Heroin is one of the most well-known drugs in the world, and there’s a reason for that. This infamous substance has wreaked havoc globally since it was invented in 1874. Although opium has been used for thousands of years, heroin’s history is a little shorter. If you can even imagine, it was once a legal substance that was used for pain relief but was deemed addictive and banned by 1924.

Despite being invented in 1874, both opium and morphine date back around 5,400 years, with the history beginning around 3400 B.C. The opium poppy was grown by the Sumerians and Mesopotamians in what’s known today as the Middle East. Once it gained notoriety, it spread like wildfire to other cultures like India, Greece, and Egypt. Western civilizations like the British Empire were also caught up in the drug. 

Fast forward to 1805, a French pharmacist by the name of Friedrich Serturner learned how to isolate one of the active ingredients from opium – morphine. Morphine was used to treat pain and cure opium addiction before the experts of the time realized it, too, was addictive. Morphine use was discovered during the American Civil War to manage pain from battle wounds. 

By 1874, an English chemist known as Charles Romney Alder Wright experimented with mixing morphine in conjunction with various types of acids. It led to him inventing something new called diacetylmorphine, otherwise known as diamorphine or heroin. Although it bore a resemblance to morphine, it was as much as three times stronger than the medication. 

Little did he know the impact his invention would have more than a century later on the United States and the world. For the last three decades, the United States has experienced an opioid crisis that’s stolen more lives than wars our soldiers have fought. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 136 people die every day from an opioid overdose. In 2019, an estimated 70 percent of the 70,630 overdose deaths involved an opioid,like black tar heroin. 

An estimated 80 percent of those who used heroin for the first time admit to first misusing prescription drugs, which is how the opioid crisis began. How did it all begin? In the ‘90s, pharmaceutical companies approached doctors and reassured the entire medical community about the safety of their drugs, causing them to prescribe at much more dramatic rates. Unfortunately, a simple procedure a person could use over-the-counter medication for might have been prescribed oxycodone. As you might expect, opioid overdoses and deaths began to rise, leading to governmental intervention. 

Once officials stepped in and placed prescribing restrictions on doctors for heavy narcotics, those who were severely addicted still needed their fix, leading them to start using drugs like black tar heroin. Unfortunately, four to six percent of those people transition to heroin. In 2019 alone, an estimated 1.7 million people dealt with an opioid use disorder; 652,000 of them battled a heroin use disorder. 

It might lead you to wonder about the differences between heroin or black tar heroin. Fortunately, we’ll explore the differences and why the drug affects so many lives around the globe. 


What is Black Tar Heroin?

There are various types of heroin that contain distinct differences between one another and how they look. Black tar heroin is commonly spoken about, so many people might wonder what it looks like and smells like. It’s a dangerous type of heroin. It’s potent, addictive, and, as described above, comes from a poppy plant derived from morphine. While heroin comes in various likes, such as white and brown powder, another form is black tar. The name derives from a similar appearance to roofing tar. 

Like roofing tar, it gets its name because it appears as black tar in both color and consistency. It’s much different from other forms of heroin that are typically sold as a powder. It’s the only form of the drug that comes as a solid. 

Specific regions around the globe are known for the production of black tar heroin. In the United States, most of the black tar heroin comes from Mexico, so the border states like California and Arizona, and other southern regions of the country use black tar heroin more than northern portions. This type of heroin is considered impure and of low quality, but when Afghan drug producers moved higher-quality heroin into the country, it caused Mexico to create black tar heroin to compete. 

Although black tar heroin is purer than brown heroin, it’s roughly 25 to 30 percent pure, making it much less refined than white heroin powder. The dark color associated with black tar is the result of crude processing methods that leave impurities behind, which are typically dissolved, diluted, and injected into a person’s veins. The lower quality means lower prices, an area of appeal for an addict. 

Medical Complications of Chronic Black Tar Heroin Use

No matter how the drug is ingested, chronic heroin users will experience various medical complications, which range from insomnia to constipation. Since black tar heroin can be smoked, users report lung complications like tuberculosis and pneumonia. However, it can also result from poor health or due to how heroin depresses respirations. Others report experiencing mental disorders like depression or antisocial personality disorder

Both men and women have sexual dysfunctions from the drug, and both will lose their desire for sex. Women’s menstrual cycles will become irregular and run the risk of becoming infertile. There are different consequences solely dependent on how the drug is administered. Those who snort powder heroin will have nasal damage.

Since black tar heroin can be injected or smoked, chronic injection can lead to scarred and collapsed veins, bacterial infections in the heart valves and blood vessels, abscesses, or other soft-tissue infections. Black tar heroin is impure, and other additives in the drug can clog blood results that lead to the liver, kidneys, lungs, or brain. This can cause a severe infection or even cause small patches of cells in vital organs to die. The body may also have an immune response to the contaminants and lead to rheumatologic disorders like arthritis. 

Those who share needles and bodily fluids can cause some of the most severe consequences attached to heroin use – HIV, infections with hepatitis B or C, and various other blood-borne viruses that drug users could pass on to their children or sexual partners. 

Black Tar Heroin Effects

what is black tar heroin

Those who engage in black tar heroin use report an extremely powerful experience. The potency, along with its low price, is part of the allure of this form of heroin. Since it’s less refined, it’s cheaper to make and therefore more affordable for addicts to purchase. With that said, it does not mean the effects are less dangerous. On the contrary, due to its impurities, it’s still a very dangerous drug. 

Black tar heroin can lead to euphoria, relaxation and produce drowsiness that causes its user to “nod off.” Like other forms of heroin, black tar can make the user feel impaired, nauseous, and lack coordination or concentration. Black tar heroin can also cause a user to deal with extreme itching, constipation, diarrhea, and dry mouth. 

Other than overdosing, the most detrimental effects of black tar heroin are the risk of dependence and addiction, which are just as high as different types of heroin. There’s no doubt about its dangers, and it’s a drug that for decades has sent shivers down the spines of people concerned about friends or loved ones using the drug. 

As was mentioned above, another danger of black tar heroin is because of its unknown content. The drug contacts additives and substances that might cause infections and other health problems. When black tar is used intravenously, the individual is at a much higher risk of developing an infection at the injection site. The most common conditions include necrotizing fasciitis and cellulitis, and staph infections. The odds of damaging a vein are also high when injecting black tar heroin, which can lead to a collapsed vein.

Short-Term Effects of Black Tar Heroin

As mentioned above, heroin has potent effects that keep its user hooked. The rush of pleasure and euphoria keep the individual “chasing the dragon.” Some other short-term effects of black tar heroin use include the following:

  • Severe itching
  • Dry mouth
  • Warm flushing of the skin
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Heavy feeling in both the arms and legs
  • Clouded mental functioning
  • Nodding off, a back-and-forth state of consciousness and being semiconscious

Long-Term Effects of Black Tar Heroin

Prolonged use of heroin changes the physical structure and physiology of our brain. Unfortunately, this leads to long-term imbalances and hormonal and neuronal systems that are challenging to reverse. Some studies have found that long-term use of black tar heroin causes deterioration in the white matter of our brain, eventually affecting decision-making abilities, responses to stressful situations, and the ability to regulate behavior. 

Black tar heroin can also lead to profound degrees of physical dependence and tolerance. Tolerance is the result of your body needing more of the drug to achieve the desired effects. Physical dependence is the result of adapting to the presence of black tar heroin, which causes withdrawal symptoms if usage is reduced or stopped abruptly. 

Withdrawal can occur a few hours after the last dose of black tar heroin was taken. Symptoms of heroin withdrawal include muscle and bone pain, insomnia, restlessness, restless leg syndrome, vomiting, and cold flashes with goosebumps. The major withdrawal symptoms will peak within 24 to 48 hours after the last dose of heroin and last about a week. It is compared to the worst flu a person has ever had, which is why stopping the drug is so difficult. Another reason is that persistent withdrawal symptoms can last for many months, known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS)

Finally, repeated black tar heroin use can result in heroin use disorder, which is a chronic relapsing disease that is beyond physical dependence. It’s characterized by uncontrollable urges to take heroin despite any consequences that may arise. Heroin is extremely addictive, no matter its route of administration. However, some routes of administration will reach the brain faster, such as injection and smoking, increasing the chances of developing a heroin use disorder. Once a person develops the condition, using the drug and seeking out more of it become their primary objective in life. 

Other long-term effects of heroin include the following:

  • Collapsed veins for those who inject black tar heroin
  • Insomnia
  • Damaged tissue inside the nose, more common with powder heroin
  • Abscesses – swollen tissue filled with pus
  • Infection of the heart lining and valves
  • Severe constipation and stomach cramping
  • Kidney and liver disease
  • Lung complications when smoking the drug, including pneumonia 
  • Mental health disorders, including antisocial personality disorder and depression
  • Sexual dysfunction in men
  • Irregular menstrual cycles for women

What Does Black Tar Heroin Look Like?

If you’ve been searching for photos of the drug and wonder what it looks like, you’ll find that its name does an exceptional job at describing its looks. The drug was named for its similarities with roofing tar, and it doesn’t look like something you’d want to ingest. 

Black tar heroin is a sticky tar, or it can be hard and look like coal. The color and consistency of the drug are like that due to the processing methods that leave the impurities in. In some cases, black tar heroin can appear as dark brown or dark orange. If you were to come across this drug, you’d know right away. 

What Does Black Tar Heroin Smell Like?

One of the other defining characteristics of black tar heroin is its strong vinegar-like smell. In most cases, black tar heroin will have a strong vinegar smell due to the chemical processes used to make it. Higher-quality heroin that’s purer typically has been washed after getting synthesized, meaning it’ll have a minimal odor. Black tar heroin, on the other hand, has a stronger smell because it’s less pure and has more additives. 

Depending on what it’s mixed with, black tar heroin may smell differently from batch to batch, but despite what it smells like, it will be much more intense than purer heroin.

Can You Overdose on Black Tar Heroin?

Yes, one of the immediate dangers of heroin is the potential for overdose. You can never be certain about what you’re putting into your body because heroin production is unregulated. Even when the drug has no dangerous additives, its potency can lead to fatal overdoses. When a person ingests enough heroin, it can produce a life-threatening reaction. 

When someone overdoses on heroin, their breathing is depressed to the point where it stops. It decreases the amount of oxygen that reaches our brain, a condition known as hypoxia. Hypoxia can result in short-and-long-term mental effects, including to the nervous system, leading to coma and permanent brain damage. 

How to Treat a Black Tar Heroin Overdose

Naloxone, also known as Narcan, is a lifesaving drug that can treat black tar heroin overdose when administered immediately. The drug works by binding to opioid receptors and blocking the effects of black tar heroin. In some cases, depending on how much of the drug was consumed, a person might require more than one dose to get them breathing again. This is why it’s vital to get them to an emergency department immediately to receive additional support. Narcan will bring a person straight into withdrawal, and depending on the dose; they can overdose again without the right care. 

The rising number of heroin-related deaths has led to an increase in making naloxone more available to at-risk persons and their families. First responders like police officers have also been trained to use the drug since they’re usually first on the scene. Some states have allowed laws that the medication can be dispensed without a prescription from a personal doctor. 

How Is Black Tar Heroin Addiction Being Treated?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) remains committed to fighting the opioid overdose epidemic and continues to support states and communities by identifying outbreaks, collecting data, responding to overdoses, and providing care to those in their communities. Their efforts have focused on tracking non-fatal and fatal drug overdoses, tracking polysubstance-involved deaths, and enhancing care for those with heroin use disorders. They’re also focusing on:

  • Monitoring trends to understand and respond to the epidemic.
  • Advanced research to collect data on opioid-related overdoses.
  • Helping to equip states with the resources they need to improve data collection and supporting the use of evidence-based strategies.
  • Supporting healthcare systems and providers with data, tools, and guidance for evidence-based decision-making.
  • Partnering with public safety officials and community organizations.
  • Increasing public awareness and the need to make safe choices about using black tar heroin or other opioids. 

How To Treat Black Tar Heroin Addiction

For those battling a black tar heroin addiction, they can attest to the sheer power the drug has over them. You can wake up one morning and promise yourself you won’t use, but when the sickness takes over, you’re left with no choice but to satisfy that urge. Addiction is a severe problem, and stopping alone isn’t always feasible. Most users describe growing tired of the lifestyle but continue using to stave off the painful withdrawal symptoms. 

Those who choose not to get help are more likely to relapse, which can be fatal if their tolerance has dropped dramatically. For that reason, going through the full continuum of care to battle black tar heroin addiction is necessary. When you’ve decided enough is enough, reaching out to medical detox is vital to ensure you get through the first few days, which will be admittedly tough. 

Your stay in detox will vary anywhere from three to seven days, depending on the level of your addiction. It could be longer. During detox, you’ll be thoroughly assessed to determine if you have any acute medical conditions or co-occurring mental health conditions and if you’ve been using any other drugs in conjunction with black tar heroin. You’ll be administered medication to alleviate some of the worst withdrawals and have all of the support you need from a compassionate medical staff. 

Once you’ve completed the arduous task of ridding your body of black tar heroin, you’ll likely be moved to a less intensive inpatient/residential treatment center. Here, you’ll be around a group of like-minded individuals on their path toward sobriety. Residential treatment will last anywhere from 30-to-90 days, and it’ll allow you to learn new habits and how to live sober. You’ll take part in various therapy programs that help you understand why you started abusing black tar heroin. 

Once complete, you’ll start an aftercare program geared toward maintaining your newly-founded sobriety. If you’re suffering from a black tar heroin addiction, it’s time to get help.

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