Heroin: Many names, forms
What, exactly, is heroin?
Heroin is known on the street as black tar, H, horse, junk, chiva, hell dust, thunder skag or smack. The federal government classifies heroin as a schedule 1 controlled substance, meaning it has no legal use.
It can be in the form of a white or brown powder, or a black, tarry goo. Derived from morphine, extracted from the seeds of the Asian poppy plant, heroin can be ingested by mixing it with water, heating it and injecting it. Or it can be snorted or smoked.
When a person ingests heroin, he feels a rush of euphoria, followed by overpowering, heavy-limbed lethargy. Breathing is slowed, the pupils constrict, and the user may have dry mouth and warm, flushed skin and be nauseated. The user in this state does what is called nodding, his head falling forward as he drifts in and out of a semi-conscious state.
Heroin is highly addictive, both physically and psychologically. With increased use comes tolerance, so the user needs the drug more and more often to get the same feeling. Because heroin is usually "cut" or mixed with other substances, the user never really knows the strength of the drug he's ingesting and can overdose. When that happens, breathing can stop, resulting in coma or death.
A little history
Heroin is an opioid drug. Opioids, made from poppies, were used as far back as 3400 B.C. in southwest Asia, and spread to Europe, India and China, according to the University of Arizona's MethOIDE program.
In the United States, 18th-century doctors used opium to relieve pain. In 1805, morphine and codeine were isolated from opium, with morphine used as a cure for opium addiction until it was discovered that morphine, too, is addictive.
In 1874, heroin was synthesized by an English chemist. It began to be used commercially in 1898 by the Bayer Pharmaceutical company. However, its addictive properties were soon discovered, and in 1924, the government classified heroin as an illegal substance.