Substance Use

How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your System?

TABLE OF CONTENTSTable of Contents

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Heroin, also known as diacetylmorphine, is an opioid drug made from morphine, which is a natural substance that comes from poppy plants. When the juice of the opium poppy is harvested, it contains several opiates — including morphine. 

Unlike morphine and codeine, heroin is a semi-synthetic drug that is chemically processed. Heroin is created from morphine, which requires additional refining. Since heroin takes up less space per dose, it remains the drug of choice by drug smugglers.

Sadly, as heroin use has increased, so has the number of overdoses. Heroin-related overdose deaths increased from 2,300 in 1991 to 15,958 in 2017, yielding a seven-fold increase. 

Recommended reading: 10 essential documentaries on the opioid crisis

Once taken, heroin binds to receptors in the brain called MORs, which is just one of the major classes of opioid receptors. The human body contains naturally occurring chemicals that bind to these receptors throughout both the brain and body. This is why users feel a reduction in pain. 

Once MORs are activated, they release dopamine, which causes a sensation of pleasure and the reinforcement of drug-taking behavior. But unlike stimulants, heroin is a depressant. It slows down certain parts of the central nervous system, relieving users from physical pain. 

Patients seeking pain relief have contributed to a steep increase in prescription opioid use. From 1999 to 2010, prescriptions for opioid medications quadrupled. When patients increase the dose or duration of opioids, toxicity becomes a concern. This can occur when patients transition from the nonmedical use of prescription opioids to heroin. 

One core reason this happens is because of the cost of heroin. Being up to 10-times cheaper and more readily available than prescription opiates on the street, heroin poses higher risks of overdose — especially when heroin is mixed with synthetic opioid compounds, including fentanyl. 

The effects of heroin and how long it stays in your system depend on:

  • The strength of the dose
  • Your body composition, weight, and overall health
  • The effects of other drugs combined with heroin 

Research shows that long-term regular use of heroin can alter how the brain works. Repeated use can change the physiological and physical structure of the brain. This then causes hormonal and chemical imbalances. While more research is required, it may take months or even years for the brain to return to normal functioning once a person stops using heroin. 

How heroin affects your body and brain is complex, which is why comprehensive treatment is needed. 

So, the question remains — how long does heroin stay in your body? This guide tells all. 

How Long Does It Take for the Effects of Heroin to Wear Off?

Once heroin reaches the brain, it is converted into morphine, which can then bind to opioid receptors. This is what creates a pleasurable rush. These receptors are found in your brain, brain stem, spinal cord, lungs, and small intestine. This is why the physical effects of heroin are so vast — and dangerous.

Once taken, heroin binds to several classes of opioid receptors, including the mu, kappa, and delta receptors. Each of these receptors creates different effects, ranging from hallucinations to respiratory depression, euphoria to potent analgesic effects. 

How one uses heroin influences how quickly the effects are felt, as well as how long those effects last. For example, how much heroin a user takes and how quickly that dose enters the body will determine how intense the “rush” is. 

The most common ways of using heroin include:

  • “Mainlining” or intravenous use, which involves injecting heroin into a vein
  • Injecting into a muscle or under the skin 
  • Snorting powdered heroin 
  • Inhaling or smoking 

For example, when heroin is injected directly into a vein, the effects are felt within seconds yet last only a few minutes, peaking at around 3-5 minutes. When taken this way, heroin is mixed with water and then injected. Of those who misuse intravenous drugs, heroin is the most common drug of choice. 

In contrast, when heroin is injected under the skin or into a muscle, the effects come on slower, taking around 5-10 minutes for the user to experience peak levels. But a user may nod out for up to an hour, and the residual effects can last a few hours, depending on the dose. 

If sniffed, the effects will last longer but will not be as potent. That is why heavy addicts often opt for intravenous administration. They seek that “rush” associated with heroin use. 

The effects will vary if a user takes heroin with another substance, such as alcohol or cocaine. In this case, the effects may last longer but are also highly dangerous, raising the risk of overdose. 

After the initial dose, users may feel drowsy for several hours, experiencing clouded thoughts. In severe cases, slowed breathing can lead to a coma or permanent brain damage

Since heroin is so highly addictive, regular use of heroin can lead to addiction in as little as two to three weeks. Those who use daily must take heroin every six to 12 hours to avoid withdrawal symptoms — which can be quite severe. 

With regular use, heroin can change the functioning of your brain. This is what leads to:

  • Tolerance — More and more heroin will be needed to achieve the same high.
  • Dependence — This is the need to continue using heroin to avoid withdrawal effects.
  • Addiction — Addiction is a disease, and without proper treatment, the consequences can be severe.

Are you concerned for your loved one? Are you ready to seek a life of sobriety? Learn how Zinnia Health treatment facilities can help you every step of the way. Call (855) 430-9439 with any questions or concerns. 

How Is Heroin Detected on Drug Tests?

Those wondering, “How long does heroin stay in your body?” are often anticipating an upcoming drug test. 

There are several tests approved by the FDA for heroin, including those for saliva, blood, urine, and hair. 

Depending on the situation, testing may be requested if an individual is showing clinical effects, either at work, at school, in the military, in an athletic setting, or in a treatment facility. These effects include depression, dizziness, nausea, sedation, and drowsiness. For example, when individuals participate in opioid therapy, urine drug monitoring is an important tool to screen for possible misuse. Routine and random testing may be administered throughout therapy as a standard of care. 

When administering opioid testing, the presence of opioids and their metabolites is what the lab looks for. Although specialized tests can be used for certain opioids, such as fentanyl or methadone, the majority of routine tests detected natural opioids, including morphine, heroin, and codeine. 

How long heroin is detected in the body is known as the detection window, which is dependent on several factors, including:

  • The type of opioid used — in this case, heroin 
  • The amount and frequency of use, as heroin will be detectable longer in chronic users 
  • The type of test used 

A urine test generally requires a minimum of 30 mL of urine. When testing for heroin and its metabolites in urine, the detection window is often two days. In some cases, the detection window of heroin is less than a day, but morphine can be detected for longer periods. Labs will look for morphine as a key indicator of heroin use. Other opioids, such as methadone, have a detection window of three to five days. 

When using urine drug tests, there are two main types — immunoassay or gas chromatography/mass spectrometry. In a point-of-care office, hospital lab, or treatment facility, immunoassay will be used. This option is fast and easy to use. Engineered antibodies bind to metabolites to show a positive result. But this test will not differentiate various opiates, including heroin. 

Depending on the method of testing, heroin has an average detection time of three days. But this window may be longer for chronic users. If saliva is being tested, heroin may be detected for up to 36 hours. 

Hair testing involves dissolving about 50 strands of hair in solvents. This liquefied sample is highly reliable for detecting heroin, as well as cocaine and methamphetamines. The detection window for hair is up to 90 days for opioids, including heroin, morphine, and codeine. But it is not commonly used. Sweat testing also yields a vary large detection window of up to 14 days, but again, this test is not common.

How Is Heroin Metabolized in the Body?

To answer the question, “How long does heroin stay in your body?,” you must dive deeper into how this drug is metabolized in the body. 

Much like with other substances, the liver and kidneys work hard to eliminate heroin from the body. 

When opiates, including heroin, are administered orally, the majority of absorption occurs in the small intestine. Once in the bloodstream, heroin is metabolized by the liver. The liver works hard to break heroin down into inactive compounds, which are then excreted by the kidneys through urine. 

Once metabolized, heroin is broken down into diacetylmorphine, which is then detected as morphine. Heroin has an average half-life of three minutes in blood following intravenous administration. But the half-life of the metabolite, 6-acetyl morphine, is approximately 30 minutes. Since heroin has such a short half-life, compared to other drugs, users must take heroin several times daily to maintain the effect they seek. If they do not, withdrawal effects will develop, which are incredibly uncomfortable and even painful. 

As tolerance increases, users need to take stronger doses to achieve the same effect. This is why heroin can be so dangerous. While users experience tolerance to the euphoric effects of heroin, they do not develop the same tolerance for respiratory depression. This increases the risk of overdose. 

If heroin is mixed with opiates like fentanyl, which is highly fat-soluble, it will likely be redistributed to fatty tissue. This will result in a longer half-life. 

Luckily, when users overdose, naloxone is available to reverse the potentially fatal effects. But it must be given to a patient immediately.

How Zinnia Healing Provides Support for Heroin Addiction

Heroin addiction is often severe, and without treatment, users face a high risk of overdose. 

Although many users want to overcome their addiction, symptoms of withdrawal can be severe or even life-threatening. Extreme cravings and pain are just some reasons why users do not complete the detoxification process. That is why medical detox is highly recommended. Medical detox ensures patients are not only more comfortable but also safe. 

The three most common drugs used for heroin medical detox include:

  • Naltrexone, an opioid antagonist that blocks the effects of heroin 
  • Buprenorphine, a partial opioid antagonist that relives cravings without significant side effects 
  • Buprenorphine/naltrexone, a combination drug that is ideal for patients who do not respond well to other medications

In an outpatient treatment setting, methadone is often used. 

Once your body has eliminated heroin, as well as any other substances, from your system, the true healing process will begin. Mental health disorders are common among heroin addicts, requiring ongoing treatment and support. That’s why you must seek individualized treatment. From cognitive-behavioral therapy to nutrition support, your treatment plan will include exactly what you need to succeed and thrive. 

At Zinnia Healing, we understand that no two individuals are the same — so their treatment plan shouldn’t be either. Our first goal is to help all heroin users overcome the detoxification process safely and comfortably. From there, we work with individuals one-on-one to determine what additional therapies are best suited for their needs. This means targeting your dependence on heroin first, followed by your heroin addiction, which can be highly complex. 

Whether you or your loved one need addiction support, Zinnia Healing can help you begin your journey toward a healthy and fulfilling future, free from heroin. Please contact us to discuss your needs. We’ll create a customized treatment program to support you on your road to recovery.