Heroin: Chemical | Organic composition
Last modified: Sunday, 31. May 2009 - 4:07 pm
All drugs derived from opium poppy are called opiates. Of the opiates, heroin (diacetylmorphine) is the most potent and fast-acting. Though heroin is no longer used in medical settings, its less potent cousins — codeine, liquid morphine, pethidine, and methadone — are found in clinics and hospitals all over the world. But it wasn’t until the early 1970s that scientists began to understand the real reasons behind heroin’s propensity for abuse and addiction.
The chemical composition of opiates are remarkably similar to endorphins, chemicals produced by the brain in times of distress or injury to relieve pain or ease fear. There are three major types of endorphins: beta endorphins, located in the brain; and enkephalins and dynorphin, which are distributed throughout the brain and body.
These natural chemicals are small chain peptides that bind to opiate receptors distributed throughout the brain — including the limbic system, where their activation produces feelings of happiness, euphoria, serenity, and fearlessness.
The endorphins enkephalin and dynorphin possess natural analgesic (pain-relieving) qualities. When they bind to opiate receptors in the spinal cord, they suppress the ability of the brain to register pain. Heroin binds to these same opiate receptors in the brain and body.
Types of heroin
Most heroin is packaged and shipped in bricks of powder. Pure heroin is white, but the color when it reaches the user can vary from yellow to dark brown, owing either to impurities during the manufacturing process, the presence of powdered additives, or both.
Heroin is usually cut with baking soda, powdered milk, baby powder, sugar, starch, or quinine, but has also known to be cut with lidocaine, curry powder, strychinine, and even laundry detergent. Law enforcement officials in New York report the existence of heroin cut with a rat poison from Santa Domingo called Tres Pasos (meaning “three steps”). Three is the number of steps the mice take before dying after exposure to the poison.
Another form of heroin commonly distributed in the western and southwestern regions of the United States is called Black Tar or Mexican Brown. These varieties are produced in Mexico and — because they’re manufactured crudely — have an either hard black coal or sticky, tar-like consistency. Purity rates range from 20-80%.
In 1980, the purity of heroin was somewhere in the 4% range. In 2002, the average bag sold by dealers in the United States was almost 40% pure, and sold for less than one-fifth the 1980 price.