In its pure form, heroin is derived from the seeds of poppy plants and is distributed in two primary forms: powder and solid.3,4 The color of these substances can range anywhere from pure white to black, depending on its theoretical purity.
What Is White Heroin?
The most pure sources of heroin can sometimes be found on the illicit market in white powdered form. This white powder commonly has a high degree of acidity and is known as “white heroin.”3,5
Despite common perception, white heroin doesn’t necessarily indicate high purity.
Despite common perception, white heroin doesn’t necessarily indicate high purity. In fact, it is not uncommon for heroin to be cut with an additive substance, which can alter the color of the compound.6
“China White” is a term that can refer to pure heroin, heroin cut with fentanyl, or just fentanyl (which is 50-100 times more potent than morphine). In the past, the term referred to heroin. But it has also been used recently to refer to heroin cut with fentanyl, which has led to a number of deaths, notably in New York state. Finally, China White has also been used to refer to pure fentanyl, which is sometimes sold as heroin.9,10,11,12
Although the availability of pure, uncut heroin is relatively rare from street dealers, there has been some suggestion that the availability of pure heroin may be becoming more common.13
How White Heroin Is Used
White powder heroin may be used in a variety of ways in order to get high. These different methods of administration are generally chosen based on their speed of impact—or how quick the onset of the drug’s desired effect.
Smoking or injecting white heroin can produce a quicker high than snorting because heroin reaches the brain more quickly. When someone injects heroin, they usually feel the effects very fast. Injecting heroin into a vein can result in effects in 7 to 8 seconds. Injecting heroin into a muscle or under the skin (“skin popping”) can result in effects in 5 to 8 minutes. The heroin “high” lasts 45 seconds to several minutes and is followed by an hour “on the nod,” where the user alternates between semiconsciousness and wakefulness.14,15, 16
The Dangers of White Heroin Powder
Getting high from heroin can be an intensely pleasurable – and even euphoric – experience. A heroin high can provide the individual with temporary relief from both physical and psychological sensations of pain. Despite these initial draws, there are a number of dangers associated with using heroin.
Heroin is associated with a very high risk of its user becoming addicted to the drug. Repeated use of the drug is associated with the development of tolerance to its effects, meaning that the individual will continue to need more and more of the substance in order to achieve the desired high.6
Individuals who have repeatedly used heroin are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms upon trying to stop using the drug. These symptoms can be quite uncomfortable and distressing, which may motivate the individual to use again in order to get relief.16
Heroin causes short-term and long-term damage in both the brain and in the body that go beyond the immediate addiction and withdrawal symptoms. Users can see effects in decision-making abilities and the ability to respond to stress, and they can also develop pneumonia and tuberculosis. Users who inject heroin are at risk of hepatitis and HIV from shared needle use.16
Other Life Risks
This physical dependency upon heroin and need for continued use can then lead to additional problems, including trouble at work or school, difficulty with friends and family members, financial strain and even other health problems not directly due to heroin.8
How You or a Loved One Can Recover from Addiction
If you or someone you love is suffering from an addiction, it’s important to learn what options you have to get back on the road to recovery. Call to speak with one of our recovery advisors to learn more and get the help you need.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2017). Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2017).Results from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables.
- United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime: World Drug Report 2014.
- Ciccarone D. (2009). Heroin in brown, black, and white: Structural factors and medical consequences in the US heroin market. Int J Drug Policy, 20(3), 277-282.
- Stephens RC. The street addict role: A theory of heroin addiction. 1991 Suny Press. Albany, NY.
- S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Agency: Drugs of Abuse.
- Hughes PH, Barker NW, Crawford GA, Jaffe JH. The natural history of a heroin epidemic. Am J Public Health 1972;62(7):995-1001.
- Scaccia, A. (2017). ‘China White’: What You Need to Know About Heroin-Like Drug. Rolling Stone.
- Nasa, R. (2016). New York rocked by surge in ‘China White’ heroin deaths. Independent.
- Banister, S., Adams, A., and and Gerona, R. (2016). A deadly new trend: Fentanyl and other synthetic opioids sold as counterfeits. University of California.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). DrugFacts: Fentanyl.
- Davis, K. (2017). Potency, purity of drugs reaching even higher and deadlier levels. The San Diego Union-Tribune.
- South Carolina Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services. (2001). Fact sheet: Heroin.
- Chudler, E. (2017). Neuroscience for kids: Heroin.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Heroin.
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