How Heroin Can Cause Serious Heart Problems

Medically Reviewed

When pure heroin is taken in appropriate doses, it may cause sedation, constipation, and a handful of other side effects, but it’s usually not life-threatening. This may be surprising to people who know that heroin is linked to one of the worst addiction and overdose epidemics in the history of the United States. That’s because heroin’s most dangerous side effect is addiction. Chemical dependency and addiction can cause compulsive use of a drug despite consequences. Plus, illicit heroin is unpredictable, and pure heroin is rare on the street level. Dealers and drug traffickers often adulterate heroin to spread out supply and increase profits.

However, that means adding all kinds of other substances into heroin supplies. That can make it difficult to take an appropriate dose. You may buy one bag that’s weaker than what you’re used to, and the next may be stronger. Finally, dealers may also add potent synthetic opioids to the mix like fentanyl, which dramatically increases the potency of heroin. Heroin’s addictive quality and unpredictable nature have led to an epidemic of substance use disorders and overdose.

But the other substances that are added to heroin can also have other health risks that aren’t generally associated with opioids, and that includes potentially serious heart problems.

What Is In Illicit Heroin?

Heroins is adulterated with all kinds of substances to increase its volume so dealers can sell more without buying more heroin. In many cases, heroin is mixed with inert substances that have no psychoactive effects like cornstarch, flour, powdered milk, or talc. If it’s white and powdery, it may be found in illicit heroin. Wise dealers will gravitate towards substances without a strong smell or a telltale discoloration, to avoid being found out by buyers. In some cases, dealers try to spice up their heroin supply by adding in other psychoactive substances for added effects.

Anesthetics may be used to increase the sedating effect of heroin. They may also add in stimulants like amphetamines or cocaine to make a speedball, a potent drug cocktail that can be deadly. In some cases, heroin is cut with toxins that are directly harmful to the human body. Rat poison has been found mixed into heroin. Black tar heroin is darker, and it’s sometimes mixed with soil, which can contain fungi that can cause botulism.

The Impact On You Heart

Even benign substances can become dangerous when they’re injected into your veins. Substances like cornstarch can coagulate in your bloodstream, causing blood clots, deep vein thrombosis, strokes, and cardiac arrest. Other household items that aren’t meant for human consumption may not be sterile, introducing harmful bacteria to your body. The National Institute on Drug Abuse says that heroin is associated with infections that can damage heart valves and blood vessels, which can lead to serious heart problems. Other poisons may be cardiotoxic, which means they do direct damage to the heart. Heroin itself may slow down your heart rate while you use it. In overdose cases, your heart rate might slow down to dangerous levels. Your breathing may also slow down, leading to oxygen deprivation and death.

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