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Diacetylmorphine is the scientific name for heroin. The drug is a narcotic painkiller derived from the sap of the opium poppy plant. It is highly addictive both psychologically and physically. Heroin is either illegal or strictly controlled in most countries of the world due to its dangerous potential to be recreationally abused.
Alkaloids are nitrogen-rich organic chemicals characterized by their bitter taste and toxicity to organisms, such as predators, other than the host that naturally produces them. Morphine, first isolated in 1804, is the main alkaloid produced by the poppy plant species Papaver somniferum. Along with other alkaloids, in the resin of immature flower pods of what is commonly called the opium poppy, the chemical compounds are collectively called opiates.
Sometime shortened to diamorphine, diacetylmorphine is a semisynthetic opioid. Alkaloids such as morphine do not dissolve in water well, but they are soluble in certain solvents such as alcohols and the acetic acid of vinegars. The morphine from opium poppies is extracted and dissolved in the latter; heroin has therefore also been called morphine diacetate. The solution is crystallized, like many pharmaceuticals, into a powdered salt with hydrochloride.
Diacetylmorphine suppresses the sensation of pain by directly binding to the brain and chemically blocking the ability of its neural cells to electrically communicate with each other. The subjective sensation is euphoria, a strong emotional feeling of well-being and reduced anxiety. Most clinics use de-acetylated pure morphine for pain management, but some countries do legally allow the controlled use of heroin for its efficacy. It is usually administered either orally as a pill, intravenously such as by injection, or subcutaneously such as with time-release patches under the skin.
Heroin is a drug with dangerous and unhealthy side effects. Its addictiveness is due in part to the fact that the body builds tolerance quickly, so that each successive use requires an increasingly higher dosage for its effects. This escalation often culminates in fatal respiratory failure from overdose. On the other hand, reversing this tragic trajectory by denying a body the drug produces painful and prolonged withdrawal symptoms, commonly called “cold turkey,” which can sometimes be fatal in their physical severity.
Diacetylmorphine comes from a single known species of plant. Consequently, cultivation of the opium poppy is also illegal in most countries of the world. Illicit production is concentrated in two regions, both historically destabilized by war — an area including the country of Myanmar dubbed “the Golden Triangle,” and an area including Afghanistan dubbed “the Golden Crescent.” The black market trafficking of heroin has had significant social consequences throughout much of world, including other associated crime and the spread of disease from the use of contaminated injection syringes.