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800px-Heroin-from-xtal-horizontal-3D-balls.png332px-Heroin - Heroine.png
Systematic name (5α,6α)-7,8-didehydro- 4,5-epoxy-

17-methylmorphinan- 3,6-diol diacetate

Other names

Black Tar, China White, Dust, Horse,
Junk, Mexican Mud, Scag, Smack,
Judas (A friend that betrays you),
Golden Girl, Hell Dust,

Molecular formula C21H23NO5
SMILES CC(=O)Oc(c3)c(c25)OC(C514)C(OC(C)


Molar mass Molar mass::369.41 g/mol
Appearance Off white crystalline powder or

granules or pieces of brown ‘rock’.

CAS number CAS number::561-27-3
Density and phase Density::1.56 g/ml
Solubility in water 60 mg/100 ml (25°C)
Melting point Melting point::173°C
Boiling point Boiling point::272-274°C
Acidity (pKa) 7.9
Molecular shape Orthorhombic

Heroin is a drug that is derived from opium, which is notorious for its addictive and bodily damaging effects. More specifically known as diacetylmorphine, heroin is synthesized from morphine, which occurs naturally by extracting the substance from the seed pod of the opium poppy plant found in Asia. Heroin may be seen as either a fine, white powder, or a black, sticky substance. In the late 19th century, heroin was first manufactured and released to the public as a medicine to treat pain and coughing. Now it is known for being used by "junkies" who can inject, snort, or smoke the substance to get high. When heroin enters the brain, it binds to opioid receptors which are the brain's source of pleasure.[1]

Effects of heroin abuse not only can be noticed in the long term, but immediately short term as well. The short term effects include brain damage and dependency, slowed breathing due to respiratory system damage, and muscular weakness. Long term effects of heroin abuse include total dependence and addiction with risk of withdrawal dangers, circulatory system damage usually leading to collapsed veins, infection of heart lining and valves, pneumonia and respiratory damage, and the body's liver not functioning properly.[2]


Heroin is a semi-synthetic opioid drug that is synthesized from morphine, which is synthesized from opium. The opium is grown on Papaver somniferum plants, which is also used to make poppy seed muffins. Heroin is essentially a more potent form of morphine. When heroin is injected, more morphine reaches the brain than if morphine were to replace the heroin. It takes about twice as much morphine to produce the same effect as heroin.[3]

Diacetylmorphine can range from a varying span of appearances. In the drug's purest form, it is a very fine powder with a white color. The less pure the heroin, the more off white the color gets. Some types of it can actually appear dark brown to black. One type of heroin known as "Black tar" describes its appearance due to its black color and sticky sensation resembling tar.[4] The pure, white form of heroin is typically made and trafficked mainly in the eastern part of the United States. In the western United States, heroin is typically found in the Black Tar form, dark in color and sticky in texture. [5]

The molecular shape of the diacetylmorphine molecule is said to have a orthorhombic shape. It closely resembles the molecular structure of the morphine molecule, but possess the T configuration in its skeleton.[6]


Heroin is one of the most trafficked drugs in the world. It is made through synthesizing morphine from opium plants. The process of manufacturing this drug requires knowledge of certain chemicals. In order to manufacture this drug, there must be morphine, because it is made directly from it. The morphine is obtained by dissolving opium in water with lime fertilizer. Through this process the morphine will separate by means of precipitation. The morphine is then reacted with ammonia and filtered to create a final product of pure morphine.[7]

The newly manufactured morphine now goes through a process of synthesizing to create the heroin. The morphine then is reacted with acetic anhydride. After this, the morphine must be cooked at eighty-five degrees Celsius for six hours. After this process, the product is then treated with water and hydrochloric acid in order for purification to take place. Then the purified substance is mixed with sodium carbonate, which causes the contents to settle. Once the particles have settled, the mixture is heated with alcohol and activated charcoal. The mixture continues to heat until evaporation takes place with the alcohol. At this point, the drug is considered heroin, although it is very impure and not in its finest form. To further improve its texture and color, the heroin is injected with ether and hydrochloric acid so it can precipitate out in the form of small white flakes. One problem with the final step is the danger that is instilled in the use of ether. Ether can be very explosive if not used correctly.[7]


Preparing Heroin For Injection

The plant that heroin is essentially made from, Papaver somniferum, can be tracked back to about 3400 BC. Locations like Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Iran have been proven to be sites of cultivation of this plant in these times. The first instance of heroin being produced was in 1874 by English chemist C.R. Alder Wright. The drug was synthesized at St. Mary's Hospital Medical School in London, England, where he worked. The chemist had previously been conducting experiments with morphine and its effects. He began to attempt to mix the drug with other acids. His original process for producing heroin was to boil the morphine with acetic anhydride over a stove for a few hours. The new drug was tested with animals who successfully demonstrated typical heroin effects.[7]

The drug appeared to serve no purpose in medicine, so it was essentially dismissed. It was not until 1897 that the drug was produced once again by chemist Felix Hoffmann, member of the Bayer pharmaceutical company staff in Elberfeld, Germany. He and his colleague, Heinrich Dreser, acetylated the morphine, in order to synthesize codeine, which is a less potent or addictive form of morphine. Although they were attempting to produce a substance that was less potent than their original morphine, they ended up created a new drug, which they named heroin, which was much more potent than their initial morphine. The word heroin was said to be derived from the German word heroisch, meaning heroic, due to the heroic feeling of the drug.[7]

Until 1910, the drug was presented as a "non-addictive" substitute for morphine to aid with pain and coughing for children. Bayer actually promoted the drug as a non-addictive drug that would serve the purpose of recovering from morphine addiction. Soon after, it was discovered that the drug converts directly to a stronger version of morphine once it reaches the human liver. In 1914, the sales of the drug were limited by the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act in the United States. This helped to control the distribution of the drug by limiting it to prescription purposes by doctors.[7]

Today, heroin is one of the most addictive and illegal drugs in the world. It has been declared a Schedule 1 substance, the highest ranking of danger in a drug.


  1. Nida InfoFacts: Heroin Unknown Author, May 19, 2010, National Institute of Drug Abuse
  2. Heroin Multiple Authors, May 25, 2010, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.
  3. Heroin (Diacetylmorphine) Information Unknown Author, Unknown Date, Unknown Publisher
  4. Basic Facts About Heroin Buddy T, August 13, 2009, New York Times Company
  5. Heroin Fast Facts Unknown Author, March 2003, National Drug Intelligence Center
  6. Structure of Diacetylmorphine (Heroin) Unknown Author, 1979, International Union of Crystallography.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 Diacetylmorphine Unknown Author, 2005,