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What is in Heroin and How is it Made?

Heroin is made from morphine, which is extracted from the seedpods of the poppy plant.

Morphine is then extracted from the opium, made into a morphine base, and combined with various chemicals to finally produce heroin.

Heroin Overview

The heroin we know today has an innocent backstory. It was once used legally in the United States, according to a 2014 report from The Atlantic. It is considered one of the oldest vices in humanity, along with alcohol.

A 2016 article from The Guardian mentions that heroin comes from the opium poppy plant, and there are references to it that are at least 5,000 years old.

Morphine, opioids, and heroin all come from this same parent plant, but they are all derived differently.

The Chemistry Behind Heroin

The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that heroin is derived from a naturally occurring substance in the opium poppy plant called morphine. The plant grows in Colombia, Mexico, Southeast Asia, and Southwest Asia.

After it is synthesized, it turns into diamorphine and is processed further to make it suitable to use.

There are several different kinds of heroin.


This comes in a powder form and is mixed with water so it can be injected. Some users may decide to snort it, but this type of heroin cannot be effectively smoked. It usually white and odorless.


Due to its method of creation, this drug is a cross between heroin and morphine. It is more easily found in the United States and can be injected or smoked. The tar can be brown or black. This heroin is considered to be particularly harmful to your health.


This form resembles a beige, off-white, or brown powder, but it can also come in clumps. Heroin is the main ingredient in this powder, but it can also be mixed with other possibly toxic ingredients.

Unlike heroin hydrochloride, it cannot be mixed with water before injection. Instead, users tend to use citric acid or other acids to dissolve it.

Known Risks of Heroin

Taking heroin has both short-term and long-term effects. Regular use of heroin can result in dependence and misuse.

The following are some of the expected short-term effects:

  • Itching
  • Flushing in the face
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Going in and out of consciousness

Long-term effects of heroin include the following:

  • Skin abscesses
  • Nose injury in people who snort heroin
  • Vein injuries at injection sites
  • Infections in the heart valves and lining
  • Pneumonia
  • Constipation

Ingredients Often Mixed Into Heroin

Most illegal street heroin is only 50 percent pure. It can contain unknown ingredients that consist of fillers and other substances. These can cause additional unexpected side effects.

A January 2019 article published by the Tennessean mentioned that fentanyl had been found in many batches of heroin. Sellers usually add fentanyl to heroin supplies to maximize its strength and stretch their batches. This addition can quickly lead to a fatal overdose in users.

There are many ingredients you can encounter regardless of what type of heroin you purchase. A few examples are:


Many sedatives are legal to use under medical supervision, such as xylocaine. These can appear in heroin and cause you to feel unexpected effects. The inclusion of sedatives could also pose risks for people who have allergies to them


These ingredients are used to stretch a dealer’s heroin supply. They can be non-toxic, such as sugar, baking soda, flour, starch, or powdered milk. Black tar heroin may be mixed with dirt or even shoe polish. Some dealers may rely on toxic ingredients, such as quinine


Black tar heroin sometimes contains soil with the same spores that cause botulism. This can lead to a severe infection that could paralyze your muscles


Strychnine is a rat poison that has been found in heroin. A dose can be fatal in humans


Heroin is not usually cut with aluminum, but some people wrap their heroin in aluminum prior to smoking and inhale its contents. This is toxic to the brain

History of Heroin

Opium is said to have arrived in the United States around 1620. In the 19th century, there were many products with opium as the main ingredient. This included items like teething powders and medicines to alleviate menstrual pain.

President Teddy Roosevelt signed some of the first laws meant to curb the sale of opiates in 1906, and these laws made sure that drugs were treated as a legal issue in the United States to this day.

In the 1960s, soldiers in the Vietnam War began increasing their use of heroin, and Americans started using heroin in higher numbers as well.

In the 1970s, President Nixon cracked down on the sale and use of all drugs, including heroin. Use declined somewhat, though there is controversy on the effectiveness of the War on Drugs.

With the rise of the opioid epidemic in the U.S. in the 1990s, opioid abuse rates increased. People increasingly turned to heroin once prescription painkillers were too difficult to obtain.