Some of the heroin horror stories hitting the news have forced a few pauses, as well as the question: Are the drugs themselves really so bad, or is it the substances employed to cut them?
It seems unfathomable, but whatever is being mixed with these drugs to bulk up their volume for sale appears to be making them even worse and more dangerous to use. Some claim they are safe or “not so bad for you” if they are allowed to remain pure and uncut. Research into how the drugs affect the human body and mind have a history of countering that claim and few recreational users ever experience a pure source.
Taking a Look at Heroin
Heroin is the name of the drug in its illegal form. When used in a medical setting (in countries outside the U.S.) it is called by its chemical name, diamorphine or diacetylmorphine.
It’s interesting to note that heroin got its name for ‘heroically’ treating pain without morphine, known at the time to be highly addictive. It became quickly apparent that there was nothing heroic about heroin, which is a partially synthetic form of morphine. It’s also part of the opiate family, harvested first from the opium poppy; because of its natural roots, some people consider it safer than other drugs, but it has proven over and over again to be a horrific blend-both highly addictive and physically harmful. Heroin interferes with the production and absorption of dopamine, the feel-good chemical in the brain that triggers as a reward and offers pleasure. As with most opiates, it increases the levels of dopamine in the brain so that when the high is over, the crash can be severe. With prolonged use, heroin can alter the way dopamine is produced in the brain and in what quantities, causing lifelong emotional struggles, along with a detachment to life in general. The withdrawal symptoms are particularly brutal as the brain struggles to reach a state of chemical equilibrium it knew before the drug was introduced.
The initial rush of heroin is a euphoric state and a transcendent relaxation, which is the side effect of the drug being metabolized into 6-monoacetylmorphine (6-MAM) and morphine in the brain. The skin heats in a pleasant warmth reminiscent of sexual orgasm. Of the opioids, heroin displays more positive effects, making it preferable amongst addicts. However, tolerance builds quickly and leads to the need for more and more in order to gain the initial high. When in its purely unadulterated form, long-term effects are constipation and dependency; hence its ‘safety’ factor. However, street heroin is anything but pure and the methods of delivering heroin-most often injection, though it can be inhaled or snorted-carry with them life-threatening consequences. Aside from the very high risk of contracting a killer disease, such as HIV, the ingredients used to cut street heroin are likely to end up causing an overdose.
To cut a drug means to adulterate the purity of the drug, a very common practice employed to stretch the quantity of the base drug and increase profits. Some dealers are more careful than others, using substances that are fairly harmless such as talcum powder, milk sugar or sugar, flour, cake mix, Tylenol, or baking powder. Others use whatever they can find and might cut their heroin with plaster, rosin (violin wax), laxatives, brick mortar, sleeping aids, quinine, or even strychnine (highly toxic pesticide) to name a few.
Quinine, a powerful muscle relaxant, is a natural drug with a bitter taste. Heroin is also bitter, so cutting it with quinine does not alter its bitterness and helps accentuate the relaxation properties of the drug; therefore, it’s a cutting favorite. As a muscle relaxant, it does not take much in conjunction with heroin’s own abilities to relax the body to death; it is also highly toxic in large doses. Street heroin is particularly dangerous in that there is no way to know how much it has been cut or with what agents, making each hit a possibly tragic gamble. In the case of heroin, it is often the cutting agent or a contracted disease that will spell the end of the user’s life, rather than the drug itself. Still, even in its pure form, heroin can cause cardiac arrest and death.