People often wonder “how long does heroin stay in your system.” This is a question that can arise for different reasons. One primary reason people wonder how long heroin stays in your system is due to the potential for a drug test.
There are different types of heroin screenings including blood, urine, and salvia. Another reason you might ask “how long does heroin stay in your system” is because of the withdrawal symptoms. By having an understanding of the half-life of heroin and how long it stays in your system, you may know when withdrawal symptoms could begin in someone dependent on heroin.
Another reason to learn how long heroin stays in your system is because of the potential for an overdose to occur. If someone uses multiple doses of heroin too close together or combines heroin with other opioids before it’s fully left their system, they may experience an opioid overdose.
Heroin has a very fast half-life of anywhere from 2 to 6 minutes, and the euphoric high someone experiences subside quickly as well. Continue reading to learn more about how long heroin stays in your system and how long it might show up on different drug screenings.
What Affects How Long Heroin Will Stay in Your System?
There are individual factors including genetics, health and how heroin is used that can all affect how long it stays in your system. Before detailing those factors and specific amounts of time heroin might show up in a drug test, what exactly is heroin and how does it work?
What is Heroin?
Heroin is an addictive opioid drug processed from morphine. Morphine is naturally-derived from poppy plants. When someone uses heroin, it acts quickly and creates a euphoric high, although that high is short-lived. Following the euphoria, someone who uses heroin will likely feel relaxed, drowsy or sedated.
Heroin affects sites in the brain and central nervous system to produce its effects. Primarily, heroin is a central nervous system depressant. The effects of heroin are similar to prescription opioid pain medications like hydrocodone and oxycodone.
Heroin is incredibly addictive. Many people report an addiction forming after only using heroin a few times.
What Does Heroin Look Like?
What does heroin look like?
There are different forms of heroin. White powder heroin tends to be the purest form of the drug. Pure heroin can be snorted or smoked, as well as being injected. Other powdered forms of heroin may be off-white or different shades, and black tar heroin looks as the name implies like sticky black or brown tar.
Black tar heroin has a lot of impurities because of how it’s processed.
What Are the Effects of Heroin?
Short-term effects of heroin, along with a euphoric high, can include:
- Dry mouth
- Flushing of the skin
- A feeling of heaviness in the arms and legs
- Impaired mental function
- Nodding off or moving between consciousness and loss of consciousness
Long-term effects of heroin can be even more severe and may include infections of the heart lining and valves, liver and kidney disease, and mental disorders like the development of depression.
What Is the Half-Life of Heroin?
Half-life is an important measure when answering “how long does heroin stay in your system.”
The half-life of a drug is a measure of how long it takes the concentration used to be reduced by 50%. Half-life means the concentration of a drug in the body is one-half the original dose used. Understanding the half-life of heroin can help you have a better idea of how long heroin might stay in your system.
The half-life of heroin is very short. It’s around 2 to 6 minutes, which is one reason the euphoric high of heroin only lasts for a few minutes at a maximum. When heroin is processed by the body, it breaks down into other substances including morphine. The half-life of morphine is longer than heroin and can range anywhere from 1.5 to 7 hours. There’s also something else formed as heroin is metabolized called 6-acetylmorphine, with a half-life of anywhere from 6 to 25 minutes.
It takes four to five half-lives for a drug like heroin to leave the system fully.
Based on this, the primary heroin would leave the system in around 30 minutes, but the metabolites left behind can stay in the body for up to 35 hours.
How Long Does Heroin Stay In Your Blood?
A blood test is one way to screen for the use of heroin. So how long does heroin show up in your blood? It can vary depending on individual factors, but there is typically a fairly short window of detection. Since heroin has such a short half-life, a blood test doesn’t tend to be the preferred way to screen for its use. Heroin will likely only show up in a blood test for a few hours at a maximum.
How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your Urine?
A urine test might show the use of heroin for longer than a blood test, because of the metabolites left behind as the body processes heroin. One metabolite, the 6-MAM can be detected around eight hours after someone uses the drug.
How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your Saliva?
Heroin might show up in a saliva screening for anywhere from 24 to 36 hours after use.
How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your Hair?
Hair follicle tests have long detection windows, but it usually takes around a week after someone uses a drug for it to show up in a follicle test. If someone uses heroin, it may show up in a hair test for up to 90 days.
How Is Heroin Eliminated?
Heroin is eliminated through the kidneys in your urine, but some of it may also be eliminated from the body through sweat, tears, saliva, and feces.
What Affects How Long Heroin Stays in Your System?
All of the above numbers are estimates of how long heroin stays in your system, but these numbers can vary depending on a wide variety of factors. For example, one of the biggest factors that determine how long heroin stays in your system is how much you use. The higher the dose, the longer it’s going to stay in your system.
Other things that play a role in how long heroin stays in your system are:
- Height and weight
- Body fat
- Liver and kidney health
- Hydration level
- How potent the particular batch of heroin is
- How heroin was used—e., smoking versus injection
Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms
As was touched on, one reason people tend to have the question “how long does heroin stay in your system,” is because of heroin withdrawal. Heroin withdrawal symptoms can begin very quickly after someone takes their last dose—within a few hours. Symptoms of heroin withdrawal usually aren’t deadly but can be extremely uncomfortable and difficult to deal with without medical treatment.
Heroin withdrawal symptoms can include:
- Irritability and agitation
- Runny nose
- Teary eyes
- Muscle aches
Later heroin withdrawal symptoms may include:
- Abdominal cramps
- Dilated pupils
Opioid Overdose Symptoms
Another potential reason to wonder how long heroin stays in your system is the potential for an overdose to occur. If someone uses multiple doses of heroin too close to one another, it may be too much for their central nervous system to handle. Heroin slows the central nervous system. When someone overdoses, they aren’t able to breathe, or their breathing slows down substantially.
Along with taking multiple doses of heroin, using heroin with other central nervous system depressants can also increase the risk of an opioid overdose. Other CNS depressants are prescription pain medications, benzodiazepines, barbiturates, and alcohol.
Signs of a heroin overdose include:
- Tiny, pinpoint pupils
- Slack or weak muscles
- Nodding off
- Slurred speech
- Loss of consciousness
- Unresponsive to stimulus
- Awake but unable to talk
- Skin may look bluish
- Choking or gurgling sounds
- Limp body
- Pale, clammy skin
- Slow, erratic or nonexistent pulse
If you believe someone is overdosing on heroin, they need emergency medical care immediately.
Buddy T. “How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your System.” Verywell Mind. November 8, 2018. Accessed April 30, 2019.
NIH National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Heroin.” June 2018. Accessed April 30, 2019.
MedlinePlus. “Opiate and Opioid Withdrawal.” Accessed April 30, 3019.