The year is 1895 and you’ve been stricken with the flu.  Your cough has begun keeping you up all night.  You travel down to the local apothecary and pick up Bayer’s new wonder drug, Heroin, the “safe non-addictive” cough suppressant.  From its humble beginnings as a cough suppressant Heroin (yeah, that’s a brand name) would become one of the most prevalent and abused illegal opiates in the modern world. When researching a chemical as taboo as heroin, it is important to take a moment and put aside all preconceived notions.  It can be difficult to separate the psychology and taboo nature of the chemical and sort out the facts from the plethora of fiction.   Opiates like heroin and morphine have been used by humans since time immemorial.  Heroin or diamorphine is a derivative of morphine, and its effects on the body are very similar to other common opiates, such as Oxycotin and Vicadin.  Diamorphine functions in a very simple way.  Within your brain inhibitory neurotransmitters are being constantly produced, preventing the release of dopamine.  Diamorphine mimics your native opiates and binds to the neuron preventing the release of these inhibitory neurotransmitters.  Without the inhibition, your neurons flood the brain with natural dopamine.  Dopamine’s effects occur primarily in areas of the brain controlling pain, stress response, and emotional attachment.  Dopamine is the key to the addiction puzzle. That feeling you get after a hard day’s work, winning the game, nailing that presentation, or having amazing sex, is the result of the release of dopamine.  Your brain literally tricks you into working hard to get your next natural hit and high.  Heroin is a short cut.  You can skip straight to the feeling of the win, without the work.  Not just any win either; all of them combined.  Are you feeling depressed or concerned about anything?  Perhaps a bit of pain in your back?  The dopamine releases washes all that away leaving only a sense of euphoria and well-being.  Everything is perfect.  You have triumphed.  This is the real danger of the drug.  First you take it for fun on a weekend.  Soon you take it to get you through a tough day at work or an awkward family event.  Then you are a daily user.  Eventually you take it to feel normal as the effects diminish with every use and you begin having to take more and more.  Your body will become immune to the effects and eventually require it to function properly.  The dosages addicts at this stage take are enough to kill opiate naïve individuals.  The worst part is the permanent damage you’ve done to your brain’s reward pathways.  Even if you do kick your habit, your brain has been rewired permanently.  It knows the only way to feel REAL satisfaction is to take another hit.  The euphoria of a job well done, getting the contract, or amazing sex is nothing but a drop compared to the artificial high.  Like nicotine addicts, you will forever crave that feeling.  In essence former addicts are always addicts, they just are not active addicts. When people overdose, more often than not it is for the same reason.  Recovering addicts, clean for months, have a relapse.  They forget that their body has had time to detox and while the desire still exists, the immunity to the effects are gone.  They pick up where they had left off.  The same dose that they used before they “quit” is now a fatal one.  Their body relaxes too much and the autonomic system shuts down.  They literally forget to breathe and die. As with any chemical, diamorphine is not inherently good or evil.  As a cough suppressant, diamorphine is the best by far.  In countries where medical supplies are limited Heroin makes a wonderful supplement for medical systems in short supply of pharmaceuticals.  In fact, many first world medical systems still utilize diamorphine.  It is also important to note that opiate addiction stems from a nation reliant on other opiate-based painkillers and that only about 15% of users end up dependent.  With any sort of drug, over the counter or otherwise, it is important to educate yourself on it and the effects it has within your body, even if doctor prescribed.  Understanding the psychological effects of chemicals is vital to better understand the world and people around you.  An informed population can help stem the tide of chemical dependence, leading to a healthier society.   Sources Levinthal, C. F. Drugs, Behavior, and Modern Society, 6th ed., Allyn and Bacon, Boston http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heroin “Mouse Party” http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/addiction/mouse/ http://news.yahoo.com/facts-heroin-213000396.html http://www.reddit.com/r/bestof/comments/1rkcbq/unoonenone_talks_about_and_describes_heroin/