Heroin is the common name for the psychoactive drug, diacetylmorphine. It can be smoked, sniffed, inserted rectally or injected.

Heroin is processed from morphine, which is a naturally occurring substance extracted from opium poppy plants. The opium poppy has been cultivated for more than five thousand years for a wide variety of medicinal uses, most notably as an analgesic used in the treatment of pain.

It was first synthesized from morphine in 1874 and marketed by Bayer, the German pharmaceutical company, as a cough suppressant and “non-addictive” morphine substitute until it was made it illegal in the U.S. in 1924. Heroin is currently classified as a Schedule I substance, which means that the federal government has determined that it has no currently accepted medical use and has a high potential for abuse.

People who use heroin describe a feeling of warmth, relaxation and detachment, with a lessening sense of anxiety. It is a powerful sedative, and due to its analgesic qualities, physical and emotional aches and pains can also be diminished.

These effects appear quickly and can last for several hours, depending on the dosage and the mode of administration. When it is injected or smoked, it is quickly introduced into the bloodstream and leads to an instant rush of euphoric pleasure.

In addition to pain relief and sedation, heroin use can also lead to constipation, nausea and respiratory depression, which causes shallow breathing, lowered blood pressure and reduced heart rate. Prolonged use can lead to physical dependence. Some people who use heroin do so because this physical dependence means that if they stop using heroin, they will experience severe withdrawal symptoms that will make them physically sick. Many others continue using heroin because it provides a feeling of comfort and safety.

See the fact sheet for more information and sources.