Heroin is a type of opioid. It is considered a central nervous system depressant. This drug is powerful and can provide significant pain relief for those who use it. However, it is important to understand how it works and what using it may do to you and your health.
So, is heroin a stimulant, then?
No. Heroin is a depressant rather than a stimulant. That means it works to slow down the function of the central nervous system, not speed it up as stimulants do. Here’s what you need to know.
What’s the Difference between a Stimulant vs Depressant Drug?
The central nervous system includes your body’s network of nerves as well as the brain itself. It’s the central powerhouse for controlling everything that happens within the body. A depressant drug, like heroin, slows down the function of this system. As it does that, breathing and heart rates begin to fall. Thought processes become slowed, too. A person may feel depressed and lack energy while taking heroin in some situations. It may lead to sleep as well.
By comparison, a stimulant drug, like cocaine, can increase the function of the central nervous system. That means it speeds up how fast the heart beats and increases breathing rate to get more oxygen to the organs and muscles. Those who use a stimulant may find themselves facing intense amounts of energy, and in some cases, this comes with anxiety and difficulty focusing.
How Does Heroin Impact the Brain?
Heroin is very powerful when it comes to reducing pain signals that travel to the brain. With low doses, the depressive impact may not be as noticeable. However, many people with heroin addiction develop tolerance, and that often leads to increased amounts being used.
When a person takes heroin, the drug interacts with the pain receptors in the brain, virtually turning them off so that a person doesn’t feel the pain. However, it also triggers the brain’s pleasure center and changes how the neurotransmitters communicate. Over time, the brain’s pleasure center reacts to the heroin’s presence so much so that it becomes dependent on the substance. That may make it very difficult for a person who is using this drug to stop using it. Instead, the brain craves it.
The Science Behind Heroin Function
Opioids like heroin affect brain function by activating the mu-opioid receptors in the brain. Other depressant drugs, such as benzos, do not do that. Heroin, however, blocks pain receptors. It also works to control sleep, breathing, and heart rate. As it works, heroin can create feelings such as:
- Impairment of cognitive function
- A sedation-like effect
- Slowed autonomic functions
- Slowed breathing
- Depressive-like state
There is also a surge of pleasure and euphoria when taking this drug. This may create a sense of being able to do anything, but rather than excite you, it may make you feel calm and more laid back. In many ways, it can reduce mental function, and that makes it seem as though you are in a different world.
It is possible to lose consciousness when using heroin. In some situations, the depression of the brain’s function is so much so that it can cause a person to enter into a deep sleep. Other times, it may lead to the heart stopping or the lungs stopping. These are life-threatening conditions that require immediate medical help.
What to Do If You Are Using Heroin
If you or a loved one may be struggling with heroin addiction, it’s critical to seek out professional treatment. Doing so may help you overcome the withdrawal and cravings you have, especially when medications are used to help treat your condition.