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Heroin Cutting Agents

heroin cutting agents

Heroin is a powerful and addictive type of opioid that’s derived from morphine.

Heroin is a powerful and addictive type of opioid that’s derived from morphine. It’s listed as a Schedule I substance, meaning it has no medical use and is only available through the illicit drug market. Because heroin is an illegal drug that’s commonly sold on the streets, many users are unaware of the cutting agents in heroin. These additives are often used in the manufacturing of heroin to produce more quantities and allow dealers to gain more profit with fewer products. As a California detox center that has treated hundreds if not thousands of people for heroin addiction, we know that the dangers of this drug use disorder are amplified by the harmful ingredients used for cutting heroin.


What Is Pure Heroin and What Does It Look Like?

Pure heroin is rarely ever the kind that’s purchased on the streets. Heroin can come in the form of a white powder, clear solution, or black tar-like gooey substance. Cutting heroin is easy because there are cutting agents that match it in appearance. According to Johns Hopkins University, the purity of heroin that’s sold on the streets can vary between three to ninety-nine percent (3% to 99%).

Pure heroin looks like a fine, white powder. But regardless of its purity, heroin is a highly dangerous drug. Most heroin comes from South America, but “black tar” varieties from Mexico are more commonly sold in the western U.S. It has the appearance of coal or roofing tar, with a dark brown to black color.

Heroin is extremely addictive and works by binding to opioid receptors in the central nervous system. These receptors are turned on, as a result, stimulating the release of dopamine and inducing feelings of pleasure. Normally, the body’s natural chemical messengers bind to these same receptors to release dopamine.

The process regulates pain and hormone release. This process also helps the person feel a natural sense of well-being. By activating opioid receptors artificially or forcefully, the user’s reward system can be rewired and become dependent on heroin. The person may then begin experiencing withdrawal symptoms when they aren’t using heroin or when they try to quit, further contributing to drug-taking behavior and addiction.

Abusing heroin for even a short period can result in physical and psychological dependence, making it nearly impossible for an individual to quit without professional treatment. Our Palm Springs rehab offers different levels of addiction treatment to meet patients where they are in their addictions and help them safely regain their health and sobriety.


What Do They Cut Heroin With?

Heroin can be easily cut or diluted with a variety of substances. Because what heroin is cut with often includes other harmful chemicals, these additional ingredients may amplify the effects of heroin or cause more intense symptoms. These cutting agents may vary depending on the form of heroin the person is trying to create and sell. The practice of cutting heroin down with random chemicals and substances is common practice, and street heroin is rarely ever pure.


Some of the most common things heroin is cut with include:

  • Baking soda
  • Caffeine
  • Carfentanil (a narcotic analgesic)
  • Crushed over-the-counter pills or medications
  • Crushed prescription pills
  • Laundry detergent
  • Powdered milk
  • Rat poison
  • Starch
  • Sugar
  • Talcum powder


While none of these substances are safe to snort, smoke, or inject, some are less harmful than others. Some substances, like medications, can mask the signs of overdose. As a result, the user is less likely to seek out medical attention, increasing their risk of brain damage and death.

Other heroin cutting agents don’t dissolve in the bloodstream and may create blockages and buildup in the arteries. This could lead to cardiovascular problems like heart attack, stroke, liver disease, and blockages in the brain.

Fentanyl is also a popular cutting agent for drugs like heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine. Using heroin that contains fentanyl dramatically increases the user’s risk of overdose and death. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that’s 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin, making it extremely deadly in large doses. The combination of heroin and fentanyl significantly increases the individual’s chances of overdose and death.

Heroin addiction can negatively impact a person’s life in various ways. Because this drug is so potent and often contains other addictive cutting agents, like fentanyl, people with heroin dependence often require proper help to quit without experiencing severe medical complications.


Effects of Heroin-Cutting Agents

Because heroin cutting agents are often random chemicals that are chosen for their physical appearance, weight, and thickness, their side effects can be unpredictable and deadly.


Common side effects of heroin include:

  • “On the nod,” going between conscious to semiconscious
  • Addiction
  • Brain fog
  • Changes in brain structure, decreased white and gray matter
  • Collapsed veins for users who injected heroin
  • Damaged nose tissue in users who snorted heroin
  • Dry mouth
  • Erectile dysfunction in men
  • Excessive itching
  • Flushed skin
  • Heavy feelings in the limbs
  • Infection in the heart tissue and lining
  • Insomnia
  • Irregular or disrupted menstrual cycles in women
  • Liver and kidney disease
  • Lung problems, such as pneumonia
  • Nausea and vomiting


Heroin users who inject it are at a higher risk of contracting diseases like HIV, AIDS, and hepatitis. Long-term heroin abuse can also cause various heart problems like clogged blood vessels and infections in the vessels and tissue lining. Heroin overdoses are also common in users due to the use of certain cutting agents.

Finding Heroin Addiction Treatment

The emotional, physical and financial effects of drug abuse can take a toll on anyone. Heroin is one of the leading drugs in the opioid crisis, a nationwide problem that’s impacted the lives of thousands. To help those impacted by heroin addiction recovery, our Southern California rehab offers a heroin addiction treatment program specially designed to address cravings, withdrawals, effects, and more.


If you or someone you know is battling a drug or alcohol use disorder, we can help. Call Banyan Treatment Centers now at 888-280-4763 or give us your contact information to speak to a team member about our Palm Springs drug rehab programs.


Related Reading:

Fentanyl Compared to Heroin

Recognizing Heroin Paraphernalia

Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa is the National Director of Digital Marketing and is responsible for a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. All articles have been written by Alyssa and medically reviewed by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Darrin Mangiacarne.
Heroin Cutting Agents
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