Heroin is well-known as an extremely addictive drug which can leave many users dependent upon it for the rest of their lives. It is one of the group of opioids produced by the opium poppy, and is related to morphine and codeine; like them, it is a very powerful painkiller. Many millions of people use heroin across the globe, and it is the main cause of drug-related deaths in most of the western world. The reason why heroin is so addictive, despite the known dangers of using it, is due to its effects upon the body. These effects, and the side effects of withdrawal, keep the user coming back for more.
Heroin and Endorphins
Heroin triggers the receptors of the brain which trigger endorphins. These pleasure chemicals are also produced during physical activity, or during sex, and on many other occasions when the body is engaged in pleasurable occupations. Heroin is very similar to endorphins, and binds with the receptors, creating a pleasurable feeling every time heroin is used. Heroin therefore creates a pleasurable sensation in the body, usually described as euphoria, which then fades down into sedation. This will leave the person feeling both relaxed, and very satisfied.
First Effects of Heroin
When the drug is first taken into the body, absorption is affected by how the drug was ingested, and in what quantities. Heroin which has been taken by smoking will start to act in a few minutes, while injecting the drug straight into a vein will usually result in a high after a few seconds. Injecting into the muscle will have an onset time of somewhere between the two, usually after 5 minutes or so.
For first-time users, the first effect of heroin may be to induce a feeling of nausea, sometimes with vomiting. Other drugs, such as nicotine, have a similar effect, and they are also used again by those who have suffered this symptom. Those who are not put off by the nausea will often experience reduced sickness with regular use.
The next feeling will be one of a high, considered to be very close to an orgasm, which may last only for a few minutes. The rush helps to relax the user, and is probably due to the brain taking the first hit of the drug.
Once this rush has passed, there may be an increased feeling of pleasure, slowly turning into heaviness and distraction from the surroundings. There will be a reduction in sensation, particularly of pain, and any misery or depression which the user has been feeling will also be minimized. Users often experience a feeling of warmth from this.
After the euphoria has passed, there will be a long period of sedation, during which the user might sit motionless for hours. This is known as the ‘nod’, and often involves periods of wakefulness alternating between long periods of being asleep. The user may seem to be far away during this period.
After-Effects of Heroin Use
Once the effects of the drug have worn off, the user may experience some withdrawal symptoms. These are also the effects of the drug, caused by the ‘down’ when the drug is no longer available to the brain. The user may feel depressed, and might even consider suicide during these periods. The user will often regret being addicted to heroin, and may even contact family and friends, asking for help. This feeling is usually canceled out by the next fix.
Withdrawal may result in the user feeling ‘flat’, or emotionless, and very tired. There is a general feeling of dysphoria (that nothing is going to plan), and there may be some insomnia. Users find these psychological effects difficult to handle, which is why many users will often take more than one fix within a 24 hour period, and will also increase the dose repeatedly in order to get better and longer highs.
Physical side effects of heroin are also difficult for the user to live with. “Itchy blood” is one of the main withdrawal problems, and will often result in the user scratching the skin until it bleeds. The user may also experience severe muscle aches and spasms, coupled with chills and shivering. They may also experience digestive discomfort, partially triggered by heroins’ habit of slowing the metabolism.