(also called: gear, H, smack, skag, junk, brown, horse, china white, dragon)

How it’s used

Heroin is an opiate with strong sedative (‘downer’) and painkilling effects. It comes in powder form which varies in colour from brown to white. You can inject it, sniff it or smoke it on foil or in a tobacco-based joint.

Short-term effects

•    Effects can start quickly and last for several hours. This depends on how much of the drug you use and how you take it
•    Makes you feel warm and relaxed with a hazy feeling of security
•    Pinpoint pupils
•    Pain relief
•    You can have nausea and vomiting the first time you use it
•    Dramatic mood swings
•    Your breathing and heart rate slow down
•    Constipation
•    Higher doses cause drowsiness – ‘goofing off’
•    Injecting heroin causes more intense feelings

Long-term effects

•    You build tolerance, so you need to take more to get the same buzz
•    Chronic constipation
•    Irregular periods in women
•    High doses can cause you to feel drowsy all the time, fall into a coma or die from breathing failure
•    If you smoke heroin you risk lung and heart disease
•    You may stop eating properly and not look after yourself

Other dangers

•    Unplanned pregnancy due to irregular periods
•    Your risk of overdose is a particularly high if you stop using heroin for a while and then start using again as your tolerance goes down
•    Heroin is more dangerous when you use it with other depressant drugs such as an alcohol, tranquillisers, benzos or other opiates, such as methadone
•    Damage to veins if you inject it
•    You risk HIV and hepatitis if you share needles
•    You risk choking on vomit as your cough reflex is suppressed

If you are pregnant

If you use heroin while pregnant, you risk miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, low birth weight or cot death. Your baby may go through heroin withdrawal and need treatment after birth. You should stop using heroin gradually over a few days under medical supervision. If you stop too quickly you could lose your baby.


Heroin is highly addictive, both physically and psychologically, so your body craves it and you feel you can’t cope without it. If you use it regularly for 2 to 3 weeks you will build tolerance so you need to keep taking more to get the same buzz.


You may start to experience withdrawal after several weeks on high, frequent doses of heroin. Withdrawals start 8-12 hours after your last use and include aches, shakes, sweating, chills, sneezing and yawning and muscle spasms. These fade after about a week and are not life threatening.

How long does it stay in your system?

A urine test will detect heroin for 3-8 days.