What’s the Difference Between Opium & Heroin?

Heroin and opium have very similar effects, although they are ingested in different ways and at different concentrations. However, they both cause serious long-term side effects; can rapidly lead to addiction, dependence, and tolerance; and can also rapidly cause an overdose.

Read on to learn more about:

  • Opium and heroin.
  • The health effects these substances cause.

What is Opium?

Opium is a plant that saps like unripe bulbs of the poppy plant

Opium is taken from the poppy plant and is the main ingredient in many opioids, including heroin. It’s derived from the sap of unripe bulbs of the poppy plant. Opioid abuse has become an epidemic in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note that 28,000 people died of opioid-related overdoses in 2014 alone, more than any year on record.

The active chemical compound in opium that leads to the high, side effects, and addiction is morphine.

Opium is typically smoked, because the alveoli in the lungs allow the narcotic to pass into the bloodstream much faster. However, it can also be eaten, injected intravenously, or taken in pill form. The sap, either sticky or dried, can easily be added to other drugs to create dangerous combinations, such as marijuana joints laced with opium or an injection that combines heroin, opium, and meth.

Like other opioids like heroin and fentanyl, opium can lead to physical and psychological dependence, and can lead to overdose.

The CDC and other government agencies allege that prescribing practices around narcotic painkillers like Percocet and Vicodin have led to an increase in the number of people struggling with opioid addiction. These people often turn to heroin, fentanyl, and other narcotics purchased illegally when they cannot find a source for prescription painkillers.

There are many different types of narcotic painkillers available on the black market, and many of them derive from the same source, which is why they have similar effects. Two of the most notorious forms of narcotic drugs are opium and heroin.

What is Heroin?

Heroin is a semisynthetic narcotic drug, which uses opium as the source of the narcotic during processing. Opium is converted into morphine, which is then synthesized into heroin. It is chemically changed and enhanced in a lab in order to increase the potency of its effects. Originally, heroin was developed as a painkiller in the early 1900s after opium, morphine, and laudanum all proved to be too dangerous and addictive. However, heroin proved to be too potent, addictive, and dangerous as well, leading to the development of other narcotic painkillers.

Heroin is typically ingested intravenously, by combining the powder or rock crystals with water, then injected. Some individuals also smoke or snort the drug.

What Are The Health Effects of Opium & Heroin?

Opium’s physical and psychological effects include:

  • Euphoria.
  • Painlessness.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Confusion.

Effects of opium abuse include:

  • Constipation.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Dry nose.
  • Physical dependence and tolerance.

When heroin enters the brain from the bloodstream, it is converted into morphine and binds with the opioid receptors. Symptoms of heroin intoxication include:

  • Skin warmth, with face and skin flushing.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Heavy sensation in the limbs.
  • Tiredness, including “nodding,” which occurs when the intoxicated person falls asleep for a few seconds at a time.
  • Euphoria or feeling calm and happy.
  • Reduced pain.

Immediate effects of heroin intoxication include:

  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Itchiness.
  • Clouded mental function.
  • Reduced heart rate.
  • Reduced, depressed, or irregular breathing.

Heroin is extremely addictive, since the intense euphoria begins within 5-30 minutes after the initial dose and quickly ends. People who become addicted to heroin can suffer long-term health effects, including:

  • Changes in brain structure that affect mental health.
  • Reduced ability to make decisions.
  • Tolerance and dependence.
  • Increased risk of sexually transmitted infections due to lowered inhibitions.

Opioid Overdose

Symptoms of an overdose of opium include:

  • Reduced or irregular breathing.
  • Dizziness.
  • Extreme confusion.
  • Delirium.
  • Stupor if awake; inability to wake up if asleep.
  • Loss of coordination or acting drunk.
  • Seizures.
  • Coma.

Heroin overdose looks very much like opium overdose, although because the drug is injected intravenously by most users, it is easier to misjudge how much heroin is in a dose. Symptoms include:
  • Delirium and confusion.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Reduced breathing or stopped breathing.
  • Reduced heart rate.
  • Inability to wake up.
  • Coma.
  • Death.

In many cases, an overdose due to heroin or other opioid use may be reversed if someone administers naloxone and contacts emergency services immediately.

Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder

Abusing heroin or opium can, in some instances, lead to an opioid use disorder diagnosis (OUD). In order to manage quitting a substance like heroin or opium, many people choose to attend a medically-assisted detox program. Withdrawal symptoms can be uncomfortable. In a treatment facility or hospital, medical professionals can help manage these symptoms with the help of medication.

From there, addiction treatment is often the next step. This includes either living on campus at a treatment facility or attending several hours of treatment and therapy a week to learn how to manage sobriety. Many facilities offer a continuum of care, meaning you can attend detox and treatment at the same location. Some may even offer aftercare planning, which helps you prepare for the future outside of treatment.

If you or a loved one are ready to get help for your substance use disorder, Sunrise House might be the right place for you. Sunrise House offers comprehensive treatment at our heroin treatment facility in New Jersey. Give our Admissions Navigators a call at to learn about your treatment options through American Addiction Centers many treatment locations.


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