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Heroin, Its History, Production, and Effects Essay

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Updated: Jun 18th, 2020


Heroin is a highly addictive and an illegal drug manufactured using plants’ products such as morphine. The seeds of poppy plants are raw materials for the manufacture of heroin. The use of heroin is common in South America and some areas of Southeast Asia. To enhance the quality of the drug, heroin manufacturers add milk, starch, and sugar. When consuming the drug, individuals smoke, sniff, or inject themselves with the drug. In its pure state, heroin is white in color, however, in some instances, crude ways of manufacturing results in black heroin commonly known as black tar, which is black in color because of impurities. Evidently, injection is the major consumption mode of black tar, while consumers smoke or sniff pure heroin. To enhance understanding of heroin, this essay discusses the history and development, appearance, production, societal effects, and health risks of heroin.

History and Development

The history of heroin, a highly addictive and illegal drug, dates back to 1898 when the pharmaceutical company at Bay in Germany manufactured the drug. In the company, the drug acted as a remedy for morphine addicts and in tuberculosis treatment. Addiction to opium reached high levels among Americans in the 1850s. As a result, there was a need to administer a non-addictive drug to relieve the individuals from the addiction to opium.

Medical practitioners chose morphine and used it as a substitute drug to reduce addiction to opium. However, in an attempt to solve opium addiction, individuals transformed and became addicted to morphine instead of becoming free from drug abuse and addiction. Mark, Woody, Juday, and Kleber (2001) state that the use of heroin aimed to relieve patients addicted to opium. The addiction to morphine by individuals, who were initially addicted to opium, led to a vicious cycle, especially in the United States.

The vicious cycle transpired since the addiction of opium users to morphine led to the use of another drug, heroin, in an attempt to solve the addiction. Unfortunately, heroin initiated a more serious problem as the people, who used it in the quest solve the addiction to morphine became highly addicted to it. Then, it became evident that heroin is a highly addictive and potentially abused drug in the world (Brown, 2004).

Consequently, introduction of heroin to various parts of the world and its emergence in several countries relates to the laws introduced by several countries in the 1900s. The laws govern the operations related to the manufacture and sale of drugs like opium and heroin because some countries legalized the drug, while others illegalized it. Even after the illegalization of the drug by several countries across the world, various triad gangs such as those of China continued selling the illegal drug. Presently, the drugs dominate several parts of South America and Southeast Asia.

The Appearance

Heroin is an addictive substance that has morphine as part of its contents. In its pure state, heroin appears white. However, because of the crude means of manufacturing that some companies use in South America, the drug turns its color from white to black, and thus, explains the origin of black tar. In the streets, the sale of the drug is in the form of powder, pills, or granules. Tarabar and Nelson (2003) assert that the young people and children are the main victims that the sale of brown sugar targets. Moreover, the brown and white color of the drug gave rise to its name as the brown sugar. Brown heroin is dominant in several markets in the United Kingdom and its consumption requires the use of acids to dissolve the drug since it cannot dissolve in water. As a result, consumers of the illegal drug use acids from lemons that include citric acid. Black heroin exists because the impurities used in processing heroin changes its color from white to black.

The white form of heroin usually changes due to the several additives that the manufactures use when processing the product. Some of the additives used in processing the product include caffeine and sugar. The additives change the color and appearance of the drug from white to brown, black, or rose gray. In the United Kingdom, the drug looks like a chicken soup packet due to its ability to dissolve and form a solution.

Fundamentally, the appearance of heroin varies in color depending on the level of additives used and its level of purity (Van & Anthony, 2000). Grade 4 of heroin is white and is the purest form of the drug consumed through injection, whereas grade 3 has a brown color and people smoke it. Grade 1 and 2 are the impure unprocessed forms, which have salty or basic characteristics. Hence, the appearance of heroin varies according to its quality and purity.


The initial stages of heroin production commences just before the poppy plant matures. Just before maturity, farmers of poppy plants harvest the capsules, which contain the opium gum. When harvesting poppy plants, the farmers cut the capsules at their surfaces using knives. Farmers then collect the opium gum that oozes from the cut parts of the capsule surfaces and dry them for a number of days. Thereafter, the farmers wrap the gum in banana leaves and put them in stores. The gum requires no special preservation because it has long shelf life and its quality increases with time, therefore, it is very beneficial to farmers.

According to Ahmadi (2003), traders usually purchase the gum from poppy farmers and then transport it to a refinery. Boiled water helps to dissolve the gum, whereas burlap sacks filter impurities and strain the liquid only letting the required components to drip down to the containers. Several chemicals facilitate the conversion of opium gum into morphine, which is useful in the manufacture of heroin.

After refining the opium gum, the resultant product is morphine. Manufacturers then press morphine into bricks popularly known as morphine bricks. Sodium carbonate, ethyl alcohol, chloroform, acetic anhydride, and activated charcoal are some of the chemicals used to convert morphine bricks into heroin. Popularly, two major types of heroin emanate from the refining and production process. Hickman, Seaman, and Angelis (2001) note that the two major types of heroin are grade 4, which individuals consume through injections and grade 3, which people smoke. Significantly, when the product emerges from the refineries, it is 90 percent pure.

However, during the process of retailing, suppliers and intermediaries dilute it to increase its quantity and profits. Since some of the products such as powdered milk, caffeine, quinine and baking soda, which are used to dilute the drug are white and powdery, it is difficult for consumers of the drug to decipher their use in the final product. The effect of the products used to dilute the drug is reduced purity, quality, and potency of the illegal product to about 40 percent of the pure form.


Some of the effects that heroin has on the society and the lives of individuals include addiction, depletion of resources, insecurity, irresponsibility, and family breakups. As heroin is an addictive drug, its users usually become dependent on the drug and withdraw from various productive activities that sober individuals undertake (Mark et al., 2001). In addition, overdependence on the drug that emanates from its addictive nature leads to extensive use of finances and other resources of addicts. As a result, users of the drug spent most of their resources and finances on the drug, a factor that affects the economy of societies and countries.

The addictive nature of heroin can compel individuals to steal so that they can satisfy their unending need for the drug. When individuals resort to crimes such as robbery, insecurity levels of the societies, where the addicts live increases, and thus, investments and other developments reduce. Reduced investments and developments in the regions where addicts live prove to be detrimental to the economic conditions of families, communities, society, and nations.

Irresponsibility is one of the effects of heroin and occurs because of the addiction and overdependence that users develop after using the drug. Overdependence on the drug renders the users incapable of doing various activities before using the product, and thus, the users may engage in acts that are not morally acceptable in the society. Addicts have reduced rational capacity in that they can undertake irresponsible activities and commit crimes. According to Langendam, Brussel, Coutinho, and Ameijden (2001), violence, child abuse, cold blood murders, and prostitution are some of the vices that heroin users are likely to perform. Withdrawal and irresponsibility of individuals lead to family breakups and divorce, especially if the users are married. Since excessive use of the drug leads to irresponsible behaviors, some of the individuals in the family may decide to leave and stay away from the addict.

Health Risks of Heroin

Heroin has several health risks on the life of the users that include increased vulnerability to infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS, clogged veins, memory lapses, and tuberculosis. Vulnerability to HIV/AIDS and other infections increase, especially among the users of grade 4 heroin associated with injections. Since users inject themselves using syringes that they share, contamination of the syringes is likely to occur.

The increased likelihood of contamination implies that if one of the users has the HIV that causes AIDS then all the users sharing the syringe will contract the disease. Furthermore, because some of the products used to dilute the drugs cannot dissolve completely, using the needles to inject the drug into the body can lead to clogged veins (Hopfer, Khuri, Crowley, & Hooks, 2002). Clogged veins result from the obstructions developed by the additives, which cannot dissolve completely. Clogged veins not only affect the circulatory system of the users, but also increase the chances of developing cardiovascular disorders.

Memory lapses are some of the effects that heroin has on the users. Since the drug affects the thinking and reasoning capacity, heroin users are likely to experience lapses in memory and demonstrate the challenges in thinking and reasoning, especially after a continued use of the drug. Brown (2004) highlights that heroin affects the brain of the individuals by altering the operations of the mind and changing its normal operations. Therefore, the mind starts operating in a different manner, leading to improper functioning of various components of the brain. Tuberculosis, which is another effect related to the use of heroin takes place, especially for users of grade 3 type of heroin, which is smoked. Initially, the drug leads to respiratory problems and an eventual contraction of tuberculosis. Continuous use of heroin weakens immunity and increases susceptibility to infections like tuberculosis. Essence, addicts are prone to infections when compared to normal individuals.

Classification Schedule of Heroin

Classification of drugs, chemicals, and substances fall into five distinct categories also referred to as schedules. The addictive nature, medical use, and abuse potentiality are some of the guidelines used to classify the categories or schedules of substances, drugs, and chemicals. In addition, social, psychological, economic, and physical effects of the drugs, substances, or chemicals facilitate the classification. Those substances or drugs deemed as the most serious in relation to the effects on the physical, psychological, economic, and social aspects of individuals fall under schedule one of the classiest schedule. According to Mark et al. (2001), one of the main components that are useful in the classification of the drugs or substances is the abuse potentiality. High abuse potentiality implies that a drug or chemical is a dangerous product and is not suitable for medical use.

Since heroin has adverse effects on the physical and psychological aspects of an individual and is addictive, it falls under the first schedule of classification. Heroin falls under this classification because of its addictive nature, which drives users into serious levels of addiction and dependence. Heroin’s potentiality of abuse is high and pronounced as opposed to other chemicals, substances, and drugs (Brown, 2004). After using the drug for some time, an individual becomes dependent on the product and continues abusing it. The addictive nature of the drug leads to extensive levels of abuse and health effects on the users. Therefore, the product fails to offer medicinal value because it has attributes of dangerous products, which are harmful to the health of individuals.


Heroin is a drug that falls under the first category of classification schedule. The schedule comprises of very dangerous drugs and substances that have high levels of addiction and abuse potentiality. Formerly, the use of heroin took place in areas like Bay Germany as the drug used to relieve addicts of morphine and treat individuals suffering from tuberculosis. By the early 20th century, the use of heroin had spread to various parts such as the United States, South America, and Asia.

However, the use of the drug initiated a vicious cycle for its use led to addiction among individuals, who used it, and thus, compelled medical practitioners to look for other non-addictive drugs. During 1900-1950s, the drug was legal in some countries, whereas in some countries, it was illegal. The addictive nature of heroin led to its illegalization in several countries by 1920s, and as a result, individuals involved in production and sale of the product received stern measures and jail terms. South America, parts of Southeast Asia, and the United Kingdom are some of the present consumers of the drug. The drug comes in white, brown, and black colors depending on the level of purity.


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