The opium poppy produces the drug morphine. From the drug morphine, a highly addicted drug is obtained. This drug is called heroin. It is a “downer” that affects the brain’s pleasure systems andobstructs the brain’s ability to perceive pain. Thus, it is used as pain killer or as a recreational drug. Moreover, it has an extremely high potential for dependence.
Heroin can be used in a variety of ways, depending on user preference and the purity of the drug. It can be injected into a vein, injected into a muscle, smoked in a water pipe, mixed in a regular cigarette, inhaled as smoke through a straw, known as “chasing the dragon,” snorted as powder via the nose.
The short-term effects of heroin abuse appear soon after a single dose and disappear in a few hours. After an injection of heroin, the user reports feeling a surge of euphoria together with a warm flushing of the skin, a dry mouth, and heavy extremities. Following this initial euphoria, the user goes “on the nod,” an alternately wakeful and drowsy state. Mental functioning becomes clouded because of the depression of the central nervous system. Other effects included decreased and slurred speech, slow gait, constricted pupils, droopy eyelids, impaired night vision, vomiting, constipation.
Long-term effects of heroin appear after repeated use for some period of time. Chronic users may develop collapsed veins, infection of the heart lining and valves, abscesses, cellulites, and liver disease. Pulmonary complications, including various types of pneumonia, may result from the poor health condition of the abuser, as well as from heroin’s depressing effects on respiration. In addition to the effects of the drug itself, street heroin may have additives that do not really soften and result in clogging the blood vessels that lead to the lungs, liver, kidneys, or brain. This can cause infection or even death of small patches of cells in vital organs. With regular heroin use, tolerance develops. This means the abuser must use more heroin to achieve the same intensity or effect.
As higher doses are used over time, physical dependence and addiction develop. With physical dependence, the body has adapted to the presence of the drug and withdrawal symptoms may happen if use is reduced. Withdrawal, which in regular abusers may happen as early as a few hours after the last administration, produces drug craving, restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea and vomiting, cold flashes with goose bumps (“cold turkey”), kicking movements (“kicking the habit”), and other symptoms. Major withdrawal symptoms peak between 48 and 72 hours after the last does and subside after about a week. Sudden withdrawal by seriously dependent users who are in poor health can be deadly.
Furthermore, the withdrawal syndrome from heroin may start within 6 to 24 hours of discontinuation of the drug; however, this time frame can fluctuate with the degree of tolerance as well as the amount of the last consumed dose. Symptoms may include: sweating, malaise, anxiety, depression, priapism, extra sensitivity of the genitals in females, general feeling of heaviness, cramp-like pains in the limbs, excessive sneezing, tears, rhinorrhea, sleep difficulties (insomnia), cold sweats, chills, severe muscle and bone aches; nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, cramps, and fever.
Like any other cycle of drug addiction, heroin addiction starts with the irregular use of the drug that would then lead to a habit. This is so because it causes some chemicals in the brain to become dependent to the drug. Moreover, the body itself desires for the drug because of its pleasurable effects. It is relaxing, thus the person feels positively about the drug. And even though it gets to the point that the drug is starting to deteriorate the person, he or she could not get away with it anymore, because he or she has become dependent on heroin. Thus, when the drug intake is suddenly ended, the person experiences withdrawal symptoms. With this, professional help is required for recovery.