How Does Heroin Affect The Brain? Short-Term And Long-Term Effects Of Heroin.

How Does Heroin Affect The Brain?

Heroin is one of the most addictive drugs that human beings can consume. As with all addictive drugs, this intensity of addiction is primarily tied to the dopamine release that occurs once the drug enters the bloodstream and reaches the brain. In the case of heroin, and all opioids for that matter, the dopamine release is massive.

Long-Term Changes In Brain Due To Heroin

A lesser-known fact is that heroin can actually change the physical structures of the human brain. According to a 2013 study by Cheng GLF, et al, heroin directly compromises the structural and functional integrity of the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and medial temporal lobe (MTL) regions of the brain. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for emotional regulation, impulse control, and future planning, while the medial temporal lobe is critical for the storage of long-term memories. When these brain regions erode, it can have profound impacts on the behavior of a heroin user:

  • Impaired “executive functioning” – problem solving, abstract reasoning, planning
  • Reduced control of impulses, resulting in erratic behavior
  • Diminished decision-making ability
  • Diminished ability to make competent plans with consideration of future consequences
  • Memory impairment
  • Changes in emotional state
How Do People Use Heroin?

Heroin users most commonly inject the substance – this is also the administration method that causes it to reach the brain the fastest. The faster a drug reaches the brain, the more potential it has to foster addiction.

Where Did Heroin Come From? What Is The History Of Heroin?

Heroin has a very long history, dating as far back as 3400 BCE with the cultivation of the opium poppy. The word Heroin originated as a branded name assigned to the drug by Bayer pharmaceutical company. Felix Hoffman, a Bayer chemist working under the supervision of Heinrich Dreser, was instructed to produce a variant of codeine from morphine that would be less addictive an potent. However, the result of Hoffman’s work did just the opposite – the product was a substance as many as two times more powerful than morphine. The new chemical compound was names Heroin, from the Greek term heros, because of the “heroic” effects imbued by the drug.

Beginning in 1895 and lasting for a period of time, Heroin was marketed by Bayer as a “non-addictive morphine substitute”. As everyone well knows today, this was completely false. It wasn’t long before users of Bayer’s over-the-counter Heroin exhibited some of the highest rates of addiction.

In 1914, the Harrison Narcotics Act was passed, which limited the sale of and prescription of the drug to medical purposes. Then, in 1924, almost 30 years after its introduction as a non-addictive morphine substitute, the United States Congress banned the sale, import and manufacture of this extremely dangerous and addictive substance.

Since then, heroin has still existed through illegal markets. Many famous musicians have struggled with heroin addiction – including Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, Layne Staley of Alice in Chains, and Ray Charles. In recent years, the opioid crisis has contributed to increased rates of heroin addiction.