What Happens When Heroin First Enters the Brain?
After heroin enters the body and crosses the blood-brain barrier, it’s converted back to morphine. This morphine binds to cells called opioid receptors. There are a bunch of different types of opioid receptors, but getting into all that is for another article.
Opioid receptors are located all over our brains, and our bodies for that matter. They’re especially prevalent in areas involved with the perception of pain and reward. That’s why opioids make such good pain relievers. Opioid receptors are also located in the brainstem. This controls automatic processes like blood pressure, respiration, and sexual arousal.
Once heroin is injected, users get a feeling of intense euphoria. This is commonly called “the rush” among us junkie folk! This feeling comes over the entire body and doesn’t last for very long. After the rush, the user goes into a drowsy, half-conscious state. This is called nodding out. Over time, the brain demands the same levels of heroin for the body to feel normal. When this happens, tolerance and physical addiction have set in.
If the brain doesn’t get the needed level, it goes into a sort of panic state. This is withdrawal. Our bodies all react to withdrawal differently, but some common symptoms include: nausea, cramps, aching, pain, diarrhea, runny nose, sensitivity to light, and headache. Basically, think of a bad flu. Also, after receiving heroin the brain produces large amounts of dopamine. After a heroin addiction, it’s hard for the brain to learn how to produce dopamine in a natural way. This leads to ex-heroin addicts being severely depressed.
How Does Heroin Affect the Brain?
The pleasurable effects of heroin come from neurons in the brain which use dopamine. Dopamine is one of several key neurotransmitters, or message carriers, in the brain. When heroin enters the brain, it releases a ton of dopamine and then blocks it being absorbed back into the cells.
Our brains naturally produce endorphins, which are opioid like molecules. These endorphins are used as natural painkillers by our brain and body. Think about running for a long period of time. Afterwards, you get that “runners high.” This is caused by a release of endorphins, which causes dopamine to release, and then block the dopamine being absorbed back into the cells.
Recent studies have shown that long-term heroin addiction actually changes our DNA! This affects the production of protein and how our brains function. Hopefully, these new studies will give insight into the disease of heroin addiction and offer new methods of treating it.
Short Term Effects On the Brain
- Analgesia (Reduced Pain)
- Euphoria (“Rush”)
- A Feeling of Well-Being
- Sedation (“Nodding Out”)
- Reduced Vital Signs (Blood Pressure, Respiration, Heart Rate)
- Relief of Withdrawal Symptoms
Long Term Effects on the Brain:
- Impaired Memory
- Impaired Cognitive Ability
- Impaired Decision Making
- Physical Tolerance
- Mental and Physical Addiction