The following provides information about the heroin chemical structure, heroin chemical formula, and how heroin is metabolized.

Heroin is front and center in the national spotlight for the wrong reasons. Heroin, which is an opioid that’s highly addictive and deadly, contributes to what’s called the opioid epidemic. It seems like every day there are stories in the national news about people overdosing on heroin, often in their cars, in front of their children or the middle of the street.

Like prescription narcotics, when someone uses heroin, it binds to certain receptors in their brain and central nervous system, which are the opioid receptors. When a substance binds to the opioid receptors, it triggers a release of dopamine in the brain at an artificially high level, and it also stimulates reward pathways in the brain.

Along with those effects which bring about the pleasurable high associated with the drug, there’s also a slowdown of the functionality of the central nervous system, including respiration, which is what ultimately leads to overdoses.

There are many reasons people might have questions about things such as the heroin chemical structure or the heroin molecular structure. One reason might be because someone would want to learn more about how different people are impacted by the drug. There can be a lot of individual differences in how someone responds to any opioid, including heroin.

Another reason to wonder about the heroin chemical formula could be for purposes of a drug test. If someone uses heroin and is required to take a drug test, learning about the heroin molecular formula can indicate how it might show up on different types of tests, the drug’s half-life, and how long it would take to metabolize heroin.

The following provides information about the heroin chemical structure, heroin chemical formula and how heroin is metabolized.

Heroin Chemical Structure

Heroin is also known as diamorphine and diacetylmorphine, and it was first made from morphine in 1874 by C.R. Alder Wright, a chemist who attempted to find a non-addictive alternative to morphine. Heroin is derived from opium using chemical synthesis with substances including acetone and acetic anhydride.

The primary metabolites of the heroin chemical structure include 6-monoacetylmorphine, morphine, morphine-3-glucuronide, and morphine-6-glucuronide. Heroin is a semi-synthetic opioid, meaning that it is partially derived from the opium poppy, but altered in a laboratory.

The heroin chemical structure is similar in many ways to morphine and 6-acetyl morphine.

The systematic name for the heroin chemical structure is (5?6?)-7,8-didehydro-4,5-epoxy-17-methylmorphinan-3,6-diol diacetate.

How Does the Heroin Chemical Formula Impact Metabolism?

Having an understanding of the heroin chemical formula and the heroin chemical structure can help people understand how it works and how it’s metabolized.

Heroin is considered to be a lipid-soluble prodrug. This means that the heroin chemical formula itself isn’t active, but then when it’s metabolized by the body and crosses the blood-brain barrier, it becomes an active substance.

The heroin chemical structure is metabolized into morphine, which is actually what binds to opioid receptors in the brain and creates the effects associated with the drug. Because of the fact that the heroin chemical structure and heroin chemical formula are lipid soluble, it can pass through the blood-brain barrier quickly. That’s one of the big reasons heroin is so addictive. Generally, the faster-acting a drug is, the more addictive it is as well.

Heroin Molecular Structure and Drug Testing

The heroin molecular formula is C21H23NO5, and the molecular weight is 369.417 g/mol. For context, the molecular weight of water is 18 g/mol. So, even though heroin is a large molecule, its lipid solubility allows it to cross the blood-brain barrier and create its dangerous effects.

Something else that’s related to the topic of the heroin molecular structure is drug testing. With traditional drug testing panels, it may be possible to see whether someone uses opioids, but not whether it’s specifically heroin that they’re testing positive for.

There can be a significant difference between someone testing positive for illegal heroin use and prescription use of pain medications, for example. That’s why many drug tests have started using something called a 6-AM (also referred to as 6-acetylmorphine, 6-MAM and 6-monoacetylmorphine) test. This identifies the unique heroin molecular structure, because 6-AM is a metabolite that’s distinctive to heroin, and is only produced following heroin use.

To sum up, what happens with regard to the heroin chemical formula and the heroin molecular structure as it relates to people using this drug includes the following:

First, heroin is a derivative of morphine, which is an opiate. Morphine naturally occurs in the seedpod of Asian poppies. Once someone takes heroin (also known as diamorphine or diacetylmorphine), it’s hydrolyzed quickly into something called 6-monoacetylmorphine or 6-MAM. Then, it becomes the end product, which is morphine, which binds to opioid receptors.

Heroin has a half-life of just a few minutes. Factors that impact the metabolism of heroin metabolites include genetic factors, medical conditions and other individual factors. Metabolism of opioids like heroin may be slower or less efficient in older people, or people who are considered medically compromised, particularly if they have impaired renal and hepatic function or impaired immunity. In other words, a slower metabolism means that the drug is more potent and active in the body for longer periods, so opioids like heroin can be dangerous for people with these conditions.

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Editor – Camille Renzoni
Cami Renzoni is a creative writer and editor for The Recovery Village. As an advocate for behavioral health, Cami is certified in mental health first aid and encourages people who face substance use disorders to ask for the help they deserve. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Kevin Wandler, MD
Kevin Wandler holds multiple positions at Advanced Recovery Systems. In addition to being the founding and chief medical director at Advanced Recovery Systems, he is also the medical director at The Recovery Village Ridgefield and at The Recovery Village Palmer Lake. Read more
Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.