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Heroin Category: Opioids

(also called: gear, H, smack, skag, junk, brown, horse, china white, dragon)

How it’s used

Heroin is an opiate with strong sedative (‘downer’) and painkilling effects. It comes in powder form which varies in colour from brown to white. You can inject it, sniff it or smoke it on foil or in a tobacco-based joint.

Short-term effects

Long-term effects

Other dangers

If you are pregnant

If you use heroin while pregnant, you risk miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, low birth weight or cot death. Your baby may go through heroin withdrawal and need treatment after birth. You should stop using heroin gradually over a few days under medical supervision. If you stop too quickly you could lose your baby.


Heroin is highly addictive, both physically and psychologically, so your body craves it and you feel you can’t cope without it. If you use it regularly for 2 to 3 weeks you will build tolerance so you need to keep taking more to get the same buzz.


You may start to experience withdrawal after several weeks on high, frequent doses of heroin. Withdrawals start 8-12 hours after your last use and include aches, shakes, sweating, chills, sneezing and yawning and muscle spasms. These fade after about a week and are not life threatening.

How long does it stay in your system?

A urine test will detect heroin for 3-8 days. (The length of time depends on the test used, the amount you take, if you have other medical conditions and your own metabolism. Please use this figure as a guide only)

What help is available?

« Back to Types of Drugs page
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The HSE and Union of Students in Ireland (USI) ask students to think about drug safety measures when using club drugs
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