Heroin is an illegal, highly addictive drug. It is both the most abused, and the most rapidly acting of the opiates. Heroin is processed from morphine, a naturally occurring substance extracted from the seed pod of the Asian poppy plant.Heroin is particularly addictive because it enters the brain so rapidly, and acts on many places in the brain and nervous system.
Soon after it enters the system, heroin crosses the blood-brain barrier. In the brain, heroin is converted to morphine and binds rapidly to opioid receptors.
Opiates can change the brain stem (an area that controls automatic body functions) and depress breathing. Opiates can change the limbic system, which mediates pleasure and can create a feeling of euphoria.
Opiates can also block the transmission of pain messages to the brain.After the initial effects, users will usually be drowsy for several hours.
Mental function is clouded by heroin’s effect on the central nervous system. Cardiac functions slow, and breathing is also severely slowed, sometimes to the point of death.
One of the most detrimental long-term effects of heroin is addiction itself. Addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease, characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, and by neurochemical and molecular changes in the brain.
Heroin also produces profound degrees of tolerance and physical dependence, which are also powerful motivating factors for compulsive use and abuse.
As with users of any addictive drug, heroin users gradually spend more and more time and energy obtaining and using the drug.
Once they are addicted, the heroin users’ primary focus in life becomes seeking and using drugs.
The drugs literally change their brains. Physical dependence develops with higher doses of the drug. With physical dependence, the body adapts to the presence of the drug and withdrawal symptoms occur if use is reduced abruptly.
Regular heroin users can suffer a range of problems and side effects from taking the drug. Complications can lead to permanent damage, both physical and mental to the user.
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