What Is Heroin? What Does Chasing the Dragon Mean?

Heroin is a highly addictive illicit opiate that is processed from Morphine. Morphine is made by extracting from the seed pod of certain poppy plants, which are a naturally occurring substance. It is usually sold as a white or brownish powder, but can also come in a “black tar” like substance. The powder form of heroin is always cut with another substance like sugar or starch. The black tar form of heroin is a result of the crude processing methods that leave behind impurities. It is called black tar because it resembles roofing tar.

Heroin can be ingested in several ways. It is either snorted, smoked (usually the more pure form), or dissolved and diluted and injected into the vein or muscle.

What Is Chasing the Dragon When it Comes to Heroin Use?

Chasing the dragon” refers to smoking heroin. An individual will place powdered heroin on a piece of aluminum foil and heat it from below with a lighter. This creates the effect of “the dragon”. When heated, the heroin will wiggle around on the foil like a Chinese dragon. Once the smoke starts to rise off the foil, the user will take a piece of a cut straw or a tube and inhale the smoke. Since the heated heroin wiggles around on the foil, the individual in a sense has to chase it around hence ” chasing the dragon”.

The National Library of Medicine wrote on the history and origin of “Chasing the Dragon”:

The first heroin smoking originated in Shanghai in the 1920s and involved use of porcelain bowls and bamboo tubes, thereafter spreading across much of Eastern Asia and to the United States over the next decade. ‘Chasing the dragon’ was a later refinement of this form of heroin smoking, originating in or near Hong Kong in the 1950s, and refers to the ingestion of heroin by inhaling the vapors which result when the drug is heated-typically on tin-foil above a flame. The subsequent spread of ‘chasing the dragon’ included spread to other parts of SouthEast Asia during the 1960s and 1970s, to some parts of Europe during the late 1970s and early 1980s, and too much of the Indian sub-continent during the 1980s. (NIH)

“Chasing the dragon” can also have another meaning. Sometimes when the phrase is used the individual means they are trying to get the same high as they experienced the very first time they used the drug. The drug is the “dragon” and they continue to  “chase” or try to catch that very first euphoric feeling they got. It is a vicious cycle and something that they will never achieve.

What Does Chasing the Dragon Mean?

Risks Associated with Smoking Heroin

“Chasing the dragon” can cause untreatable brain damage and possibly death. Death occurs in about 20% of the cases. The abnormalities in the brain from “chasing the dragon” occur in the cerebellum which is the area of the brain that controls movement and coordination. Some individuals even develop a rare brain disorder called progressive spongiform leukoencephalopathy, in which there is fluid in the spaces that cover the brain’s white matter. This causes a loss of coordination, difficulty moving and talking, and slowed movements.

Helpline for Heroin Addiction

If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction, our addiction specialists are available around the clock to assist you. NJ Addiction Resources is a New Jersey heroin addiction treatment resource center committed to finding you the best heroin treatment facilities in New Jersey and out-of-state. We also offer help in finding out-of-state rehabs that are evidence-based and solution-focused. Picking up that phone and calling us is the first step towards a new life for you. What are you waiting for? Please call us to get started on the road to long-lasting recovery from smoking heroin.

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