How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your System? April 19th, 2019 Orlando Recovery Center

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How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your System?

Image of the human nervous system next to an image of a person heating up heroin

With a half-life of approximately three minutes, heroin can leave the system in about a half hour. However, the chemicals it breaks down to can be detected for months in some cases. After using heroin, it typically takes four to six hours before the substance will be registered by most drug tests. From the time of usage, it will be detectable for one to three days on average, but certain tests and individual factors, such as the user’s metabolism, history of usage and amount taken, can extend this time span.

How Does Heroin Work?

Usually, heroin is either injected intravenously, inhaled through the nose or smoked. In as little as 15 seconds, the substance comes in contact with opioid receptors in the brain and creates a rushing feeling of euphoria. This is accompanied by flushed skin, dry mouth and a heavy feeling in the limbs. Sometimes, nausea, vomiting and itchiness may occur as well.

After these initial effects wear off, the user will begin experience additional side effects, such as:

  • Drowsiness
  • Decreased mental function
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Slowed breathing, which can lead to a coma or brain damage

How Heroin Is Metabolized

Heroin is a synthetic derivative of morphine, and it is nearly twice as powerful. The metabolism of heroin takes place in the central nervous system, where it breaks down into 6-monoacetylmorphine (6-MAM) and then into morphine. The half-life of each of these varies drastically, which is why drug tests most often screen for 6-MAM and morphine metabolites instead of for heroin itself.

What Is the Half-Life of Heroin?

A drug’s half-life indicates the amount of time it takes for 50 percent of the drug to be metabolized and removed from the system. After approximately four to five half-life cycles, the drug will be mostly undetectable in the body. The half-life of heroin and its metabolites are as follows:

  • Heroin has a half-life ranging from three minutes to 15 minutes
  • 6-MAM has a half-life of 36 minutes
  • Morphine has a half-life ranging from 1.3 hours to 6.7 hours

How Long Does Heroin Stay in Urine?

Heroin and its metabolites will typically be detected in the urine for two to three days. A urinalysis screening does not measure the concentration of present heroin, 6-MAM or morphine chemicals. However, since metabolites stay in the urine longer than in blood, their detection is made much easier through urine testing. Test results come back positive if the heroin or its metabolites are found and negative if they are not.  

How Long Does Heroin Stay in Blood?

Since most blood tests only detect the drug and not its metabolites, heroin can only be found in the blood for approximately 30 minutes to two hours after usage. After 12 hours, most drugs are unlikely to be picked up by a blood test.

How Long Does Heroin Stay in Saliva?

Saliva tests can detect heroin and its metabolites as early as a few minutes after use and up to 48 hours afterward. Saliva testing can also show the concentration level of the drug in the system.

How Long Does Heroin Stay in Sweat and Hair?

Sweat testing and hair testing are done less often than other methods and can detect drug usage for a much longer period. Sweat testing uses a patch that tests for heroin and its metabolites over a period of one to two weeks. Hair testing can detect heroin and its metabolites for up to 90 days after usage.

Get Help for Heroin Addiction

If heroin addiction has taken hold of you or someone in your life, Orlando Recovery Center is here to help you find the road to recovery. We offer a variety of comprehensive treatment programs that provide the resources, guidance and medical assistance needed to effectively and safely end drug usage. Call today to speak with a representative and begin the journey toward a life free from addiction.


Sources: “Drug Plasma Half-Life and Urine Detection Window.” January 2019. Accessed March 22, 2019. “What are the immediate (short-term) effects of heroin use?” June 2018. Accessed March 21, 2019. “Drugs of Abuse Home Test.” September 27, 2018. Accessed March 21, 2019.

Hadland, Scott E. “Objective Testing – Urine and Other Drug Tests.” NCBI, March 30, 2016. Accessed March 21, 2019.

Huecker, Martin R. “Heroin.” NCBI, January 4, 2019. Accessed March 21, 2019.

Jenkins, AK. “Pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of smoked heroin.” October 18, 1994. Accessed March 21, 2019. “Laboratory Reference Testing Guide.” 2014. Accessed March 21, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer: Orlando Recovery Center aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.