Heroin vs Opium

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As the opioid crisis continues in America, many remain unaware of the various forms that these highly addictive substances can take. Geography, economy, and access all play a role in how different regions of the world experience this issue. Throughout this article you will learn about two of the forms of narcotic production — heroin and opium. After reading you will be able to better understand the similarities as well as important distinctions between these frequently misused substances.

Many find themselves in the midst of a battle with an addictive substance like heroin and feel that there is nowhere to go for help. Fortunately, help is available. At Guardian Recovery, our team of trained addiction professionals understand the life controlling power that opioid narcotics can have, but also the freedom that is inherent of a life in recovery. Contact us today to speak with an admissions professional. One of the best decisions for you or a loved one may simply be one phone call away.

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Is Heroin the Same as Opium?

Though both are classified as a narcotic (1), heroin and opium vary greatly in their makeup, effect, and usage. A narcotic is a substance that must be some sort of opioid. An opioid is any substance designed to suppress the central nervous system and is made from either the poppy plant, a poppy plant derivative, or a synthetically manufactured substance designed to mimic the effects of the poppy plant.

Though both have their origin in the poppy plant, opium is the naturally occurring substance that comes directly from the poppy plant while heroin is a chemically altered and highly distilled version of opium, its naturally occurring predecessor.

Opium is a Naturally-Occurring Narcotic

Opium is the substance that is directly harvested (2) from the pods of the unripened poppy seeds. It is the naturally occurring basis for all semisynthetic opioids including most prescription painkillers, morphine,  and heroin. The unripened seed pods of the poppy plant are cut allowing for a milky white fluid to seep out. This is opium. Once it has time to solidify, opium is then scraped off and allowed to be dried out. From there, the opium is either utilized in its current state or further manufactured into one of its various semi-synthetic forms.

Heroin & the Poppy Plant

Though it finds its roots in opium, heroin is manufactured with a litany of synthetic chemicals changing its potency as it interacts with the body and brain. After opium is harvested from the poppy plant, it is distilled, cooked, and mixed with a calcium solution to produce morphine. This is the base for heroin and most other opioids.

Heroin is Synthetically Produced

Opium for medical purposes is legally grown in India, Turkey, and Australia. Most heroin is manufactured in southwest Asia by either illegally grown opium or illegally commandeered opium from a legal source. Heroin is classified as a semi-synthetic opioid meaning that it contains both naturally occurring ingredients as well as synthetic, or “man made”, components.

After opium is distilled (2) further into morphine, it is again dried in order to either be consumed or further manufactured into other substances. After drying, the morphine base is then cooked once again with various chemicals until it turns brown in color and reduces in size.

This repeated distillation process increases the potency of the substance being consumed that will later become heroin. Sodium carbonate is then dissolved in water and added to the solution to be cooked down once again. After another round of filtering and cooking the resulting substance, after drying, is heroin hydrochloride also known as “white powder heroin.”

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How Is Opium Used Compared to Heroin?

In years past, places of business were set up specifically for opium users to be able to come, purchase, and smoke opium in a safe and often legal environment. In modern times, these dens are a thing of the past as the vast majority of recreationally used opium is manufactured into heroin. With its high demand, ease of transportation, and high potency, heroin is a far more economically beneficial substance for opium farmers to produce.

Is Opium as Addictive as Heroin?

According to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) (3), opium has less addictive qualities than heroin. This shows up in their classification of each of these substances. Heroin is classified as a Schedule I drug meaning that it has the highest possibility for addiction as well as having no recognized medical benefits. Opium however, is classified as a Schedule II controlled substance meaning that it is recognized to have less addictive properties than a Schedule I substance as well as having some recognized medical benefit.

Can You Overdose on Opium?

Though opium is a naturally occurring substance it should never be considered safe. Opium, like any other opioid, has the potential for causing overdose (4). Overdose symptoms are similar regardless of which is used due to the effect that it has on the central nervous system. All opioids are responsible for slowing down respirations and heart beat leading to potentially fatal consequences.

Does Natural Opium Have Similar Effects & Withdrawal Symptoms?

Though opium is considered less addictive than heroin, it will have the same withdrawal effects (5) on a person who has used it frequently enough to become physically dependent. Withdrawal symptoms come as a result of how the substance interacts with the brain and body. Opium and heroin both interact with the brain and body similarly and therefore have the same withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms include irritability, sweating, nausea, and other flu-like symptoms.

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Seeking Treatment For Opioid Addiction

Though opium and heroin vary in their chemical makeup, both are extremely addictive. If you or someone you love finds themselves in the grips of addiction, there is help available. Guardian Recovery understands addiction and the havoc it can cause to individuals, families, and communities. Because of this, we have equipped ourselves with highly trained addiction professionals to provide the best quality of substance use treatment. Call today and one of our admissions coordinators will be able to assist you with a free no obligation insurance check to help remove financial concern from your decision to enter treatment. Reach out today and begin your journey to freedom.

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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

  1. https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2020-06/Narcotics-2020.pdf
  2. https://museum.dea.gov/exhibits/online-exhibits/cannabis-coca-and-poppy-natures-addictive-plants/opium-poppy
  3. https://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/schedules/
  4. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/opioid-overdose
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK526012/

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave

L.M.H.C.

Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

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Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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