Providing straightforward information pertaining to drugs, drug use & drug policy. The Grey Pages promotes drug-related literacy and advocates a system of viable and tolerant drug policies. This is my personal collection of commentaries, essays, tid-bits, and other such writings on everything ranging from drug use, drug policy and drug-myths, to drug-science, addiction, human behavior, and the workings of the human brain. I started this blog with a particular focus on opioids, and over the past year have found my interest gravitate toward the intriguing, ever-changing world of designer intoxicants (i.e. "research chemicals" or "designer drugs").

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Heroin For the Novice - Key Questions & Answers

Some common questions and misconceptions regarding the world's most misunderstood psychoactive.

Where does heroin come from?

Maps Show World Opium Production: Click to Zoom
Countries in black letters supply global heroin trade
US government and media have singled out Afghanistan and the Mideast in recent years, as if to imply that Middle-Eastern heroin is flooding our streets. This is likely an attempt to create a perceived connection between heroin and "terror" in the popular mind. Though Afghanistan still produces a majority of the world's illicit opium supply, large quantities of Asian heroin do not reach the US market. The overwhelming majority of mideastern & southeastern opium is consumed in Europe in the form of smokeable heroin base or its injectable hydrochloride salt.

Most of the heroin available in the United States originates from Mexico or South America. Users in the eastern and central US typically see south american powder, often originating from colombia, but mexican brown powder does exist as well. Users in the Southwest and Midwest typically use heroin in the form of mexican black tar (and occasionally powder). South American heroin is generally driven north through Mexico and into the US; then driven to the major hub cities of Chicago, NYC, and Miami. Mexican heroin simply traverses the border to key distribution points in the Southwest; including El Paso, San Diego, or Los Angeles.

How pure is street heroin?

Purity varies greatly, and there are so many conflicting reports. Purity of black tar is not so much relevant, as diluting the product is difficult, and the product is manufactured as a mixture of opioids. Purity of powder heroin varies by geographical area. After production, the more it passes hands, the lesser the purity will be.

Manufacturers hand the product off to DTO's (Drug Trafficking Organizations), Typically mexican cartels, while the DTO's smuggle the product just across the border into Texas or California. The heroin is typically left at a predetermined location and picked up by a distributor. Distributors often cut the dope and many create new rocks in order to make the product appear less stepped on. The distributor acts as a middleman. Next, the dope may be bought by the ounce or in portions of a kilo by; a) street dealers, who then may cut the product to shit to increase the profit margin; and then sell it by the gram, bundle, or bag. or b) Other distributors - other middle men - who sell to a third middle man (and so on, down the chain).

Common sense would dictate the closer one lives to a major distribution area, the lesser the dope will have been cut by multiple parties, and the higher the purity will be. Heroin in NYC and Chicago averages on the high end, sometimes as high as a 60 to 70 percent range, while heroin in small towns, suburbs, and rural areas will average low (as low 10 to 15 percent). A government agency recently cited a wide range of 10 to 70%, and a national average near 40%.

What is the difference between black tar heroin and powder heroin?

As stated two questions prior, black tar is technically speaking, not heroin. Black tar is a mixture of heroin, morphine, 6-AM, and other minor intermediates. It is produced by small mobile laboratories (more like kitchens), typically near the poppy fields, by mexicans with limited resources. Black tar often appears in a form similar to hashish, and is sold in the west and midwest US often packages in balloons.

Heroin in the US typically appears as a white to brown powder, either flaky & fine or in chunks. Black tar appears as a dark brown to black sticky substance with a fluid to gummy to solid consistency; often tar-like. Both forms can be heated and smoked. Both forms can be used intravenously, but powder heroin may be less hazardous by this route. Black tar is obviously harder to cut, while powder is easily cut. Black tar appears mostly in the west, while powder appears in the east.

Black tar when injected is likely to cause more histamine induced pins and needles than powder heroin, due to a higher content of morphine. Some prefer tar while other prefer heroin powder.

Is heroin more euphoric than morphine and other opiates?

Euphoria is a subjective term. In one study in post IV narcotic habituates, heroin was shown to be 1.8 to 2.6x more potent than morphine when it came to subjective opioid effects. Its potency as an analgesic is nearly identical (i.e. heroin is 1.5 to 3x more potent than morphine as a painkiller).

Though clinical experience suggests that even when able to identify which opioid they were injected with, users showed no real preference for one or the other. Other research has shown that heroin produced a similar capacity of euphoria to morphine in equianalgesic doses; with a similar ratio of analgesic to euphoric potency, but lesser incidence of nausea and itching.

Many users swear to the notion that heroin is superior to morphine as a euphoriant, and as far as the rush during initial onset is concerned; this is most likely the case. But the period of narcosis following this shortlived onset is essentially equivalent in origin and intensity to morphine. All this to say; if the rush is a major factor in your opinion on a drug's euphoric merit, heroin is superior to morphine. While rush aside, the drugs are essentially interchangeable in their degree of 'pleasantry'.

What are cutting agents and filling agents?

Powdered sugar or milk, starch, lactose, talcum powder - Cutting agents

Acetaminophen, Aspirin, Diphenhydramine, Crushed T3's - Filling agensts

Basically, cutting agents are inert, inactive substances used simply to add bulk, while fillers are usually pharmacologically active agents used in an attempt to add bulk while adding to heroin's analgesic or sedative effects.

Sometimes I get heroin that gives me terrible pins and needles. This doesn't always happen, and some say it's from the morphine content. How does morphine get into a heroin batch?

Illicit heroin is never completely pure. Even fresh after synthesis, all clandestinely produced heroin contains a portion of impurities from the manufacturing process; most likely morphine, 6-acetylmorphine, codeine, and 6-acetylcodeine.The impurities are due to either a) a sloppy extraction of morphine from opium which contains some codeine, or b) an incomplete reaction of the morphine base, leaving some of the product unacetylated, and some only partially acteylated (as in 6-AM).
Some batches of heroin are well refined, containing minimal intermediates, while other batches contain a large percentage of morphine, codeine, 6-acetylmorphine, and even 6-acetylcodeine. The imperfections of heroin are not necessarily a bad thing; some enjoy the kick provided by a spectrum of opiates rather than one entity alone. Black tar heroin is preferred by some for just this purpose.
Technically, black tar heroin is not actually heroin at all - in merely contains heroin - along with morphine, 6-acetylmorphine, and possibly traces of codeines. Black tar is simply a semi-processed, makeshift injectable product containing an array of morphine-type alkaloids. Some can discriminate the effects of black tar from regular heroin, while others perceive no difference.


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