Heroin Facts

Marie Law Alphabiolabs

By Marie Law, Head of Toxicology at AlphaBiolabs
Last reviewed: 02/01/2023

In this article, we take a closer look at heroin, what it is, how it is used, the side effects of heroin use and more.

What is heroin?

Heroin is an opioid drug made from morphine, a natural substance taken from the seed pods of various opium poppy plants, which are grown in southeast and southwest Asia, Mexico and Colombia.

It is also known as diacetylmorphine and diamorphine, among other names.

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What are the street names for heroin?

Some of the most common street names for heroin include:

  • Black tar
  • Chiva
  • Hell dust
  • Horse
  • Negra
  • Smack
  • Thunder
  • Big H

What does heroin look like?

Heroin is often sold in powder form (white or brown), or as a black sticky substance known as black tar heroin.

How is heroin used?

Recreational drug users typically inject, snort, or smoke heroin.

When smoked, the drug is usually heated on a surface such as aluminum foil before the smoke is inhaled. This method is also known as ‘chasing the dragon’.

Heroin is also dissolved in water and then injected: a very dangerous method that can lead to overdose.

How do people behave when they take heroin?

People who take heroin may initially feel relaxed, happy, and sleepy.

However, it can also cause anxiety and paranoia.

What are the side effects of heroin?

The physical side effects of heroin can vary from person to person and depend on several factors, including how the drug is ingested, frequency of use, and the metabolism and weight of the person.

Some common side effects include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting
  • Slow reaction times

When injected, adverse effects include vein damage, infections, and blood clots.

A person who injects heroin is also at an increased risk of overdosing or contracting life-altering infections such as HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. This risk is even greater among users who share needles.

What happens when you use heroin with other drugs?

Below is an overview of the side effects of using heroin with other drugs.


Consuming alcohol alongside heroin can significantly increase the risk of overdose, leading to shallow breathing, lowered blood pressure and heart rate, sedation, and even a coma.


Taking heroin and cocaine together – also known as a ‘speedball’ – can pose serious risks.

Heroin and cocaine have opposing effects on the central nervous system, with heroin being a nervous system depressant and cocaine being a stimulant.

Taking both drugs together can cause breathing difficulties and adversely affect a person’s heart rate, leading to overdose.


Commonly used for treating conditions such as anxiety and insomnia, benzodiazepines are often taken by recreational drug users alongside opioids such as heroin.

This poses a risk to the user, as both opioids and benzodiazepines can slow a person’s breathing.

What Is the legal status of heroin in the US?

Because of its high potential for abuse, heroin is classed as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act.

Additionally, it has no medical use in the US.

What is the difference between heroin and morphine?

Although there are some similarities between heroin and morphine, each is used for very different reasons.

Morphine, prescribed as Roxanol®, Oramorph SR®, Kadian® and MS-Contin®, among others, is a strong and effective painkiller that is often used in healthcare settings to relieve pain in cancer patients or those who have had surgery.

Heroin, however, is typically produced and distributed illegally for recreational (illegal) drug use and is much more potent than morphine.

Although heroin and morphine are used for very different reasons, both belong to the opioid group of drugs, are derived from opium, and are broken down by the body in the same way.

How long does it take for heroin to show up in a drug test?

Even after the ‘high’ has worn off, and long after the drug was first consumed, heroin use can be detected by a drug test, depending on the type of test you take.

The drug testing detection windows for heroin are as follows:

  • Oral fluid (saliva) – up to 48 hours
  • Urine – up to 4 days
  • Hair – up to 12 months (depending on the length of hair available)
  • Nails – up to 12 months (up to 6 months for fingernails and up to 12 months for toenails)

Oral fluid and urine drug testing are known as ‘narrow-window’ forms of testing and can be used to detect drug use from 30 minutes after consumption, up to a few days. This can vary depending on the type of substance and how much was used.

The rate at which hair and nails grow means that both hair drug testing and nail drug testing can provide a ‘wide-window’ of detection for drugs and their metabolites (up to 12 months).

Order a Home Drug Test Kit for Heroin Online

Where can I buy a drug test?

AlphaBiolabs offers two types of home drug tests, designed to give you peace of mind or enable you to seek support for a loved one who is struggling with substance misuse.

  • Home Urine Drug Test Kit (pack of 3 – $34.95) – this easy-to-use home drug testing kit can detect drugs and their metabolites in a urine sample. The self-contained screening kit includes built-in test strips, allowing you to read the results in just 5 minutes
  • Drug and Alcohol Nail Test (from $99) – this test can detect drug use for a period of up to 12 months prior to samples being collected, with only a sample of fingernail clippings or toenail clippings required. Simply follow the instructions included in your test kit to collect your nail clipping samples and return them to our accredited laboratory for testing

Please be aware that our home drug test kits are for peace of mind only, and the results cannot be used in court or for legal reasons.

For confidential advice about which test might best suit your needs, you can email our Customer Services team at info@alphabiolabsusa.com.

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Marie Law AlphaBiolabs

Marie Law

Head of Toxicology at AlphaBiolabs
A highly-skilled and respected scientist with over 13 years’ experience in the field of forensics, Marie joined AlphaBiolabs in 2022 and oversees the company’s growing toxicology team. As Head of Toxicology, Marie’s day-to-day responsibilities include maintaining the highest quality testing standards for toxicology and further enhancing AlphaBiolabs’ drug and alcohol testing services for members of the public and the legal sector.

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