Heroin is an illegal substance that is extremely addictive. How long heroin stays in your system depends on how the drug is taken. It can be injected intravenously, snorted or smoked. Other factors, such as an individual’s metabolism, history of usage and the amount taken, can also influence how long it remains in the body. 

After heroin is used, it takes approximately two to six hours to become detectable on a drug test, and it will show as a positive drug test for approximately one to three days.

What Is Heroin?

Derived from morphine, heroin is considered an opioid drug that binds to opioid receptors in the brain and produces feelings of happiness and pain relief. It is classified by the FDA as a Schedule I controlled substance. This classification indicates that it has no recognized medicinal use and has a high potential for abuse and addiction. 

Heroin was responsible for approximately 13,000 overdose deaths in 2020, and nearly 20% of all opioid deaths involved heroin that year. In addition, the consequences of heroin use can lead to infectious diseases like hepatitis and HIV. It also deeply disrupts families, leads to an increase in crime and violence and costs society billions of dollars every year.

What Does Heroin Feel Like?

When an individual uses heroin, they experience a “rush” that is described as an intense sense of pleasure. The person will also experience a heavy feeling in their arms and legs, dry mouth and warmth of their skin. 

This may be followed by nausea, vomiting and itchiness. Drowsiness will last for a few hours, and an individual will have brain fog during this period as well. 

How Is Heroin Taken?

Heroin can be taken in several different ways. It may be snorted through the nose, injected directly into the vein or smoked. Heroin may also be mixed with crack cocaine, which is known as speedballing

Some users who are afraid of needles or who want to avoid the stigma associated with injecting may choose to snort or smoke the drug. It is important to point out that heroin can cause tolerance to develop, meaning a larger amount of the drug is required to produce the same effect over time. Tolerance often causes a person to switch to injecting heroin, which will provide a stronger effect.

Snorting Heroin

In its purest state, heroin is a white powder with a bitter taste. It may also have a darker color and a sticky feel to it, which is a form referred to as black tar heroin. Purer heroin is generally snorted. This involves sniffing the powder through the nostrils. Heroin reaches its peak within three to five minutes after intranasal use. 

Shooting Heroin

Nearly half of heroin users inject the drug. Heroin can be mixed with water and injected with a needle into the vein. Many users begin by injecting the drug into their forearms. Because of scarring and collapsed veins, however, individuals will often switch to other parts of the body, including the groin area, hands and feet. Peak levels of heroin occur in under one minute when administered intravenously.

Smoking Heroin

Heroin that is smoked is usually in its purer form. It is commonly smoked through glass pipes, but it may also be placed on aluminum foil and heated by a flame directly underneath. Inhaling it this way is known as “chasing the dragon”. Similar to snorting, people who smoke heroin are likely to eventually start injecting the drug.

How Is Heroin Metabolized in the Body?

Heroin is a derivative of morphine, but 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, which is why drug tests most often screen for 6-MAM and morphine metabolites instead of for heroin itself. The half-life of heroin is only three minutes after IV administration, whereas the half-life of 6-MAM is 30 minutes.

How Long Does Heroin Last?

How long heroin lasts depends on how it is ingested and other factors, such as an individual’s metabolism, history of use and amount used. The “rush” or pleasurable sensation a user feels will occur rapidly upon ingestion. Feelings of drowsiness and brain fog can linger for several hours

Once it is absorbed in the blood, heroin reaches the brain within 15 to 20 seconds. The effects of heroin peak at three to five minutes after snorting it and less than one minute after shooting it. 

Heroin Side Effects

The use of heroin can lead to short- and long-term side effects. Short-term effects of heroin include

  • Dry mouth
  • Feelings of skin warmth or flushing
  • Heaviness in arms and legs
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Severe itchiness
  • Brain fog or mental cloudiness
  • Going in and out of consciousness

Long-term effects of heroin include:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Collapsed veins (IV users)
  • Damaged nasal tissue (users who snort)
  • Infection of the lining of the heart
  • Pus-filled abscesses
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Constipation
  • Liver and kidney disease
  • Pneumonia and other lung issues
  • Mental disorders including depression and personality disorder
  • Addiction
  • Death

Heroin Half-Life

A drug’s half-life indicates the amount of time it takes for 50% 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. Consider the half-lives of heroin and its metabolites:

How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your System for a Drug Test?

The time it takes for heroin to be detected on a drug test depends on the specific test being used. Drug tests can use different sample types, including urine, blood, hair and saliva. 

How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your Urine?

Heroin can be detected in the urine for two to three days. The presence of 6-monoacetylmorphine (6-MAM) is unique to heroin. 6-MAM is not present in the urine after morphine or codeine consumption, so how long 6-MAM can be detected in urine is critical to pinpoint if someone is using heroin. The urine sample for this metabolite must be collected within 24 hours after drug use to give a positive result. It is the morphine byproduct that has a longer detection time.

How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your Blood?

Given that the half-life of heroin is between three and 15 minutes, the longest time it would be detected in the blood is about one hour and 15 minutes after last use. The half-life of 6-MAM, which can also be detected in the blood, is approximately 30 minutes. Given its half-life, it may be detectable in the blood for 2.5 hours after last use. 

How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your Hair?

Attaining hair samples for heroin use is rarely utilized because it is expensive, and the results will vary depending on the length of hair and the amount of hair obtained. Generally, heroin can be detected in a hair sample for up to 90 days.

How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your Saliva?

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

Factors That Affect How Long Heroin Stays in Your System

There are a variety of factors that can influence how long heroin stays in the body. These factors include:

  • Weight: The heavier a person is, the more likely a drug will stay in their system for longer.
  • Metabolism: Each person has an individual metabolic pathway that impacts how long heroin stays in the body.
  • History of use: People who have been using heroin for longer periods of time tend to eliminate the drug more slowly because it accumulates in the body.
  • Amount: The higher the amount taken, the longer it will last in the system.
  • Route of administration: Heroin will stay in the body longer for a person who snorts it as opposed to injecting it.

How Long Does It Take for Heroin To Get Out of Your System?

The time it takes for heroin to get out of your system will depend on your weight, metabolism and history of use. The amount you use, how often you use it and the route of administration will also impact how long it stays in the body. Given these factors, heroin is generally out of the system within three days of the last use. 

What Can Cause a False Positive for Heroin?

Since the metabolite 6-MAM is unique to heroin’s metabolism, the presence of this byproduct on any drug test is a good indicator that heroin was used. However, false positives for heroin are possible. False positives for opioid drugs have been reported by the detection of other drugs, including dextromethorphan, quinine, rifampin and verapamil. Poppy seeds may also cause a false positive. 

Get Help for Heroin Addiction in Orlando, FL

Because of heroin’s short half-life and its highly addictive nature, withdrawal syndrome is common. This is characterized by sweating, nausea, vomiting, body pain and a host of other serious and dangerous symptoms. A safe and effective way to stop using heroin is through a medical detox and medication-assisted treatment (MAT). 

Detox involves the gradual removal of the substance from the body while monitoring and treating any painful or dangerous withdrawal symptoms that may occur. MAT is an evidence-based treatment that utilizes medications and behavioral therapies to help someone struggling with opioid addiction. 

Orlando Recovery Center is a full-service accredited rehab that can aid anyone dealing with an addiction to heroin. If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction to heroin, contact us today to speak with a knowledgeable representative who can answer your questions, discuss treatment options and get you started on the path to recovery.

You May Be Interested In

Opioid Withdrawal and Detox

Opioid withdrawal symptoms are a natural part of the detox process, but these symptoms may need to be managed with medication or supervision by a medical professional.

Woman laying on stomach looking sad
Florida’s Women at Increased Risk of Opioid Abuse

Although there are more men than women who self-report a drug addiction, women are more likely to abuse opioids and become addicted more quickly.

Kratom in different forms
Is Kratom An Opioid?

Kratom is a medicinal plant that interacts with opioid receptors and has the potential for abuse similar to that of opioids and opiates.

Treatment For Opioid Addiction

It can be hard to recover from opioid addiction alone. If you’re struggling to stop using opioids, our addiction experts can help support you throughout your healing journey.

How Long Does Fentanyl Stay In Your System?

Many variables affect how long fentanyl will stay in your system after you take it including your age, weight, genetics, and more.

Editor – Jonathan Strum
Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor's in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. Read more
Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village 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.