Heroin is a deadly drug that affects people all around the world. But how is it made and where does it come from?

Heroin is a dangerous and addictive opioid drug that is used exclusively for recreational purposes. Today, heroin typically comes from Asia and South America and is usually manufactured and processed in these countries. Many people wonder, “How is heroin made and what is heroin made from?”

While it is helpful to understand the manufacturing process of heroin to better understand some of its dangers, it is important that those wondering how to make heroin should understand that it is illegal and hazardous to attempt to make heroin. Besides being dangerous to attempt to make, the home-brewed heroin that results can be deadly.

Article at a Glance:

  • It is illegal and dangerous to attempt to make heroin
  • Heroin initially comes from the opium poppy
  • Sap from the opium poppy is purified to obtain morphine
  • Morphine is purified and converted to heroin using a dangerous chemical process
  • Heroin could be toxic if not converted correctly from morphine
  • Distributors cut heroin with different substances that range from sugar to fentanyl

First Synthesized Heroin

Heroin was initially invented in the 1870s in Germany. The drug became popular as a pain medication and in 1898 heroin was aggressively marketed in the United States as a safe, non-addictive alternative to morphine. Unfortunately, heroin turned out to be much more addictive and more dangerous than morphine, and it was eventually made a controlled substance in 1920.

Illicit Production of Heroin

There are several misconceptions about exactly where heroin comes from and how it is made. For those wondering, “What is heroin made from?” the simplest answer is that it initially comes from opium poppies. Opium poppies are a type of flower that produces natural morphine.

Opium Poppy

When heroin is made, the first step is to obtain morphine from the opium poppies. After opium poppies bloom, they leave behind small pods. These pods are cut, and sap oozes out. The sap dries and is then collected. The sap is boiled with lime, causing the morphine to separate from the other components of the sap. The morphine floats to the top of the boiling water as a white scum, which is then collected. This scum is then mixed with ammonia and heated and filtered multiple times, resulting in a brown paste. This brown paste is crudely refined morphine.

Morphine to Heroin

The morphine paste that is obtained from purified opium sap must then be converted into heroin. This process is done using multiple chemicals that purify and acetylate the morphine, converting it to heroin. The chemicals that are used and the byproducts that are produced in this stage can be explosive or harmful, making this step potentially dangerous for those attempting to make heroin from morphine.

An even more dangerous part of the process is that if the chemical mixtures are not correct, it can result in a toxic solution that could be deadly. This risk is one of the main reasons that almost no one attempts to make their own heroin. However, even illicit drug manufacturers experienced in producing heroin can accidentally create a deadly substance and unknowingly distribute it.

For those wondering how black tar heroin is made black and sticky, its namesake consistency is the result of impurities remaining in the heroin during the process of producing heroin from morphine. Those impurities make black tar heroin even more dangerous than regular heroin, with higher risks of injury or death associated with its use.

Cut and Distribute

After heroin is made, it is sold to distributors who typically cut the heroin with other substances to dilute it to make more money from it, due to artificially inflating the volume. The substances cut with heroin can sometimes be dangerous and the amount of actual heroin after it is cut varies. The varying amounts of heroin per batch can be dangerous, as it makes it difficult to tell how much heroin is getting, increasing the risk of an overdose.

Ingredients Heroin Is Cut With

As heroin is an illegal drug, there are no kinds of limitations on what heroin can be cut with. Someone who is selling an illegal drug will be willing to cut that drug with anything to dilute the drug or change its effects. There is no way to tell what heroin was cut with without professional lab testing. Some of the more common substances used to cut heroin include:

  • Sugar
  • Caffeine
  • Flour
  • Powdered milk
  • Starch
  • Acetaminophen
  • Fentanyl

Heroin cut with fentanyl is especially dangerous, as fentanyl is stronger than heroin. Heroin cut with fentanyl is more likely to cause a lethal overdose than any other substance that heroin is commonly mixed with. Because fentanyl is more potent than heroin, some people purposefully seek it for the stronger high it provides.

If you or a loved one live with a heroin addiction, consider seeking professional help. Contact The Recovery Village today to speak with a representative about how personalized treatment plans can address addiction and any co-occurring mental health disorders. Call today, you deserve a healthier future.

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Editor – Thomas Christiansen
With over a decade of content experience, Tom produces and edits research articles, news and blog posts produced for Advanced Recovery Systems. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Benjamin Caleb Williams, RN
Benjamin Caleb Williams is a board-certified Emergency Nurse with several years of clinical experience, including supervisory roles within the ICU and ER settings. Read more

Narconon. “Heroin History: 1900s.” 2019. Accessed May 22, 2019.

Narconon. “History of Heroin.” 2019. Accessed May 22, 2019.

Harm Reduction Coalition. “H is for Heroin.” 2001. Accessed May 22, 2019.

Drug Enforcement Agency Museum. “Cannabis, Coca, & Poppy: Nature’s Addictive Plants.” 2019. Accessed May 22, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What is heroin and how is it used?” June 2018. Accessed May 22, 2019.

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.