Shooting Heroin

Published On: October 25, 2023

Heroin has a short half-life of 30 minutes. This means that a single dose of heroin should take 30 minutes to flush out, however, this can depend on age, weight, organ health, and dose purity. [1]

Putting the ‘Shot’ in Shooting

Two people holding hands across a table

Shooting up is a common phrase used when people inject heroin directly into their veins with a needle. People choose this method of use because it works the fastest; providing the fastest onset of heroin will cause euphoria the fastest.

With the fastest high also comes the fastest addiction; shooting heroin can mean dependency forms faster, on top of an already highly addictive drug.

Shooting up gives an immediate feeling of euphoria; users will feel warm and flushed, with a dry mouth and dilated pupils. Heroin slows both the heart and the breathing, with a lack of oxygen to the brain this then slows the central nervous system processes.

In the opioid family, heroin is the most infamous. When it’s not injected, heroin can be snorted or smoked, a more appealing option when experimenting for the first time.

When injecting, black tar heroin is the most popular. Mostly because in this form it cannot be snorted, as the manufacturing process leaves behind too many impurities giving it the look of tar. Users then either melt it and inject it or smoke it on tin foil.

Effects on the Body

A woman taking a white pill

The invasive nature of this use creates a plethora of health issues, specifically with the skin and diseases. [2]

If the insertion of the needle is too shallow, the heroin can pool just below the skin. This causes abscesses and infection. In contrast, if the needle is pushed in too far, it can pierce a vein and deposit heroin in the wrong place.

If this doesn’t cause a collapsed vein, heroin’s acidity might. Different batches will have different acidity levels, but all too high.

This leads to aggravation within the body:

  • Bruising
  • Collapsed veins
  • Entry sight inflammation
  • Track marks

If use is prolonged, veins can cease to function properly. Addicts tend to then inject it into the skin or random muscle when a vein cannot be found. This is a quick route to heroin pooling and abscesses, where amputation or skin grafts are occasionally required.

Long-Term Needle Damage

Overuse of needles and sharing multiple times causes the most significant risk. Reusing needles can damage the tip, leading to a blunt end. Trying to enter the skin with a blunt needle can make it messy, meaning veins and skin are more prone to infection.

Sharing needles is one of the quickest routes to contracting HIV. Diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis pose a serious threat if left untreated. [3]

These diseases aren’t only caught via needles; sharing water to clean needles and reusing drug equipment can lead to the spread of HIV.

How does it spread? If you share a needle with someone who already has the virus, the needle can contain blood with the virus still present, which you then inject into yourself.

HIV originally came from a type of chimp in Africa; also called the simian immunodeficiency virus, their blood was passed to humans when they came in contact with their blood. If you are injecting, don’t share needles or reuse them too often.


Those that inject drugs put themselves at risk of botulism.4

Botulism can be life-threatening; a germ called Clostridium botulinum gets into a wound and forms a toxin. The toxin attacks bodily nerves, making it difficult to breathe and makes you very weak.

If you contract botulism, you require a medicine coined antitoxin, it can prevent any further damage but what the toxin has done already is deemed irreversible.

Symptoms of botulism:

  • Double or blurred vision
  • Drooping eyelids
  • Slurred speech
  • Thick tongue or difficulty swallowing
  • Muscle weakness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Paralysis

The latter two are significant symptoms of the later stages of botulism, which can be life-threatening. Some symptoms parallel that of an overdose, such as paralysis and trouble breathing.

Most people get botulin from skin-popping black tar heroin, but it is unknown how the black targets infected with the germs.

The germs live in soil and might get into the heroin when it is cut with other substances or transported. The difference between this germ and others is that it doesn’t die when heated, so don’t be under the impression that melting the heroin will kill it.

Botulism is not contagious, but if you share equipment that is already contaminated with botulism you may get it.

How to Tell if Someone is Shooting Heroin

Man lying down with his hand over his head

The most common sign of use is the constant highs and lows; if someone’s mood and behaviour are changing quickly and dramatically, it can be a sign of drug use.

Think of these signs as other uses, such as dramatic caffeine intake. You can go from being calm and normally behaved to jittery and feeling wired. Once the caffeine leaves your system, you will crash, feeling worn and tired.

Signs to look out for:

  • Falling asleep: Heroin slows down breathing and heart rate, meaning the user can fall asleep anywhere in any position. This is due to the lack of oxygen travelling to your brain, but this can also be fatal.
  • Unseasonable clothing: Wearing long sleeves and trousers during summer is common to hide ‘track marks. These are scars formed In the quest to find a vein, and the constant injection of heroin. Clothes are also required to hide skin infections, abscesses, and ‘soot’ deposits beneath the skin, all a result of too much injecting. Opioids can cause itchiness; people may start itching and picking track marks and needle scabs, causing sores.
  • Sudden weight loss: Drugs can often make you nauseous. Vomiting and appetite loss can lead to a dramatic decrease in weight, along with being overly dehydrated. [3]
  • ‘Heroin lean’: Heroin can cause coordination and balance issues – heavy limbs are often described as a common side effect. This can seem like users are dragging their limbs around, so they tend to lean to the side and not stand upright when attempting to move.

Other Signs:

  • Routine change
  • Trouble concentrating or rationally thinking
  • Trouble making decision
  • Menstrual and sexual issues
  • Nosebleeds and flu-like symptoms
  • Slurred speech
  • Declining performance

If you believe someone or yourself is in danger of a heroin overdose, or require rehab or a chat with a professional, we have you covered.

A quick and free consultation with a professional is highly confidential, we are here to help, not to judge, so get in contact today.


  1. S. Food & Drug Administration. (2018). Drugs of Abuse Tests.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hepatitis C.
  5. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021).  Heroin Research Report. What are the medical complications of chronic heroin use?


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