• For 24/7 Treatment Help Call

    (800) 526-5053

  • How Is Heroin Made? | From Poppy Plant To Illicit Drug

    Published on February 11, 2021
    How Heroin Is Made | From Poppy Plant To Illicit Drug

    Heroin is an opioid drug that can be injected, snorted, smoked, or sniffed. It activates receptors in the brain called mu-opioid receptors (MORs) and causes effects like euphoria (intense joy), dry mouth, nausea, and constipation.

    As with many drugs, it takes a significant amount of time and effort to make heroin. 

    Where Does Heroin Come From?

    To understand where heroin comes from, you must first learn about the three types of opioids: opiates, fully synthetic opioids, and semi-synthetic opioids.

    Opiates are naturally occurring compounds called alkaloids. They come from the opium poppy plant (scientifically known as Papaver somniferum). This plant originated in 3400 B.C. in lower Mesopotamia, where the Sumerians called it the “joy plant.” Examples include morphine, thebaine, and codeine. 

    Fully synthetic opioids are the opposite of opiates. Instead of occurring naturally, they’re produced in laboratories. Examples include fentanyl, methadone, and tramadol. 

    Semi-synthetic opioids are also made in laboratories. However, unlike fully synthetic opioids, they’re derived from opiates. Examples include prescription painkillers like hydromorphone, hydrocodone, and oxycodone. 

    Another example is heroin, which is a derivative of the opiate morphine

    Opium Poppy Cultivation

    Opium poppy plants are grown primarily in Southwest Asia (especially Afghanistan, Turkey, and Pakistan), Southeast Asia (especially Laos and Myanmar, formerly called Burma), and Latin America (especially Mexico and Colombia). 

    The creation of heroin starts with the planting of opium poppy seeds. That’s why eating foods with poppy seeds, such as poppy seed bagels, can make you fail an opioid drug test administered by law enforcement, even if you haven’t used opioids. 

    Once the seeds are planted, it takes about three months for the poppy plants to bloom. The plants contain egg-shaped seed pods. Farmers slice the pods open to reveal a milky sap, which is raw opium.

    As the opium oozes from the pod, it forms a dark, thick gum. The farmers clump the gum into balls or cakes, wrap them in leaves or plastic, and put them on the opium trade markert. Once purchased, the raw opium is brought to a morphine refinery. 

    Making Morphine

    At the morphine refinery, workers boil the opium with lime. A white band of morphine forms on the surface. The workers reheat the morphine with ammonia, filter it, and continue to boil it until it becomes a brown paste.

    They then pour the morphine paste into a mold and leave it in the sun. It dries into a morphine base that resembles modeling clay. The base can then be made into heroin.

    Turning Morphine Into Heroin

    At a laboratory, workers turn morphine into heroin by:

    • heating equal parts morphine and acetic anhydride in a container for six hours at 85 degrees Celsius
    • adding water and chloroform to the mixture 
    • draining the mixture and adding sodium carbonate
    • using activated charcoal to filter heroin out of the mixture 
    • purifying the heroin with alcohol
    • heating the heroin to evaporate the alcohol

    A pharmaceutical company called Bayer began using this method to produce heroin commercially in 1898.

    Forms Of Heroin

    After following the above steps, some people further purify heroin with ether and hydrochloric acid. When performed incorrectly, this step can lead to explosion. When performed correctly, it creates white powder heroin, which is the purest form of the drug. 

    The least pure form of the drug is called black tar heroin (BTH), which is dark and sticky. When further processed and mixed with lactose, BTH becomes brown powder heroin.

    Cutting Heroin

    Many drug dealers cut heroin (mix it with other substances) to increase the drug’s weight so they can charge more for it. 

    Common cutting agents include:

    • sugar
    • baking soda
    • starch
    • powdered milk

    In addition, some dealers cut heroin with other drugs to intensify the user’s high. These drugs may include:

    • caffeine 
    • quinine, a medication that can treat malaria 
    • fentanyl, an extremely powerful opioid that’s linked to numerous overdose deaths 

    Dealers often don’t tell buyers they’ve added other drugs to heroin. 

    Heroin Addiction

    The United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies heroin as a Schedule I Controlled Substance. That means it poses a high risk of abuse and addiction. 

    According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, heroin addiction increases the risk of health problems such as:

    • sexual dysfunction
    • depression
    • lung problems
    • brain changes that hinder one’s ability to make decisions, handle stress, and regulate behavior
    • fatal overdose

    If you or someone you love struggles with heroin addiction or another form of drug use, please contact an Ark Behavioral Health specialist to learn about our substance abuse treatment programs.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2024 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.

    National Institute on Drug Abuse - Heroin DrugFacts
    National Institute on Drug Abuse - What are the immediate (short-term) effects of heroin use?
    National Library of Medicine - The history of heroin
    Public Broadcasting Service - Transforming Opium Poppies Into Heroin

    Questions About Treatment?

    Ark Behavioral Health offers 100% confidential substance abuse assessment and treatment placement tailored to your individual needs. Achieve long-term recovery.

    100% confidential. We respect your privacy.
    Prefer Texting?

    Our friendly support team is here to chat 24/7. Opt out any time.


    Our Facilities

    Premier Drug Rehab & Mental Health Care Facilities In Massachusetts & Ohio

    Bedrock Recovery

    Canton, MA

    • Medical detox
    • Inpatient & Residential Treatment
    • Primary Mental Health Care
    • Movie Theater & Fitness Center

    Learn More

    Northeast Addictions

    Quincy, MA

    • Day treatment program
    • Intensive Outpatient Program
    • Full-Day Group Therapy
    • Easy Access to Public Transit

    Learn More

    Spring Hill Recovery Center

    Ashby, MA

    • Residential Treatment
    • Gender-Specific Residencies
    • Outdoor Recreation
    • Expansive 70-Acre Campus

    Learn More

    Ohio Recovery Center

    Van Wert, OH

    • Medical Detox
    • Residential Treatment
    • Primary Mental Health Care
    • 55-Acre Campus

    Learn More

    For Immediate Treatment Help Call 800-526-5053