Side Effects of Heroin

Heroin creates an obscene amount of dopamine and dulls the body’s perception of pain, thereby creating an extreme sense of euphoria or intense happiness.

Last updated: June 1, 2018
A dude with a blasted mind

The impact is immediate – occurring within minutes of being injected or snorted – and users experience a “rush” sensation.

One of the biggest problems with any kind of drug that unnaturally produces dopamine is it manufactures a physiological response to something unnecessary. What this means is, your body needs sleep, food and water, but heroin causes the same reaction as those needs but to a much greater extent.

This is why and how addiction and dependence occur; your mind and body begin to crave heroin in the same way a starving person craves food. The rewards center of the brain is altered, dopamine is exaggerated, and communication is altered.

Short Term Effects of Heroin

The short term effects of heroin include:

  • Euphoria
  • Intense rush
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Depressed breathing
  • Heaviness in appendages
  • Dry mouth

In addition to these, another symptom is “nodding.” Nodding is a big part of the high from heroin as the user alternates between consciousness and unconsciousness, or alternating between alertness and lethargy. The result is heroin users typically “nod” forward before catching themselves.

As heroin is a depressant that can cause sleepiness, many people combine it with cocaine (a stimulant) to “balance” the effects.

Long Term Effects of Heroin

The long term effects of heroin differ depending on how the drug is consumed. Many users start using heroin in its powdered – an indicator that it’s in a more pure state. However, black tar heroin (a black, sticky substance that’s a result of impurities left behind in the process) needs to be dissolved or diluted and injected. Intravenous use of heroin can cause a host of other long-term effects, such as increased risk of contracting a disease like HIV and hepatitis.

That said, the risk of a user moving from pure powdered heroin to impure intravenous injections is very high due to the addictive nature of the drug.

The fact that black tar heroin is less pure and that injecting the substance can create a greater high with less means lower costs and more effective. As a result, many become intravenous users as their addiction worsens. Some of the long term side effects of heroin are as follows:

  • Change in brain structure
  • Deterioration of white matter
  • Imbalance (physically and hormonally)
  • Inability to regulate behavior
  • Decreased ability to make decisions
  • Poor executive functioning (inability to reason, plan, problem-solve, or multitask)
  • Infectious disease (HIV, hepatitis B & C)
  • Collapsed veins
  • Bacterial infections (fungal endocarditis & venous schlerosis)
  • Infection of heart lining and valves
  • Arthritis
  • Rheumatologic problems
  • Abscesses (swollen tissue filled with pus)
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease

In addition to these side effects, it’s possible to be affected by myriad others due to the additives and drugs that may be added to heroin. And, while some of these effects are treatable others are not reversible.

The most severe side effect is overdose which usually leads to death. You can overdose on heroin. This occurs because one of the depressant’s side effects is slowed or depressed respiration. It’s possible to develop a condition called hypoxia which decreases the amount of oxygen reaching the brain. This can result in permanent brain damage or a user going comatose.


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