Spoons and needles are the utensils most associated with heroin use. As instruments of injection, they get bent, battered, and burnt so that users can expediently administer it into their bodies. As one of the primary factors fueling the opioid addiction epidemic, heroin continues to attract new users. Those new to the drug may eschew the tried-and-true injection method for other less-utilized approaches.
The practice of smoking heroin is experiencing a surge in popularity, according to media reports such as this one.
Some people are smoking heroin to avoid the dangers that come from an injection, such as developing abscesses or a susceptibility to blood-borne viruses like HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). Harm reduction advocates believe smoking the drug is a less harmful than injection.
Users also say that smoking or inhaling just a fraction of heroin saves them from having to use more through injection. However, smoking or inhaling heroin will not likely replace injection as the most popular method of ingestion.
Still, some users have resorted to smoking heroin, believing that they have avoided the worst complications that come with drug injection. What they don’t realize is that smoking heroin is just as damaging as taking the needle. So yes, smoking heroin is possible, but the havoc it wreaks is often irreversible. Read on to learn more.
A History of Heroin Use
Opiates such as heroin and morphine owe their existence to the opium poppy, a plant that was cultivated in lower Mesopotamia (Southwest Asia). Its earliest use occurred around 3,400 B.C. when it was referred to it as the “joy plant.” Eventually, the plant and its use as an intoxicant spread along Silk Road, the ancient network of trade routes that went from the Mediterranean through Asia and ultimately China. The plant would be the subject of wars and spawn a new generation of narcotic drugs that would transform humankind.
Morphine was first isolated from the opium plant in 1804 and was lauded as a wonder drug for pain. It reduced levels of physical stress and had a calming effect on users. Yet, it did not possess the potency of heroin, the substance it would help birth.
Heroin, which is eight times more potent than morphine, was first synthesized by an English chemist in 1874. It is made when morphine is treated with acetic anhydride. Heroin was brought to market by a German pharmaceutical company in 1898 and was intended as a narcotic analgesic and successor to morphine. When its addictive properties were realized, countries around the world set prohibitions on its use.
The Shape and Form of Heroin
Heroin can come in the form of white or brownish powder or black sticky substance known as “black tar heroin.” It can be cut with adulterants as commonplace as powdered milk or as lethal as fentanyl, the opioid product 50-to-100 times stronger than morphine.
Heroin rapidly binds to the opioid receptors in the brain, producing an intense rush of euphoria in users, so much so that they become addicted physically and psychologically.
The illicit drug is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which means that it has no acceptable medical use and possesses a high potential for abuse. Heroin can be smoked, snorted, or injected. People who are addicted to heroin prefer to inject it because it offers maximal effects and is considered the most efficient use of the drug.
The Consequences of Smoking Heroin
The act of heating up heroin to inhale its fumes through a pipe or other instrument has a name. It is referred to as “chasing the dragon,” or CTD.
CTD has gained popularity among teenagers, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). People have gravitated toward smoking or inhaling heroin because it is easier to do, provides a more intense high than snorting, and lessens the risk of contracting disease through dirty or used needles.
What’s more, users see it as the best way to preserve heroin, even though smoking it gives someone only a fraction of the actual substance. In the U.S. especially, where heroin comes mostly as a hydrochloride salt, smoking is not a popular method because it does not burn well.
The November 2018 JAMA report states that when people smoke heroin, they subject themselves to brain damage, including cognitive impairments and an increased risk of dementia. The study also contends that smoking heroin can leave holes in the brain’s white matter, which can make it difficult to speak and cause comas and seizures.
Thus, the special dangers smoking heroin presents make this method every bit as dangerous as an injection.
Of course, there are life-threatening signs and symptoms that come with heroin use as well.
The Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Addiction
Like other substances, heroin addiction presents as physical and behavioral signs and symptoms. Heroin intoxication can produce symptoms such as fatigue, dry mouth, dilated pupils, disorientation, shortness of breath, lethargy, severe itching, and nodding off.
People who smoke heroin avoid health complications involving injection such as abscesses and collapsed veins. They will also avoid the damaged tissue in the nose that comes with snorting or sniffing the drug. Still, they can develop serious ailments and disorders common to all heroin users such as:
- Infection of the heart lining and valves
- Constipation and stomach cramping
- Liver and kidney disease
- Lung complications, including pneumonia
- Mental disorders such as depression and antisocial personality disorder
- Sexual dysfunction for men
- Irregular menstrual cycles for women
What’s more, whether you smoke, snort, or inject heroin, you can still be exposed to the toxic additives often mixed with it, like fentanyl, carfentanil, hydrochloride, ammonia, and/or chloroform.
The withdrawal symptoms that result from heroin use also include restlessness, muscle and bone pain, diarrhea and vomiting, cold flashes, severe cravings, and uncontrollable leg movements.
Like any other substance addiction, users will exhibit compulsive behaviors associated with obtaining and using heroin, which can include:
- Lying about drug use
- Struggling at work or school
- Withdrawing from normal activities
- Loss of motivation
- A sudden change in friends
- Changes in weight
- Lack of attention to personal hygiene
- Lack of self-esteem
Evidence of abuse may not include burnt spoons or track marks on the arm. If you smoke heroin, addiction and brain damage can ensnare your life. If you observe any of these signs or symptoms in you or a loved one, then professional addiction treatment is absolutely necessary.
Heroin Addiction Treatment
Heroin is one of the most potent, life-shattering drugs around. The essential step in a professional treatment program is ridding your body of heroin and other toxins. This process is known as medical detoxification. In detox, you will receive medications and round-the-clock care to ensure that your process is safe and comfortable.
The detox consists of three stages:
- Evaluation: Doctors conduct a general physical and mental health exam and screen you for co-occurring disorders. They also measure substance levels in the bloodstream and use this data to determine the best treatment plan for you.
- Stabilization: Stabilization involves keeping you safe as you withdraw from heroin. This procedure will minimize any pain, cravings, or discomfort you feel during the process. It also involves helping you manage any other unforeseen symptoms or ones that are extreme, such as seizures, which can be life-threatening.
- Transition: In this last step of detox, you receive resources and information about how to proceed with your addiction care.
The next step after detox is to receive ongoing care at a treatment facility. At Arete Recovery, you will have the option of enrolling in a partial hospitalization program (PHP) or an intensive outpatient program (IOP). If your heroin addiction is severe, PHP will be the best option because you will have access to intensive therapeutic treatment and clinical services. With IOP, you will receive comprehensive addiction treatment without having to live at home. Both programs are designed to treat the root cause of your heroin addiction. They also equip you with effective strategies to prevent relapse.
Because substance addiction often requires a lifelong commitment to sobriety, aftercare is a critical hedge against relapse and re-addiction. An alumni program will allow you to stay connected, inspired, and supported by a recovery community that consists of individuals who are dedicated to achieving lifelong sobriety.
What Makes Heroin So Dangerous
In recent years, the dangers of heroin have been obscured by the presence of lethal, not-fit-for-human-consumption opioids such as fentanyl and carfentanil. Nevertheless, heroin use can be deadly, particularly when it is ingested in large doses or mixed with toxic substances.
Though heroin overdose is more common when the drug is injected, the risk, however minute, still exists no matter how you take the drug.
A large amount of heroin can produce overdose symptoms that depress a user’s heart rate and breathing. The effects are so profound that the only way a user survives is if they are administered naloxone, which can reverse an episode of opioid overdose.
If you observe someone in the midst of heroin overdose, it is critical that you call 9-1-1
Heroin Addiction Statistics
- According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 1 in 15 people who take prescription pain relievers nonmedically will try heroin in 10 years.
- Almost 16,000 people died from heroin overdose in 2017, according to NIDA.
- 45 percent of people who used heroin was also addicted to prescription opioids, reports the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
- There were 81,326 emergency department visits occurred for unintentional, heroin-related poisonings in America in 2015, which is almost 26 per 100,000 people, states the CDC.