Heroin facts

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.

What are the street names for heroin?

Some of the most common street names for heroin include:

  • Dust
  • H
  • Horse
  • Junk
  • Skag
  • Smack
  • Gear
  • Brown
  • Harry
  • Jack
  • China White

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 tin 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 alongside 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’ or ‘dynamite’ – 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.

Which legislation covers heroin use?

Heroin, also known as diamorphine or diacetylmorphine, is a Schedule 2 controlled drug under the Misuse of Drugs Acts 1977.

This means that the illegal import, export, production, possession, sale, or supply of heroin is prohibited.

Anyone who commits one of these offences could be liable for a fine, prison sentence, or both. However, several factors will be considered for sentencing including the type, quantity, and total value of the drugs found.

What is the difference between heroin and diamorphine?

Although heroin is structurally the same as diamorphine, each is used for very different reasons.

Diamorphine is a strong and effective painkiller that is often used within the medical profession to relieve pain in patients who have had surgery, or as a painkiller for cancer patients.

Heroin, however, is typically produced and distributed illegally for recreational (illegal) drug use.

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

Once injected or smoked, heroin and diamorphine rapidly convert to 6-monoacetylmorphine (6-MAM) and then more slowly into morphine.

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).

Where can I buy a drug test?

Our Home Drug Testing Kit has been designed to give you peace of mind or enable you to seek support for a friend or loved one who is struggling with substance misuse.

This easy-to-use, self-contained screening kit can detect drugs and their metabolites in a urine sample, with built-in test strips that allow you to read the results in just 5 minutes

Please be aware that our home drug test kits are for peace of mind only, and the results cannot be used in court. If you require a drug test for official matters, you will need a legally-instructed drug test.

For confidential advice about which test might best suit your needs, you can also call our Customer Services team on 01 402 9466 or email

Home Drug Testing Kit

Order your home drug testing kit online now for just €20.

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, the legal sector, and the workplace sector.

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