What Does Heroin Look Like: Spot the Signs Your Loved One is Using

Opioid drugs are among the most highly addictive substances known to man. Despite plenty of opioids out there used for medicinal purposes, a person can develop both a chemical and psychological dependence within a short time. 

Worse still, these substances are associated with a more dangerous detoxification process. Without an addiction specialist’s supervision, people recovering from addiction to opioid drugs can suffer serious and intense withdrawal symptoms—possibly even death.

However, this particular article will focus on heroin—specifically, black tar heroin. We will go over its effects, what it looks like, the signs of its use, and so on.

The characteristics of heroin

Heroin is made from morphine, which is a substance found naturally in poppy seeds. On the street, it takes the form of a fine white powder. Narco criminals sometimes add additives into the mixture to turn them brown, gray, or even black. These additives make it a particularly dangerous drug, especially since there is no knowing if any of these chemicals are safe for use.

heroin drug
Brown Heroin vs White Heroin

What does heroin look like?

According to the US Drug Enforcement Administration, there are three kinds of heroin, which are as follows:

  1. Black Tar Heroin. As the name suggests, black tar heroin is a type of heroin that resembles fireplace ash or charcoal. It is sold in the market in either the form of a flaky powder or a sticky goo resembling tar.
  2. Brown Heroin. This heroin is the cheapest in distribution, but it is less potent than other forms. This kind is used for smoking rather than injecting and comes in a fine powder. 
  3. White Heroin. This type of heroin is often mixed with sugar, cocaine, and other white substances. White heroin is especially dangerous because of these mixtures. 

These drugs are usually taken intravenously, but they can be smoked or snorted. Users inject them directly into their system with a needle, which can come with the risk of disease transmission. It’s not uncommon for users to contract blood-borne diseases like Hepatitis and HIV-AIDS. 

What is Black Tar Heroin?

Black Tar heroin is mostly produced in Mexico and Afghanistan. It is currently the most common form of heroin in distribution, competing with white heroin. This variety contains under 30% of heroin, making it cheaper and more accessible on the street. However, as a highly addictive and dangerous substance, it is no less deadly and hazardous. 

black tar heroin
Black Tar Heroin

The prevalence of this drug on the market stems from competition between various drug cartels. As white heroin became more popular on the market, various international narco-syndicates created a cheaper alternative to corner the market.

What does it smell like?

When you suspect that someone in your life has an addiction, it will help if you recognize the signs of use. One of the easiest ways to determine whether it has been used in a specific area is by analyzing the smell. Drug experts and recovered users have often said that heroin actually smells like vinegar, which comes from diluted or mixed forms of the drug. 

Synthetic heroin: fentanyl and carfentanil

This street term loosely refers to various opioid drugs, both legal and illegal. Fentanyl is a good example of a legal opioid drug, but it is well-known for being almost several thousand times more addictive than heroin. The drug itself is used as a pain reliever and has become one of the most widely used of its kind. 

Fentanyl is also one of the most potent killers. Even just a little bit of this “synthetic heroin” mixed with heroin can lead to overdose and death. Fentanyl is well-known for cutting off the oxygen supply to the brain. 

Carfentanil, on the other hand, is 100 times more potent than fentanyl, 10,000 times more powerful than morphine, and 500,000 times more potent than heroin. This drug was designed to sedate elephants, rhinoceroses, and other large animals. It was never meant for humans to use, as a single dose the size of a grain of sand will likely kill a human being. 

The problem with addiction is that people develop a tolerance to the substance rather quickly. This makes them prone to poor impulse control when dosing.

The signs of heroin use

As we’ve mentioned before, heroin can smell like vinegar. However, purer forms of the drug are completely odorless, making them difficult to identify. For that, you will need to examine the behavioral signs of use. If someone you know has become dependent or addicted to heroin and other opioid drugs, they might exhibit the following signs and symptoms:

  • Tiny pupils. If the black dots in their eyes are too tiny and stay tiny regardless of ambient lighting, it could be a sign that they’re currently high. 
  • Sleepiness. As a sedative, makes people sleepy or fatigued. Some forms, as we’ve mentioned, reduce oxygen supply to the brain. This can give a person the appearance of drowsiness. 
  • Needle marks. You might see bruising or lines on a user’s arms. This is common in intravenous drug users. More often than not, these are found on the forearms, hands, and feet. 

Outside the effects on the body, you might want to check their area or belongings for paraphernalia related to intravenous drug use. Some of these include:

  • Needles. Heroin users often use 1 mL needles to inject the drug into their system. These needles are around an inch or less in length, unlike needles used to depict use in movies. 
  • Burnt metal spoons. Before the drug is injected into the system, users will often melt the powder in a spoon. Burnt spoons are also used for other drugs, so be sure to watch out for them. 
  • Cotton balls. These are sometimes placed into the spoon to absorb impurities while the drug is drawn into the syringe.
  • Large rubber bands. A user might wrap a large rubber band or belt around their extremities to make veins bulge visibly, making them easier to find. 
  • Razor blades. Those who prefer to snort the drug may use flat tools like razor blades and credit cards to put the powder into a line. 
  • Straws. This can be used to make snorting easier. 
Smoking heroin
Snorting Heroin

Side Effects

Some of the immediate effects of heroin are:

  • Flushing in the skin
  • Dry mouth
  • A heavy feeling in the extremities
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Drowsiness
  • Itchiness
  • Slow heart rate and breathing.

Some of the more severe and long-term effects include:

  • Abscesses and infections
  • Impaired decision-making
  • Restlessness 
  • Insomnia
  • Infections in the heart
  • Cellulitis
  • Liver and kidney disease
  • Mental disorders
  • Pneumonia and tuberculosis
  • Menstrual problems
  • Miscarriage.

This does not even include the symptoms of withdrawal, which are characterized by:

  • Jitters
  • Chills
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Bone and muscle pain
  • Insomnia
  • Cold flashes
  • Uncontrollable leg movements
  • Psychosis
  • Hallucinations
  • Extreme paranoia
  • Anxiety
  • Death.

If you or a loved one wishes to recover from opioid addiction, make sure to consult an addiction rehabilitation specialist before you do so. Such experts can place you on a safer treatment program that uses medication to wean you off the drugs while in a safer and more controlled environment. After all, it is best to try and recover with as little risk to your health as possible.

Final thoughts

The best way to deal with drug addiction is to understand it. Addiction is difficult to deal with, but it is not impossible so long as the person afflicted is surrounded by loved ones who understand their condition. This means understanding the circumstances that lead to addiction and recognizing the signs.