What Is Heroin Made From?

Heroin is an illegal street opioid drug that comes in two main forms: black tar and white powder. Heroin is also often mixed with other substances during the production process, while its first and original ingredient comes from the poppy plant.

Get Help Now!
Dr. Langdon M.D.

Medically Reviewed By: Kimberly Langdon M.D.


All heroin comes from the same place, regardless of its form when being consumed — the opium poppy plant.

This plant is the starting point for the creation of multiple narcotic substances: opium, morphine, codeine, and heroin.

How Heroin Is Made Depends On The Type Of Heroin

There are two major types of heroin currently sold on the streets today: white powder heroin and black tar heroin. The effects of heroin are very similar for both.

Making White Powder Heroin

Powder heroin is off-white in color and is the more pure of the two types of heroin. Making powdered heroin involves refining heroin that has been processed to remove impurities.

This type of heroin, however, is easily able to be “cut” with other substances that look similar to it.

White powder heroin can be snorted, injected, or smoked, but is most commonly injected. This is by far the more popular form of heroin.

Black Tar Heroin

Black tar heroin is cheaper than other types of heroin because of its crude manufacturing process and its level of purity — most black tar heroin is estimated to only be 30-40% pure.

Black tar heroin can be a sticky, tar-like substance or it can be hard and black like coal.

This type of heroin can be smoked, injected, or crushed into a powder for snorting. It can also be dark orange or brown in color.

Brown Powder Heroin

Brown powder heroin is a third type of heroin that is typically made in either one of two ways.

Brown powder heroin can be made from a morphine base that is then further refined than black tar heroin, but not as refined as white powder heroin.

This form can also be made by crushing up black tar heroin and mixing it with white powder cutting agents to make it lighter in color and more aesthetically pleasing.

There is a common myth that brown powder heroin is “safer” but this is not the case. Brown powder heroin will produce the same cravings, withdrawal symptoms, long-term effects, and chance for a heroin overdose as its more well-known forms.

Substances Used In Heroin

It is extremely rare to find 100% pure heroin sold on the streets today. Most heroin sold will have at least a couple different components used to make the drug.

Poppy Plants

All forms of heroin are made from opium poppy plants, and more specifically morphine, which is a substance derived from the seed pods of these plants.

Poppy plants are grown in Southeast Asia, parts of the Middle East, Latin America, Australia, and parts of Europe.

Most heroin you will find on the market today was produced in Afghanistan, Turkey, Colombia, or Mexico.

Cutting Agents

Cutting agents are substances that are added to heroin in order to decrease costs and increase profits for the drug dealer.

It is relatively easy to add cutting agents to heroin in its white powder form because there are so many substances that are similar in appearance.

Common cutting agents in white powder heroin include:

  • sugar
  • baking soda
  • crushed-up analgesic painkillers
  • powdered milk
  • laundry detergent
  • baby powder
  • rat poison

Cutting agents can also be found in black tar heroin. Because of this, black tar heroin can be contaminated with bacteria and cause skin or tissue infections.

Common cutting agents in black tar heroin include:

  • shoe polish
  • dirt
  • rat poison
  • soil
  • anesthetics

Learn more about cutting agents used in heroin production.

Other Illicit Drugs

It is not uncommon to see heroin mixed with other illegal street drugs, such as cocaine, methamphetamine, and other opioids.

The purpose of mixing these substances is generally to intensify each of their effects in unison or to make them last longer.

The Process Of Making Heroin

To begin the process of making heroin, raw opium is harvested from the seed pods of the poppy plant. Raw opium is a milky fluid that can be refined through heating, mixing with ammonia, and filtering to make morphine.

Black tar heroin is then made from the morphine base once it has been refined, which includes a series of steps and added chemicals such as chloroform, sodium carbonate, and acetic anhydride. The product from this part of the process is known for being crude and impure.

To make white powder heroin, this substance is further refined until the product is as pure as possible. This often takes quite a few additional steps, which explains why white powder heroin is the more expensive type.

How Different Substances In Heroin Affect Drug Use Dangers

Pure heroin is dangerous in and of itself, because of its potency and how addictive it is even after a single use.

Unfortunately, when other substances are added to heroin before sale, it only makes the heroin more dangerous for consumption.

Some cutting agents, such as rat poison and laundry detergent, were never meant for human consumption and can in fact be poisonous.

One cutting agent, fentanyl, has become particularly dangerous in recent years. Fentanyl is an opioid like heroin, but is estimated to be up to 50 times stronger.

When heroin is mixed with fentanyl it becomes much more potent, and unfortunately, much easier to overdose on. The scariest part about heroin cut with fentanyl is that the consumer is rarely made aware that this substance is present.

Treatment Options For Heroin Drug Addiction

Professional addiction treatment for heroin use disorders typically begins with a period of medically monitored detox.

This is done to ensure the drug leaves the body at a safe and comfortable rate and usually involves the use of methadone.

After your body is rid of all substances, you can begin inpatient or outpatient treatment for heroin, depending on individual need and availability.

Both inpatient and outpatient treatment will offer counseling options to help you address mental and/or behavioral health to prevent relapse in the future. Therapy can often come in group, relationship, or family options as well.

Treatment for heroin addiction is an ongoing journey that usually requires some level of aftercare or support as well.

Find An Opioid Treatment Program Today

Anyone who has ever recovered from an opioid addiction will tell you that it is not an easy feat — but it is possible and it is absolutely worth it.

At Bedrock Recovery Center, we are here to assist you every step of the way in your treatment for heroin addiction or any other substance use disorder.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to us with any questions you have about opioid use, or to let us know that you are ready to get started at a treatment center.

  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/heroin
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/what-heroin
  3. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus https://medlineplus.gov/heroin.html

Written by Bedrock Recovery Center Editorial Team

© 2024 Bedrock Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

Prefer Texting?
We've got you covered.

Receive 24/7 text support right away.
There is no obligation and you can opt out at any time.

Sign up for text support

Receive 24/7 text support right away.
There is no obligation and you can opt out at any time.
Ready to make a change? Talk to a specialist now.
(617) 657-2877
icon-angle icon-bars icon-times