Drugs & Health Blog

Real Teens Ask about Effects of Heroin

This blog post is archived and is no longer being updated. For the latest content, please visit the main Drugs & Health Blog page.
Sara Bellum

At NIDA’s last Chat Day, we got this question from a high school student: “Why do people scratch a lot when they are high on heroin?”

A NIDA scientist responded that he had done years of research on this topic. He explained: “Heroin activates connections in the brain called opioid receptors. These receptors then activate fibers that transmit itch information (aka ‘pruritus’) to the brain. Thus, heroin users feel itchy. Good question.”

Blood and Brain

But before heroin can activate opioid receptors, it has to enter the blood stream and reach the brain. So how does this happen?

People usually inject heroin into their blood stream with a syringe. Soon afterwards, the heroin crosses the “blood-brain barrier”—a protective membrane that separates circulating blood from brain fluid in the central nervous system. Once heroin is in the brain, it's converted to a chemical called morphine and binds rapidly to the opioid receptors already mentioned. These receptors recognize chemicals affecting pain, like morphine.

Various drugs names.

Heroin users typically report feeling a surge of pleasure, or a “rush,” which makes sense because heroin enters the brain so rapidly. This quality also makes heroin extremely addictive.

Itching, Depression, and Worse

Along with the rush usually comes a warm flushing of the skin, dry mouth, and a heavy feeling in the arms and legs, which may be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and, of course, severe itching. Also, since heroin is a depressant, it clouds your thinking and can slow—or even stop—breathing.

Because heroin is mostly sold on the street, users can’t be sure of the purity (or strength) of the drug they’re taking. Also, because it’s so addictive, they may crave bigger and bigger amounts of the drug to get the same rush they got the first time—which often leads to overdose and death.

Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.


Once again, delivering great information. I always noticed the "itch" when in contact with addicts, but never knew the science behind it. Thanks for sharing!

I really do not like heroin
[commercial link removed, per guidelines]

Heroin actually has NO medicinal purpose. Which is why it's not used for any format of treatment. Instead things like morphine, oxycontin, or percocets are used for various treatments.
actually it isnt used due to the fact that once introduced into the body it is converted to morphine which we all know we already have also its addictive properties
Before they banned herion in 1914 , it was in fact used for medicinal purpose until they found out how addictive it really was...makes no sense to me... morphine, percosets, herion, oxy condone, street drug or legal drugs, take it long enough you are absolutely going to be addicted to it...because it all contains opiate.
What about seroquil

Seroquel is an antipsychotic medication.

Actually if you even knew what you were talking about heroin does have medicinal value. Heroin and oxycotin and percocet all of the pain killers are made from the same opium plant. Thus as well heroin itself used to be used as a painkiller itself until people started abusing it.
I was watching the movie Dlolemite and the heroine actor was scratchingmiserably so sad

what conditions are this drug used to treat

@bubbles According to Wikipedia, the chemical substance of heroin (diacetylmorphine) has also been used for pain management in some countries and as a maintenance drug to treat people addicted to opiates. opiate addicts. Neither of these treatments using heroin occurs in the United States.

why do people do drugs it is ignorint:(

Why do people have sex outside wedlock? Why do some folks drink? Why do we endulge ourselves with money, cars, houses, etc...? In my experiences, I've seen people trying to fill holes in their lives...people have affairs because some things are missing or misunderstood. Some drink and/or do drugs because of a tradgic loss of some sort. That's what I call holes...Those holes can be very deep, for example, a victim or abuse, be it sexual or physical. Please, don't judge these folks who are experiencing these things...after all, who are they to judge YOU, right? As the bible states, "Those without sin throw the first stone." I know it's hard if not close to impossible to understand why but it all basically falls under one little word...are you ready?...wait for it...selfishness. Every body wants to feel important, significant, wanted and loved. Truth is they are!! It's just that we want to trust in the things of this world but the thing is the things in this world break, rust or get old and when(not if)we get a bad deal disappointment sets in then we fold like a lawnchair. I believe in God and His son Jesus. (Yes, a "Jesus freak".) If it wasn't for that relationship with him 26 years ago I probably would've ended up in jail or dead. Anyway my point is that I gave up on the things of this world and trusted in the Truth. If nobody else cared, He will! Jesus filled those holes and made me significant, wanted, important and loved. No more holes hence no more drugs:)
This is so true. Even though all of this is anonymous. It really is making me think more about my decisions.
Im glad you came to find God, and may he continue to guide you through life
hey dude
Amen to that brother! Your message on here was powerful keep spreading the word!
Amen thanks for sharing
Good job Sir. It makes sense the way you put it.
John 3: 16revelation 21;4 psalms 37:11
hey .pray for my friends . theye r staying w us for awhile trying to keep of heroin. its such an evil spirit. God is the only power but pray they make the choice and can stay strong. I think they messed up tonight. thats why im checking out this sight so I can know the low down on the symptoms. pray against the destroyer of our soul. I claimed Gods strength in their minds to wake up and overcome
First off I want to say when you're trying to educate other people about drug or any other type of addiction you may first want to use spell check. Secondly selfishness is definitely not the reason become addicted to drugs. I agree that most people use drugs to fill "holes". However, they in most cases haven't developed the proper coping skills to deal with loss, tragedy, or abuse one has been subjected to. Also not everyone who uses drugs becomes addicted. You have to have the trait. It is a disease in every sense of the word. Someone who becomes addicted has different brain chemistry than the other 90% of the population. This is a fact not an opinion. You do not necessarily have to be born with this condition but after prolonged drug use it can be developed. This can then be passed down through generations . Addiction can be more than just drugs too. Know someone who listens to the same songs over and over again? Someone who has to do something a certain way or won't be happy or throws a fit? Someone who has sex with multiple partners despite the negative affects on relationships? Someone who gambles all their money and doesn't pay their bills? These are all addictions. It affects 10% of human beings. The best way to treat addiction is with understanding and a community that supports a healthier lifestyle. In lab rats when given a bottle laced with cocaine it will drink itself to death when left alone in a cage. When other rats are introduced and a community or fellowship is formed the rat no longer drinks from the drug laced water. So next time you see an addict instead of shunning them and walking by them, talk to them. Ask them if they need help. I wouldn't suggest giving them money but a warm meal or an open ear will help them more than you think. Yours truly, an addict in recovery
"Addict", your reply is on the mark, it was refreshing to hear/read an opinion that makes sense, was well thought out, fact based, and written by someone that is dealing with the disease he or herself. I too am currently walking down the road to recovery. Too many of my "associates" have passed due to this substance as well as too much of my money has been literally flushed down the drain. I, unfortunately, thought I was bigger than the drug, I was sadly mistaken. The ironic part was the first time I shot dope it was prepared and administered by a "friend" who was a full blown addict. Even in their state they made a comment "are you sure you want to do this, once this needle goes in your arm thing will never be the same". I thought I could handle it, no problem, right... Boy was I wrong. You know you can become a slave to fhe drug when an addict is telling me not to do it, hands down the worst decision of my life. No one is able to quit this drug on their own. You need to remove yourself from "those" people in your life, medical supervision is highly recommended, and a support group, whether family or friends, is a must. Prior to help you through the bad day, pick you up when you're down, and eventually develop the coping skills to beat the hold this disease has over you. Good luck to you, I sincerely hope you can beat this, it's a long and sometimes painful road but the clarity at the end of this journey is worth everything you'll go through.
I love this. Thank you
You say drug users are "ignorint" and yet you're the one who can't spell IGNORANT. Walk a mile in someone's shoes before you judge.
I think the word you were searching for is "ignorant." Kind of ironic that you misspelled that, wouldn't you agree? By the way, I think there's a pretty good chance that most users have prior knowledge of what risks are involved; this is not some social/party drug that people just waltz casually into. Poor choice of words..
Almost as ignorant as your spelling
Do you know what is IGNORANT? Your comment. First of all, it's not like anyone wakes up and says "you know what I'd like to do this morning? I'd love to become a drug addict!!" Secondly, if you're going to make a stupid comment at least spell what you're saying correctly.
It's Ignorant. Most do drugs to get away from their reality

this was really interesting and i started to ich a little

do you really have to ask why? use your common sense. why do you fun things? because they are fun and you like the feeling. Thats how it is with people trying drugs. They like the feeling after trying one so they try another.

The first time I tried it was because my new boyfriend took it. I wanted to know what all the fuss was about, and when he offered me it, I said yes. I didn't know exactly what it was, but I took it anyway because I didn't want to come across as naive. One time, and I was hooked. I'm still hooked now, sitting smoking some now actually. The pain and depression I get when I'm off it is almost too much to handle. I hate this town, I hate the people and I hate my job. I hate heroin, most of all. I hate the noise of tin foil rustling because it makes me crave it, so I refuse to have any in the house when I'm clean. When I'm out of town, I'm fine. Very few/no withdrawals. Not until right before I'm due to come back. It's so easy to get hold of here. Easier than getting dope anyway. I have to get out of here. I need to go somewhere I don't know anyone, or more importantly, doesn't know ME. I live in a small, sh*t town full of judgemental a-holes. I'm an addict, so I MUST be horrible and a thief. Never stolen a thing in my life. We're all tarred with the same brush, but we're PEOPLE. Just in need of a little help. God knows I need help. I can't tell anyone, it'll tear my family apart again. I can't go to the doctor, people will see me and they'll talk, and my family will find out. They think I've been clean for nearly 6 years, when in truth, it's more like 2 all put together. Take it from me, drugs are sh*t. They ruin lives. I know this, and yet I'm still doing it. If you haven't touched it already, don't. It's not fun, it's not "cool" and it won't make anyone impressed.

Hey Amy, sorry to hear you're going through this. You may be able to find help using one of these free, confidential services from SAMHSA: http://www.samhsa.gov/find-help. They have a treatment referral helpline if you need help overcoming addiction, and the Suicide Prevention Lifeline is open 24 hours with people available if you want help working through problems or if you just want to talk.

What are a few long term effects of heroin?

@Stopheroin Good question. Regular heroin use can lead to a physical dependency. Over time, however, your body develops a tolerance, and users do not feel the same "high" once the brain and body become more accustomed to it, so you need more of the drug to get the same feeling. Other effects can be very serious - especially if you inject the heroin. These include: collapsed veins, bacterial infections, liver or kidney disease, lung problems (like pneumonia and tuberculosis), arthritis, and infectious diseases (like HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B and C). For more information on what heroin can do in the longer term, you may want to check out NIDA's DrugFacts on heroin: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/heroin or the NIDA Research Report on Heroin: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin

heroin can cause alot of disease so dont do it


long term affacts are like liver disease and i think aids

You can only get aids if you share needles with someone who has it. You can smoke with people that have aids and not get it and smoke/slam by yourself without getting aids. I used to shoot drugs and I didn't get any diseas because I used a new needle every time.
Heroin doesn't cause AIDs, sharing needles with someone who has AIDs does.

and lung disease

why are people crazy enough to take drugs?

thanks for post.i allways suggest to everyone not to take Heroin.

drugs are a dumb thing to do

never do drugs they will mess with your head

this causes so many problems with stupidity, i mean why would u use such a drug that can cause death and mess u up and not only u but your family aswell

Most people start doing it because they r depressed and don't care.
No most people start doing it because they get prescribed some type of opiate from their doctor , after taking that opiate for so long your body depends on it.... so what do they do when the doctor cuts them off from their prescription and they can't find their pills on the street ? They start using the next thing that will help them from withdrawal and that is herion.
You're both right. It isn't one or the other, everyone has their own reason. Some people use heroin as a coping mechanism because they don't know what else to do.

this causes so many problems with stupidity, i mean why would u use such a drug that can cause death and mess u up and not only u but your family aswell