Updated August 10, 2021
Heroin is an opioid, often used as a recreational drug due to its powerful euphoric effects. It has no accepted medical uses in the United States, although it’s used as a powerful painkiller in other countries. As a street drug, heroin is rarely sold in pure form since dealers routinely mix it with cheaper ingredients to increase their profit margin. Basic types of heroin are known by their most common color, such as white, brown, and black heroin. However, other heroin types are less well known, even among those familiar with the drug.
Types of Heroin
Among the heroin types or forms of heroin are some that may sound familiar, while others are little-known except within the drug-using community, law enforcement, and medical health professionals. As with other forms of substances of abuse, types of heroin continue to evolve as criminals and drug traffickers create novel heroin types to satisfy their insatiable user base and entice new heroin users.
Most often available in powder form, heroin can also be sold as a liquid. Liquid heroin is typically black tar heroin suspended in water. Crude methods are used to process black tar heroin, resulting in an elevated level of impurities that give the heroin a dark color and sticky consistency. To make liquid heroin, drug dealers heat black tar heroin and mix it with warm water. They package the resulting solution in small vials, which are difficult for law enforcement to detect as heroin.
The use of liquid heroin is growing in the U.S., due to its high-profit margin. A single gram of heroin can provide up to 100 doses of liquid heroin. Depending on the market, these doses can sell on the street for between $5 and $10. A dealer can therefore sell a gram of heroin for $5,000 to $10,000. Liquid heroin is also more appealing to new users since it’s inhaled through the nose rather than injected.
Gunpowder heroin is one of the more uncommon types of heroin that has recently been appearing on the West Coast, according to a 2016 study in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. It’s a type of black tar heroin that first appeared on San Francisco streets in 2012. Gunpowder heroin originates from Mexico, which has historically been the primary source of black tar heroin on the West Coast.
Gunpowder heroin typically looks like gunpowder or dried coffee grounds. It may be a sticky powder or a solid that crumbles easily. But it can also be a mixture of powder and solid chunks. The color is usually a solid black or dark grey and may also contain white or black specks.
Users disagree as to whether gunpowder heroin is a distinct form of heroin or merely a modified version of it. However, they agree that it’s stronger than traditional black tar heroin, which is the primary reason for its growing popularity. Another advantage is that gunpowder heroin is more soluble than black tar heroin, making it easier to inject.
Cheese is a combination of heroin and over-the-counter cold medication. It was first reported by The Dallas Morning News from 2005 to 2007 when it became responsible for a series of deaths in Dallas—mostly adolescents. In 2012, cheese was primarily being used by teenagers.
Users make cheese by crushing tablets of cold medication that contain acetaminophen or diphenhydramine. Acetaminophen is a painkiller that’s the active ingredient in Tylenol, while diphenhydramine is the antihistamine in Benadryl. Users then add a street source of heroin such as black tar heroin and typically snort the resulting mixture.
Cheese contains between two and eight percent heroin as compared to black tar heroin’s typical 30 percent concentration. The comparatively low level of heroin in cheese makes it seem like fatal overdoses would be less likely than with traditional forms of heroin. However, cheese is more dangerous because it also has extremely elevated levels of non-opiates, which emergency personnel must simultaneously address when deciding on a course of treatment.
Other types of heroin include speedball, a mix of heroin with a stimulant, like cocaine. When the substance is tainted with fentanyl, overdose and death can occur.
Heroin types also include the scramble. This is a mix of brown or white powder heroin and other types of substances.
While there’s some difference of opinion about China White being one of the several types of heroin, it does bear mentioning here. China White used to refer to an exceptionally pure form of heroin originating from Southeast Asia. Today, it’s more often a slang term for powder heroin that’s mixed with fentanyl. China White is also used to refer to pure fentanyl.
Different Ways Heroin is Ingested
Despite popular misconceptions, heroin users have several ways to satisfy their need to get the substance into their bodies.
- Injecting heroin – Movies and TV shows typically show heroin users injecting the substance into veins in their arms, ankles, into muscles, under the skin, or between the toes. Injecting heroin is the most widely used method since it produces the strongest euphoria or high. But injection isn’t the only way heroin users get the drug into their bodies. Injection of black tar heroin can cause serious bacterial infections. Heroin users who inject the drug also can develop inflamed and hardened veins.
- Snorting or inhaling heroin nasally – Powder heroin can be snorted through the nose. It produces a significant high, although the rush is not as fast-acting as injecting or smoking heroin. Far too many people have died after snorting what they thought was cocaine that was instead heroin. Besides snorting dry powder heroin, the powder can be misted as a solution and then snorted.
- Smoking heroin – Heroin can be smoked through a pipe after it’s been mixed with water or other liquids. The term “freebasing” refers to smoking a mixture of heroin and cocaine, a dangerous practice that is often fatal.
- Swallowing heroin – A rare form of ingesting heroin is swallowing the drug. Younger drug users are more likely to choose this route of administering the substance. Heroin is mixed with water over a flame and then swallowed. Liquid heroin can be squirted or poured into the nose or inhaled with a straw.
Different Colors of Heroin and What it Says About the Drug
Can heroin be white? Sure, it can. But the fact is that it’s not just white or brown anymore, since heroin today can come in many distinct colors. Here’s a look at some of the kinds of heroin according to color, as well as what the color says about the potent drug.
- White – When heroin is white, it means one of two things. The heroin is either pure in form, or it’s been laced with other substances used as filler in the black market to increase the drug’s quantity for sale and use. The white powder looks like powdered sugar and may be mistaken for cocaine. White heroin tastes bitter and often has a vinegary smell.
- Off-White or Beige – White heroin that undergoes different processing methods or has certain ingredients or additives may look off-white or beige.
- Black – Black heroin is sticky and looks like the tar substance used in roofing. Some say black tar heroin looks like melting licorice. Black tar heroin can also be hard like coal. Users typically inject or smoke black tar heroin. Injection, however, is particularly dangerous. The substance must be heated to 165 degrees or higher to make it injectable. The sticky substance is known to clog needles, so frequent needle replacement is necessary.
- Brown – Brown heroin is one of the common colors of the opioid substance. The brown color has various shades, depending on the kinds of additives used with the heroin. Brown heroin is not as refined as the white powder types of heroin. Brown heroin may even originate from black tar heroin that’s been crushed and mixed with other ingredients.
- Dark Red – Some black tar heroin is a dark reddish color, almost brown in hue. The dark color is the result of impurities left behind from crude methods of processing.
- Pink – Sounds odd, yet there are some anecdotal reports of pink heroin sold on the streets. This may be the result of food coloring or impurities left behind during processing.
Is There a ‘More Dangerous’ Version of Heroin
More potent types of heroin are readily available across America. These include fentanyl and carfentanil.
Ever since the appearance of fentanyl, a synthetic or man-made opioid, which started making headlines in 2015, the incidents of a heroin overdose and death began to rise. That’s because users were, knowingly or inadvertently, using heroin mixed with fentanyl. The synthetic opioid is about 25-50 times stronger than heroin.
Dealers often cut heroin with other drugs that are less expensive but still produce euphoric effects like that of heroin. The use of heroin cut with fentanyl first sparked media attention in 2013, when The Boston Sun reported on over 300 deaths caused by fentanyl overdoses. This form of heroin is mostly found on the East Coast, primarily in the northeastern United States.
Originally developed as a painkiller in 1959, fentanyl’s availability as a street drug was restricted until a slow-release patch was produced in the mid-1990s. The use of this patch grew rapidly among recreational users. Fentanyl is now a well-known substitute for opiates like heroin. Fentanyl-cut heroin is popular among long-term addicts who have more difficulty getting high. However, fentanyl’s greater potency also increases overdose risk.
Yet something even worse occurred with the arrival on the illicit drug scene of carfentanil, another synthetic opiate. This one is 2,500 times stronger than heroin. Cases of overdose and death from the heroin/carfentanil combo skyrocketed.
Carfentanil is another rare additive in street heroin types. This analog of fentanyl was first produced in 1974 as an elephant tranquilizer but is now being used to increase the potency of types of heroin. The medical examiner in Cuyahoga County, Ohio issued a public health warning advising residents that carfentanil was a contributing factor in that state’s high rate of opioid overdoses. Fortunately, the use of carfentanil as a heroin additive has remained restricted to a few specific areas.
Carfentanil has no taste or color, so a typical user can’t detect it in heroin. However, carfentanil’s extremely high potency increases overdose risk. A single drop can be lethal if it is absorbed through the skin. In most cases, a standard dose of naloxone is insufficient to reverse an overdose of carfentanil.
In 2019, 438,000 Americans aged 12 and older had heroin use disorder, according to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).
At FHE Health (FHE), we understand how these types of heroin can impact lives. Our staff of medical professionals has all the necessary tools to help break the cycle of addiction. Contact us today to find out how we can help you or your loved ones.