fastest way to test for the presence of drugs in someone’s system. Hair follicle tests provide a broader picture of a person’s drug use history, going back as much as 90 days.

Conclusion

Although heroin doesn’t stay in a user’s system for quite as long as a drug like marijuana, it is still incredibly dangerous and addictive. If you or somebody you know is struggling with a heroin or other opioid addiction, we strongly recommend that you seek help from a professional addiction counselor. Once sober, our sobriety tracker can help former users keep track of their days sober and stay on the road to full recovery.

More resources:

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How To Build New Habits

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