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Heroin is a highly addictive illicit opioid that is related to morphine and made from the pod of the poppy plant. Users describe a “rush” when using this substance, requiring frequent dosing to avoid withdrawal. This substance can result in addiction, even after only one use. How long heroin stays in your system can vary by person and depend on several factors, like how often and how much heroin is used.
Heroin is an illicit opioid derived from the pod of the poppy plant. It is related to morphine and can be a white or brown powder or a black sticky substance known as black tar heroin. This highly addictive substance binds to mu-opioid receptors similarly to other prescription pain killers, like oxycodone. However, there is no accepted medical use for this substance, and, as a result, it is classified as Schedule I under the Controlled Substances Act.
People who use heroin report a surge of euphoria often described as chasing “the rush.” Other common short-term effects include dry mouth, flushed skin, nausea and vomiting, severe itching, fogginess and feeling heavy in the arms and legs.
When heroin is injected directly into the bloodstream, the effects are felt almost immediately and last up to a few minutes. However, if administered under the skin (subcutaneous) or into a muscle (intramuscular), it can take longer to feel the effects, and they would likely last longer.
In general, heroin is present for three to five hours. However, you may be “on the nod” for up to an hour. If you are addicted to heroin, you must use it every 6–12 hours to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
Short-term effects of using heroin include:
Over the long term, the effects of using heroin can include:
Heroin has a very short half-life compared to many other drugs. For example, in one study, heroin’s half-life was estimated at 7.8 minutes and its metabolite, 6-acetylmorphine, was 21.8 minutes. Interestingly, this study found the half-life of 6-acetylmorphine to be 13% lower in those who also consumed cocaine (called “speedballing”) — meaning heroin was eliminated from the body faster in these cases.
The time heroin stays in your system can depend on several different factors like how much of the drug you use, your height and weight and your genetics. This time can also differ depending on the type of drug test used.
Many laboratories can detect heroin in urine for less than one day. This kind of drug testing is common because it is non-invasive and does not require specialized medical personnel (phlebotomists) or medical facilities (laboratories).
Heroin is detected in the blood for 0.1 to 0.25 hours (6–15 minutes) after use. Blood tests are less common because they require specialized medical personnel and equipment. As a result, they are more invasive and often more expensive.
Drug testing for heroin in hair samples is limited as this test can only detect exposure. Hair sampling cannot detect current intoxication or quantity used. Because of the length of hair required to conduct a follicle drug test, exposure is detectable for about 90 days.
Laboratories can detect heroin in saliva as soon as two minutes and up to 24 hours after smoking it. This drug testing method is most effective for detecting heroin that is smoked. Saliva testing may be less practical for other forms of heroin use, and detection times will differ.
One of the most significant factors impacting how long heroin stays in your system is how often and how much heroin is used. Similar to other opioids, many other factors can influence this timeline, including:
False positives on a heroin drug test are undoubtedly possible and occur because most drug tests detect the metabolite for heroin. This chemical is chemically similar to other opioids and their metabolites, namely morphine. As a result, dextromethorphan, diphenhydramine, quinine, quinolones, rifampin, verapamil and poppy seeds are all implicated in causing false positive drug tests for heroin.
The liver metabolizes heroin into 6-monoacetylmorphine and morphine. For this reason, liver dysfunction can significantly impact how long heroin is in the body. Interestingly, heroin and cocaine are metabolized similarly, and taking these substances together (referred to as “speedballing”) can also impact the time it takes to metabolize heroin.
The only effective way for your body to metabolize and eliminate heroin from your system is with time. There are few effective ways to change this timeframe; however, being active and drinking plenty of fluids can promote overall health and support your body’s normal functions.
If you or someone you love is struggling with heroin addiction, you are not alone. The staff at The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake is here to support you each step of the way. Our qualified healthcare professionals provide a safe and supportive environment for healing while offering a continuum of care ranging from medical detox to rehab and aftercare. Our Joint Commission-accredited facility is just 60 miles from Denver, with personalized treatment plans to serve you best. Contact us today to start your recovery from heroin addiction.
One of the cornerstones of addiction treatment in recent years is medication-assisted treatment. With MAT, we can help people with opioid addiction begin and maintain a long-term recovery.
Because heroin is an addictive, deadly and illegal substance, it’s common for people to wonder about what heroin looks like and how to recognize it – especially those who suspect a friend or loved one may be using.
Inpatient rehabilitation offers constant live-in care for people with substance use disorders. At an inpatient care facility, all evaluation, treatment, and rehabilitation is supervised by medical professionals.
Women who are pregnant may find themselves wondering if it is safe to use hydrocodone during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. Ultimately, using any kind of opioid while pregnant or breastfeeding should generally be avoided.
Medical detoxification, more commonly known as medical detox, this process is crucial to successful recovery. When you’re dependent on a substance, your body has to compensate for the constant presence of that substance.
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National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Heroin DrugFacts”>.” June 1, 2021. Accessed August 7, 2022.
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). “Heroin”>Heroin.” 2022. Accessed August 7, 2022.
Rook EJ et al. “Population pharmacokinetics of heroin an[…]r metabolites.” Clinical Pharmacokinetics, 2006. Accessed August 7, 2022.
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The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.
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