How Heroin Works
Heroin can be snorted, smoked or injected to attain a euphoric high. When injected, the high can occur in 20 seconds or less. When snorted or smoked, the peak high of heroin occurs after approximately ten minutes, with effects lasting for up to 5 hours. The duration depends upon the amount taken.
Studies at Harvard Medical School suggest that heroin causes a strong surge of dopamine in the brain, which aside from inducing feelings of intense pleasure, is connected to the brain’s complex reward-related learning system. Heroin activates this system and overloads the brain with dopamine, providing a short cut to the “reward.” Over time though, the pleasure fades and leads to using larger quantities of the substance to chase the memory of the initial effect.
What is the Half-Life of Heroin?
The half-life of any drug refers to the time it takes for the substance to reduce to 50 percent of its original dose. Typically, heroin has a half-life of approximately 15 to 30 minutes. How long the drug stays in your body depends on factors, such as:
- The amount taken
- The quality of the substance
- The person’s height, weight and body fat content
- The age of the person
- The person’s hydration level
How Heroin Metabolizes
When the body processes heroin, it’s broken down into different substances (metabolites) that can remain in the body for longer periods. Metabolites can be detected through drug tests for up to three months following the last usage of a drug.
Heroin metabolizes into 6-monoacetylmorphine (6-MAM) and then into morphine. The drug also contains acetylcodeine, which metabolizes into codeine, so both substances may appear during a urinalysis. Many tests now look for heroin metabolites as these stay in in the system much longer than the actual substance.
How Long Does Heroin Stay in Urine?
Typically, heroin is present in a person’s urine for two to seven days following the latest use. The CDC reports that two types of urine tests are generally used: immunoassay and gas chromatography/mass spectrometry. Immunoassay tests are most frequently used in hospital labs or a health care provider’s office. These tests screen for the presence of a panel of drugs but do not differentiate between opioids. They can also show false positives from antibiotics or over-the-counter medicines.
Gas chromatography/mass spectrometry tests, although more expensive and labor intensive, measure all substances and their metabolites directly. They are more accurate in detecting the presence of semisynthetic and synthetic opioids and can detect low levels of any substance. These tests are often used to confirm a positive result from an immunoassay test.
How Long Does Heroin Stay in Blood or Saliva?
Heroin usually becomes undetectable in blood or saliva after around six hours following the previous use, but it can be detected for up to two days. Because the substance has such a short half-life, blood and saliva tests generally aren’t used.
Get Help for Heroin Addiction
If you or a loved one live with heroin addiction, The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake is ready to help and can customize a treatment program for you or your loved one’s specific needs. Call today to speak to a representative who can get you started toward a healthier future. We’re here for you every step of the way.
www.health.harvard.edu “How Addiction Hijacks the Brain.” Accessed March 26, 2019.
Cdc.gov “Opioid Overdose.” Accessed March 26, 2019.