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What effects does heroin have on the body?

The greatest increase in heroin use is seen in young adults aged 18-25.

Heroin binds to and activates specific receptors in the brain called mu-opioid receptors (MORs). Our bodies contain naturally occurring chemicals called neurotransmitters that bind to these receptors throughout the brain and body to regulate pain, hormone release, and feelings of well-being.9 When MORs are activated in the reward center of the brain, they stimulate the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, causing a sensation of pleasure.10 The consequences of activating opioid receptors with externally administered opioids such as heroin (versus naturally occurring chemicals within our bodies) depend on a variety of factors: how much is used, where in the brain or body it binds, how strongly it binds and for how long, how quickly it gets there, and what happens afterward.

This page was last updated February 2014

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National Institute of Drug Abuse (2014). What effects does heroin have on the body?. In Heroin. Retrieved from http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/how-heroin-used

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​Research Reports

This series of reports simplifies the science of research findings for the educated lay public, legislators, educational groups, and practitioners. The series reports on research findings of national interest.