Drugs & Health Blog

Real Teens Ask about Effects of Heroin

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.

Comments

I think people are just really depressed and they stop caring about a lot so they turn to drugs.

@Nodrugs people are sometimes depressed or unhappy with their lives so they try new things that they think will make them feel better but in the long run it does not help them at all and they are actually made worse... lots of people have different reasons why they choose to do drugs. Although i think that people who do heroin they should know the side affects.

I also think they feel like they have the need to use it to fit in, they even have the need to fit in. They want attention, in other words, they want other's pity and they end up psychologically addicted. Getting addicted to drugs is an awful habit. I feel bad for the people who got themselves into the spiral of drug abuse. I am glad I am not.

I don't know anyone who's used heroin to get attention or pity. Other drugs, maybe, but not heroin. From my experience, people use it to cope because they don't know how else to handle things that have happened to them and then they become dependant on it. Some people become addicted after their first try and some find that after using for a little while that without it they are even more depressed and suffer the physical effects of withdrawling. While I've met people who've accepted that they will be heroin addicts until it kills them, I don't know anyone who's happy being an addict. Saying that people do it for attention is just ignorant and insulting. I'm sorry that you think that way and I wish you would maybe listen to someone's story before you assumed their reasons. It might open your eyes to the reality of addiction. I'm glad you've never been an addict, but people who think like you are part of the reason that addiction is such a problem. Addicts are pitied, shunned, looked down at, and locked up instead of helped. Helping can be as simple as listening to someone and instead people tell them that they're the scum of society.

Heroin gives you a "rush", similar to a roller coaster. That sounds like a good thing until the the "rush" doesn't come as easily as it did the first time. The "rush" only occurs for a second, then it leaves and you're left depressed, itchy, and longing for the drug. This drug can easily stop your breathing. If you're looking for a 'rush", look for a natural way to get that feeling. Go on a roller coaster or do something you enjoy. Don't use Heroine to find happiness because soon, that feeling will turn to depression. Roller coasters don't give you a short-term "rush" then leave sadness in its place.

I don't know where you read your information...heroin is the complete opposite of an "upper" there is no rush. I from personal experience of being a user at one point of my life, I can explain exactly how it is. There is NO intense rush at all after injecting it. It makes you feel as if you put on a warm cushioned helmet- just immediate sensation of being warm and numb- it IS a pain killer in the first place (depending on the quality of the heroin, you may even get hot and take your clothes off to feel comfortable) and your eyes feel dazed. Heroin slows your heart rate and breathing, but it's not very noticeable. Though, this is how people overdose...you'll find anyone who fell victim to ODing with their body and lips blue from suffocating. There is also definitely NO depressing feeling after using it. The "session" is a very relaxed and sleepy feeling. It's very common for the user to "nod off"- where you literally cannot keep your eyes from closing (the exact way when you're so so so tired) and bob your head up and down for abit struggling to keep up. The only way you feel bad from heroin is when you're withdrawing. Heroin is a physically addicting substance more than it is mentally. After doing it for even a short time and then suddenly not having it, within 24 hours you feel awful. For 4-8 days depending on how heavy of a user you are, your nose runs, eyes water, you're constantly getting cold sweats and shivering with goose bumps everywhere, you cannot sleep for the life of you, your body and every muscle in your body just seems to ache- it's like an extremely bad cold. If you're a heavy user, you'll throw up and just look zombified. Everything you do from brushing your teeth to just standing upright for awhile takes an effort. This is "dope sick". Anyways, I can proudly say I been sober for almost 6 months after being a user for aprox 4 months. Don't ever try it, don't ever say "i'll do it once" because you'll likely do it again especially that you then know how to do it. I didn't do it nearly as long as the strung out heroin addicts- but withdrawing is still awful and not worth it.

The effects of heroin on the brain are scary... I just don't understand why people would choose to mess up their lives and the lives of others by taking it. You might think "I'm just going to do it once and then never again," But thats what they all say. Once the drug enters your limbic system and releases dopamine, you won't stop taking it and your whole life will go down the drain. DRUGS R BAD 4 U!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I find it very interesting that heroin users have the urge to itch their heads when they use heroin. I would never have guessed how that would happen. I wonder, since it turns into morphine when it's in the brain, if heroin users feel less pain? These questions could be answered if I search a bit more on this website.

My bfs a heroin addict and I'm anti drugs, I also wonderd if he couldn't feel pain because of it so I nipped him, turns out theyfeel pain, but not as sore as it would have been and their reaction time slows down.

The itching. To watch is strange.

not cool
THIS IS WEIRD!
Opiates cause itching by releasing histamines, which is the same compound in your body that is released when you are having an allergic reaction. To counteract the itch, many addicts take Benadryl with their fix - which enhances the high, due to it's sedative effects.
Why is heroine so good?

Hi Jeffery.  Heroin is a drug with powerful pain relieving properties.  It also gives the user a feeling of intense pleasure and well-being.  However, heroin is dangerous.  It can make you feel sick, slow or stop your breathing, and even put you in a coma.  Read Drug Facts: Heroin to learn more.

Why do your eyes turn white when you everdose

We are not sure what phenomena you are referencing. There is a typical look portrayed in movies and on TV showing people who have died from an overdose---showing their eyes rolled upwards, making their eyes look white. This, however, is not always the way a person would look after overdosing. In addition, an overdose causes the pupils to constrict and possibly look abnormal, but the eye color would remain. How a person would look upon overdosing also depends on other factors that may have contributed to their death, including the use of other drugs.

They don't.
Heroin is the devil. It destroys everything in its path. It does not just hurt the addict it hurts the entire family.
Ive have neem a user for 4 years ive been clean for a year and just recently relapsed because of depression. Ot does feel good it does take pain away mentaly and pycsicaly sorry cant write good. But the drug with kill you all drugs will except for pot aka weed. They call it a desiese its not one its all in your head mentaly peer pressurw depression trying to fix something that is not there drugs will ruin your life im in a battle and im 50% winning and 50% loseing DO NOT GIVE UP ONCE YOU GIVE UP YOUR LIFE WILL BE NOTHING TO YOU AND EVERYONE AROUND YOU no matter how much you love them. Once you stop being fake to your self and act like your self what you really want in life things will get way easier .I just hope im making some sense this is just the best i can say using the rest of my brain. Im just sorry for hurting people and my self and god is watching me he does not JUDGE! He created us to do on our on own judgment our on choices. IM sorry if i sound supid but this is actually the first time i have spoken about this. PLEASE STOP USING .

Hi Brandon, so glad to hear you're fighting your addiction! Drug addiction actually chemically changes the brain -- that's what makes it so difficult to stop using, and that's why we call it a disease. (You can read more about that here: http://teens.drugabuse.gov/blog/post/word-day-disease)

It's tough to quit, and many people need professional treatment to overcome their addictions. If you want to learn more about the science of addiction or find an addiction treatment program, you can check out some of the resources here: http://teens.drugabuse.gov/have-a-drug-problem-need-help

Can I just say as a parent who lost her brilliant wonderful son to a heroin overdose at age 22 that not only does it cause itchy skin, it causes DEATH! It is a horrible drug that sucks you in, and it is incredibly difficult to kick. Please listen to me! I lost my only child, and my life is hell now.
DO NOT DO DRUGS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Does tramadol have the same effects as heroin?

While tramadol is a prescription drug and heroin is an illegal drug, both of them are kinds of opioids, and both of them affect the brain by binding onto molecules on cells called opioid receptors. Both of them can produce a high and be addictive; in the case of tramadol, addiction is more likely if a person is abusing the drug. You can read more about opioids here: http://teens.drugabuse.gov/blog/post/real-teens-ask-what-are-different-t... and in our Drug Facts section: http://teens.drugabuse.gov/drug-facts

Any opiate is dangerous and will take you down a dark road. I'm a recovering addict and have done my fair share of drugs but nothing grabbed me like opiates. It's a living hell of waking up to withdrawals and needing that next fix to just feel normal. Not even high, just normal. Everyone starts with pills and then moves to heroin when the pills get to expensive. Take it from a recovering opiate addict, it's not worth the high. It won't last forever and it will tear not only your life apart but everyone around you. Remember it's not worth the short lived high, your problem will still be there when you wake up dope sick the next day. Peace and love to any recovering addicts and those in active addiction. I feel your pain.
This site is a very naive one, you have people making comments actually believing what they say is true...I've read more rubbish on here in 2 minutes than I've heard in my whole 15 years of taking heroin...PLEASE don't pass on incorrect information!! If you need to know something about heroin, you're better Googling your question & it will take you through to some drug websites where CLUED UP people have been using for years so will at least give you the correct information...Or go speak to an addict if you want to know stuff...Asking why people do it is just plain stupid, everyone has their own different reasons for doing so.
I feel so sorry for people that fall victim to drugs and especially when I see the ladies prostitute to get the money to get high.....very sad and I hope God enters their life before its too late.
wot n ternation
Its not good for health . Its totally illegible . Its make human as a beast . We should stay away from this . Thanks for sharing :)

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