Can You Smoke Heroin?

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Heroin is a white or brown powder and opioid created from the Asian poppy plant. Heroin can be injected directly into a person’s vein using a needle or syringe. Additionally, it can be snorted or smoked. All ways of use can quickly enter the bloodstream, instantly causing a person to feel high. This is what leads to heroin being very addictive.

In 2021, 1.1 million people aged 12 and older reported using heroin in the past 12 months.

Guardian Recovery will discuss the dangers of heroin, what can happen if you smoke heroin and how to seek addiction treatment.

If you or someone you love has a heroin use disorder, Guardian Recovery is available to help. We are dedicated to providing the most comprehensive and individualized medically monitored detox program. To learn more about our programs, contact us today.

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Side Effects of Smoking Heroin

Risks specific to smoking heroin include chronic bronchitis, bacterial bronchitis, and inflammation in the airway, leading to chronic coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Additionally, there is a risk of early-onset emphysema, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, and barotrauma. These conditions cause swelling, inflammation, and trapped air in the lungs.

Some injection heroin users report snorting or smoking heroin first eased their transition to needle drug use. It is also increasingly common for heroin to be cut with other dangerous, potent opioids like illicitly manufactured fentanyl, a significant risk factor for overdose no matter how heroin is taken.

Long-term side effects of chronic needle use for heroin may develop collapsed veins, infection of the heart lining and valves, abscesses, and liver or kidney disease. Additionally, heroin creates unique risks because of the transmission of HIV and other diseases from sharing needles or unsafe injection tools.

How Is Heroin Smoked?

One way a person may smoke heroin is through something called foil smoking. Foil smoking is generally heroin consumption by inhalation. By heating an aluminum foil with a lighter, the heroin on top of the foil starts melting, and the smoke is then inhaled using a straw. Foil smoking is the second most common form of heroin consumption after intravenous use.

Another less common way of smoking heroin is heating it in a glass oil pipe and breathing in the vapors. Some people may even sprinkle powdered heroin on the cigarette’s tip or inside a marijuana joint.

If your loved one is smoking heroin, you might find burnt pieces of aluminum foil, which can hold the heroin as it is being smoked. You will also likely find several lighters, matchbooks, candles, rolling papers, or a glass pipe. If your loved one is smoking heroin, they might mix the substance with tobacco or marijuana, attempting to disguise the distinct smell.

Dangers & Long-term Risks to the Lungs & Body

Smoking any substance takes a severe toll on the lungs and airways. Heroin can be cut with toxic chemicals that are damaging to the lungs. Over time, smoked heroin can lead to lung complications like tuberculosis or pneumonia.

Another way the lungs are affected is by chronic respiratory depression. Heroin is a central nervous system depressant that slows down body functions and heart rate. When users overdose, their breathing is slowed to the point that it can be life-threatening. Over time, this respiratory depression can lead to chronic breathing problems.

Increased Risk of COPD

Similarly, these lung problems can increase the risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD is a progressive disease that can lead to heart and lung cancer.

Chronic Cough

As an opioid, heroin can suppress coughing short term. However, smoking it can make a person develop a chronic cough. Even more concerning, research suggests that long-term heroin abuse can increase the risk of developing asthma.

Lung Cancer

Not only do smoking substances lead to chronic pulmonary diseases such as asthma and COPD, but it also increases the risk of lung cancer. The act of inhaling toxic substances damages lung tissues, and the poisonous chemicals used to cut heroin are cancer-causing agents.

Hormone Imbalance

Long-term heroin abuse produces hormonal imbalances in both men and women. Women may begin having irregular menstrual cycles, and men may struggle with sexual dysfunction. These hormonal imbalances can also contribute to symptoms of anxiety, depression, insomnia, and mental health disorders.

Is Smoking Heroin Different Than Injection & Snorting?

Although smoking, injecting, and snorting heroin result in the same goal of getting high from heroin, there are differences in all three modalities with various risks associated, types of materials used, and levels of dependency.

As people may believe smoking heroin is safer than injecting heroin, all heroin use is extremely dangerous and lethal as it leads to overdose and death.

Additionally, there may be differences in the length of time when using heroin and the duration of the high you may experience.

It has also been found that people who start using heroin by smoking or snorting may quickly progress to using heroin intravenously.

Length of Time to Feel Effects

For snorting, it takes about 5 minutes to feel the effects of the high of heroin.

For smoking and injecting, a person will experience the high immediately.

Duration of High Effects

You may wonder, how long does a heroin high last? Heroin’s duration depends on the method of administration. Heroin use by injection produces a high within 20 seconds, peaks around 2 hours, and lasts up to 4 hours or longer. For people who snort or smoke heroin, the effects of heroin may peak within ten minutes, with the nodding effect lasting as long as 4-5 more hours.

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Withdrawal Symptoms From Smoking Heroin

Heroin withdrawal can occur within hours of someone’s last dose of heroin. Typically, heroin withdrawal starts around 8 to 24 hours after a person’s previous use. Heroin withdrawal can last anywhere from 3 to 10 days.

Short-term Signs & Symptoms of Heroin Withdrawal May Include:

  • Fast pulse.
  • Increased breathing rate.
  • Increased blood pressure.
  • Elevated body temperature.
  • Sleep disturbances such as insomnia.
  • Dilated pupils.
  • Unusually heightened reflexes.
  • Sweating.
  • Goosebumps.
  • Watery discharge from eyes and nose.
  • Muscle spasms, cramps, and pain.
  • Bone pain.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.

At Guardian Recovery, we understand how difficult heroin withdrawal can be. Often, withdrawal symptoms are so severe that those struggling with heroin addiction return to using within 24 hours. The key to overcoming this obstacle is a medically supervised detox where withdrawal symptoms can be identified and treated immediately. Our team performs an in-depth initial evaluation and tailors a treatment plan unique to each client’s needs and recovery goals. We can provide 24-hour medical supervision and comfort care for our detox clients. Our medical and client support team’s goal is to ensure all clients have a safe and comfortable detox so they can begin the next phase in their recovery journey.

Is Smoking As Addictive As Snorting or Injecting?

The immediate sensation and intensity of the high are what leads to substances being highly addicting. With smoking, snorting, and injecting heroin, a person may experience an intense high within minutes or immediately. This is why all forms of heroin use are highly addictive and dangerous.

Overdose Risks of Heroin Smoking

The overdose risks of smoking heroin are high. In 2020, more than 13,000 people died from an overdose involving heroin in the United States. This equals more than four deaths for every 100,000 Americans. The number of heroin overdose deaths was seven times higher in 2020 than in 1999.

Drug Additives & Laced Heroin

Some additives, such as sugar, starch, or powdered milk, are added to increase the weight of retail sales. Other drugs may be added to increase the effects of heroin. Fentanyl, a prescription opioid 100 times more powerful than morphine, is sometimes used to cut heroin or other street drugs. It may also be made into tablets that look like prescription medication. Many overdoses have occurred because people did not know that what they were taking was contaminated with fentanyl.

Oxygen Deprivation

Heroin can lead to respiratory depression and even brain hypoxia, a reduced oxygen level in the brain. This response can lead to severe brain injury or death. It is one of the most dangerous side effects of heroin and can occur with smoking, injecting, or snorting heroin and other opioids.

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At Guardian Recovery, we remain dedicated to providing our clients with a comprehensive program of heroin detox — one that focuses on much more than physical stabilization. In addition to emphasizing physical recovery, we tackle mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. While we prioritize a safe and pain-free cocaine withdrawal, we offer individualgroup, and family therapy sessions, case management services, relapse prevention training, and aftercare planning.

Contact us today if you or your loved one is ready to begin an entirely new way of life and commit to long-term recovery. As soon as you call, we start developing a plan of action that begins with an initial pre-assessment. This assessment helps us determine which level of care is the most appropriate for each unique case. We identify potential coverage options if our medically monitored detox program is a good fit. We work closely with most major regional and national insurance providers. Contact us today for a free, no-obligation insurance benefit check.


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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.


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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave


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.

Written by:

Cayla Clark

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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