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What Is Heroin Cut With?

Heroin Cuts
Whether in powder or solution form, heroin’s attraction lies in its ability to reach the brain quickly and produce euphoric effects. The more addicted a person becomes, the greater the chance of overdosing as the brain and body build up a tolerance to the drug’s effects. The materials used to cut heroin can also have dangerous effects on the body, especially in cases where toxic additives are used.

Heroin Cuts

On the street, heroin goes by a variety of names, including “junk,” “skag,” “smack,” and “H.” Regardless of the name used, anytime you purchase heroin there’s no way of knowing what’s actually in it, short of doing a chemical analysis.

A pure, uncut batch consists of pure white powder that carries a bitter taste, though it’s highly unlikely that a street dealer will sell pure heroin.

What Makes Heroin Additives So Dangerous?

Heroin’s negative effects may be particularly volatile due to the unpredictability of composition. This illicitly manufactured opioid is subject to no quality assurance or other regulations, meaning that it is often cut with any number of toxic additives and other potentially dangerous substances in order to increase profits for dealers.

These additives are often unknown and can vary from batch to batch, depending on where it is obtained. There’s no way of knowing what you’re putting in your body and many of the chemicals that heroin is cut with are not safe for human consumption. Additionally, the number of adulterants in heroin can result in available batches having vastly differing potencies. This results in an almost impossible-to-guess strength of the drug about to be used, and can increase the risk of overdose.

The materials used to cut heroin — which can range from toxic additives such as quinine to particulate fillers such as talcum powder — can also have harmful effects on the body, especially if it is to be used intravenously. Quinine is a medication used to treat malaria and can produce life-threatening adverse effects, such as:1

  • Kidney damage.
  • Arrhythmias.
  • Severe allergic reactions.
  • Serious bleeding problems.

Using heroin that is cut with quinine can significantly increase the risk of experiencing dangerous side effects.

Because heroin is cut with a variety of additive agents, the color of the final product can be anything from white to brown. Some of the materials used to cut a heroin batch include:

  • Caffeine.
  • Flour.
  • Chalk.
  • Talcum powder.
  • Sucrose.
  • Starch.
  • Powdered milk.

Once cut, the amount of actual heroin contained in a batch can range anywhere from 3 to 99%, according to Johns Hopkins University.2

Chemically speaking, heroin is derived from morphine, a highly addictive opiate and pain-killing drug. Street-bought heroin arrives on the illicit market from a number of manufacturing sources, rendering the final product highly variable in appearance and form. Depending on how a person intends to use the drug, heroin comes in powder, pill, and solution form.3

Whether in powder or solution form, heroin’s attraction lies in its ability to reach the brain quickly and produce euphoric effects. Every time heroin is used, overdose is a risk. Once addiction takes hold, and as long as compulsive use persists, the looming risk of overdose remains. If you see these signs of heroin addiction in yourself or a loved one, know you are not alone. We are here to help; our treatment support representatives can help you find a program that suits your needs. Please call 1-888-744-0789 today!

Knowing Heroin’s Various Street Names

Heroin isn’t always referred to by name. Instead, a variety of slang or street terms are frequently used for this illegal opioid. They include:4

  • Dope.
  • Junk.
  • Smack.
  • Skag.
  • Brown.
  • H.
  • Horse.
  • Harry.
  • Mud.
  • Boy.
If you’re a parent, it’s important that you know the different street names for heroin, since your teen may use these terms to refer to the illicit drug. Knowing this may help you pick up on your child’s behavioral cues and possible drug use.

Heroin Impurities

Heroin impurities
Before heroin gets into a dealer’s hands, the drug must be synthesized from its botanical source: the opium poppy. Depending on how thorough the manufacturing process is, the final product may contain as many as 40 different impurities. Some of the chemical impurities found in pre-processed heroin are themselves other opiate alkaloids, and include:5

  • Morphine.
  • Codeine.
  • Noscapine.
  • Papaverine.
  • Thebaine.

Some of these materials, such as papaverine and thebaine, are used as active ingredients or precursor ingredients to develop medications for managing conditions such as erectile dysfunction, gastrointestinal spasms, and pain symptoms.

Most Common Heroin Types

The different types of heroin come from varying regions and have drastically different appearances and purities.

White Heroin

White heroin most commonly comes from southeast Asia and is white in appearance, as the name suggests. This relatively pure heroin is found in powder form, which is easily dissolved in water. This form of heroin is typically found in eastern United States markets. White heroin has many adverse effects that are shared with brown powder heroin, including:6

  • Drowsiness.
  • Coma.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Attention and memory problems.
  • Increased risk of suicide.
  • Collapsed veins.
  • Peripheral edema.
  • Increased risk of contraction of tuberculosis, HIV, and hepatitis.
  • Depression.
  • Sexual dysfunction.

Black Tar Heroin

Black tar heroin, which is primarily made in Mexico, is named for its physical appearance. As opposed to its white powder counterpart, it has a dark color and is sticky or hard.6 It’s less pure than white heroin because of how it’s processed and is typically cheaper than other forms of heroin. Given its low purity, it’s little surprise that the majority of black tar heroin contains toxic additives. Additives have been known to clog blood vessels in users and damage the liver, kidneys, brain, and lungs. Other side effects of black tar heroin include:

  • Wound botulism: caused by the presence of bacteria in injection sites, can cause paralysis and death.7
  • Abscesses: complications associated with untreated abscesses include infection of the heart lining, bone, or blood.8
  • Tetanus: difficulty swallowing, stiffness of back and neck, muscle spasms, excessive sweating, and difficulty breathing.9
  • Necrotizing fasciitis: caused by bacteria and characterized by a rapidly propagating, widespread death of tissues.10
  • Gas gangrene: bacterial infection can be life-threatening and also causes tissue death.11

Brown Heroin

Brown heroin typically is made in southwest Asia and appears as a brown powder. Compared with the white variety, this form of heroin is less easily dissolved in water unless an acid is added to it.12 Despite the differences in appearance, the health consequences associated with brown heroin are similar to those of white heroin.

Heroin causes severe respiratory depression in individuals, which can lead to coma and death. Due to the inconsistencies of purity associated with different forms of heroin, it can be difficult to gauge their relative potencies, which increases the risk of overdose from one use to the next.

Cheese Heroin

A relatively new form of heroin, known as “cheese” heroin, has claimed many young lives when teenagers use the cheap drug which is laced with acetaminophen and diphenhydramine hydrochloride.13 This lethal combination dramatically depresses heart rate and breathing until the user dies, often rather quickly.

Other Heroin Solutions

Heroin solutions
Heroin solutions are typically used for “shooting up” or injecting into the veins. Solutions may also be snorted, depending on how they’re prepared. Black tar heroin and Mexican brown powder are the brands most commonly used for injection and snorting. Solutions are made by dissolving either brown powder or tar heroin in water.

While shooting up may produce the quickest and most intense effects, any additives used to manufacture the powder are able to enter the bloodstream directly. These conditions leave a person open to a number of health risks, some of which include:6

  • Artery blockages.
  • Heart tissue infections.
  • Blocked blood vessels in the brain.
  • Lung disease.
  • Liver damage.

Heroin Addiction Treatment

It is highly unlikely that a dealer will sell pure heroin on the streets, so each time you use the opioid, you risk putting unknown and dangerous adulterants in your body, and the potential to experience adverse effects increases. If you are suffering from heroin addiction, different types of treatment exist that can be tailored to your individual needs:

  • Inpatient rehab: If you suffer from a severe addiction, inpatient rehab can provide a safe, immersive environment in which to concentrate on your recovery efforts. You can live at the treatment center, separated from your heroin-using environment and stressors, and focus solely on your recovery. Inpatient treatment centers offer individualized treatment plans, individual therapy, group counseling, medically managed detox, medical maintenance, and aftercare planning/relapse prevention strategies.
  • Outpatient treatment: If you cannot get away from home, work, or school responsibilities, outpatient treatment may be a good option, since it allows you to live at home while attending daily sessions at your treatment center.
  • Luxury rehab: Luxury rehab facilities are residential treatment centers with added amenities and comforts that oftentimes more closely resemble a vacation resort than a treatment center. Some added services include:
    • Horseback riding.
    • Spa treatments.
    • Massage therapy.
    • Yoga.
    • Gourmet dining.
    • Private rooms.

Please call us at 1-888-744-0789 to help break the cycle of a heroin addiction. We can help you get on the path to recovery today by helping you find the best-suited inpatient or outpatient heroin addiction rehab facility.


  1. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2011). Quinine.
  2. Johns Hopkins University. (2016). Heroin.
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014). Heroin.
  4. NSW Police Force. (2016). Heroin and the Law.
  5. Centre for Public Health. (2012). Cut: A Guide to Adulterants, Bulking Agents and Other Contaminants Found in Illicit Drugs.
  6. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014). Research Report Series: Heroin.
  7. Bamberger, J. and Terplan, M. (1998). Wound Botulism Associated With Black Tar Heroin. The Journal of the American Medical Association, 280(17),1479-1480.
  8. Pollini, R. A., et al. (2010). High Prevalence of Abscesses and Self-Treatment Among Injection Drug Users in Tijuana, Mexico. International Journal of Infectious Diseases, 14(3), 117-122.
  9. Beeching, N. J. and Crowcroft, N.S. (2005). Tetanus in Injecting Drug Users. British Medical Association, 330(7485), 208-209.
  10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015). Necrotizing Fasciitis: A Rare Disease, Especially for the Healthy.
  11. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2015). Gas Gangrene.
  12. Ciccarone, D. (2009). Heroin in Brown, Black and White: Structural Factors and Medical Consequences in the US Heroin Market. The International Journal of Drug Policy, 20(3), 277-282.
  13. Drug Enforcement Administration. (2006). Microgram Bulletin: Cheese.