Opium & Heroin : Effects, Overdose & Treatment

What is Opium?opium poppy flower field

Opium is a plant-based, naturally occurring narcotic that is derived from the sap of unripe bulbs of the poppy plant. This plant has been used as a source of medicinal painkiller and recreational drug abuse since some of the earliest human cultures, most notably Sumerian civilization as early as 4,000 BCE. The active chemical compound that leads to the high, side effects, and addiction is morphine. Opium was officially introduced as a painkilling medicine in the Western world in 1680, by Thomas Sydenham, although it had been used in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia for millennia for that purpose.

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. That is more than any year on record. 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 synthetized 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 syringe ready for abuse

How Heroin and Opium Are It Ingested?


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.


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 Effects & Side Effects of Opium?

Opium’s physical and psychological effects include:

  • Euphoria
  • Painlessness
  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion

Side effects of opium abuse include:

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

What Are The Effects & Side Effects of Heroin?

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 side 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 side 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

Infographic of the opiate overdose epidemic
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What are the symptoms of an overdose of Opium

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

What are the symptoms of an overdose of Heroin

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 Opium or Heroin Addiction

Heroin is a highly addictive and dangerous narcotic drug that is synthesized from morphine, a chemical compound found naturally in the sap of the opium poppy. Because of this close relationship, 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.

Struggling with a substance abuse problem, such as an addiction to heroin or opium, can lead to serious consequences in every realm of life. It is important to get help as soon as possible to overcome problems with drugs. Medical detox is always required to withdraw from these substances, and it should be followed by a complete program of therapy.

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