how long does heroin stay in your system

Many people imagine that using heroin will lead to a slow descent into madness. Users are often stereotyped as people who commit robbery, lie to their families, and sneak around with needles and bags. While this may be how the media portrays heroin users, it is not entirely accurate.

Although it is an addictive substance, heroin has an especially short half-life, making it difficult to detect in blood and saliva tests. It is detectable for 5 to 24 hours in the blood, depending on use frequency. If you are interested in learning more about how long heroin stays in your system, go ahead and read further.

Heroin Metabolism

Absorption and Metabolism in the Body

Heroin has a high lipid membrane solubility, which makes it rapidly absorbed into the body, whether taken orally or through injection. When you take heroin orally, it goes through complete presystemic metabolism, which converts it to morphine. If you inject it into your bloodstream, it goes through rapid hydrolysis in whole blood and converts to 6-monoacetylmorphine (6-MAM) in the brain, which is then converted to morphine by the liver.

Variables in Heroin Metabolism

Your genes and even what you place on your plate can determine how your body deals with heroin. Let’s explore!

Genetic Influences on Heroin Metabolism

Studies indicate that genetic factors can contribute to 20% to 95% of patient variability. Through pharmacogenetics, physicians can properly understand why and how differently people react to various drugs. Your genes can influence the rate and general heroin metabolism in the body.

Genes help in building enzymes, which are responsible for your bodily functions, including drug metabolism. Genetic differences influence how you respond to medications. Additionally, genetic factors determine the amount of enzymes produced and how such enzymes work, thus affecting heroin metabolism in the body.

Diet and Heroin Metabolism

The type of foods you eat can also impact heroin metabolism in the body. The metabolic food-drug interactions happen when the food eaten influences the operation of a drug-metabolizing enzyme system, causing changes in the pharmacokinetics of the particular metabolized drug. 

Tea, spices, herbs, and vegetables contain complex phytochemicals mixtures and thus have the highest potential to inhibit the activity of heroin-metabolizing enzymes. If you consume herbal dietary supplements, your body will undergo extremely high heroin metabolism due to higher metabolic food-drug interactions. 

Other foods such as carbohydrates, proteins, and fats can also affect heroin metabolism in the body, although not as much as the ones above.

How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your Saliva?

After intravenous injection, the content of heroin in saliva rapidly decreases. It is only detectable for about an hour, depending on the dose and frequency of use. On the other hand, heroin that has been inhaled can be found in saliva for up to 24 hours. If you know a teenager that is doing heroin, look into our Los Angeles adolescent opiate addiction treatment to help save their life.

Heroin and its metabolites can appear in saliva within two minutes after using it. It will be detected from 4 to 24 hours, depending on the dosage and how it was administered.

How Long Does Heroin Stay in Urine?

For many illegal drugs, urine screens are the most common standard test. A urine test can detect heroin up to 48 hours. Its presence is dependent on metabolism, dosage, body mass, and other such factors. The metabolite morphine, however, can be detected in urine for up to three days after the last usage. Urine should be clean five days after the last heroin intake.

How Long Does Heroin Stay in Hair?

Hair follicle tests can identify heroin in someone’s system for up to three months. To test, hair samples of about an inch and a half are plucked from the scalp. A half-inch of hair represents a month of heroin use history.

How Long Does Heroin Stay in Blood?

Blood tests are not typically used to test for heroin because of the drug’s short half-life. That said, heroin in blood could last up to 6 hours, depending on how it was ingested.

Factors that Affect How Long Heroin Stays in the System

Heroin’s effects last longer than other harmful drugs like marijuana and cocaine, but it is still a short time, clocking at around 30 minutes. Some studies suggest that this duration can even be as short as 3 to 8 minutes. It depends on a variety of health factors, including:
  • Height and weight
  • Age
  • Genetics
  • Body fat content
  • Dosage
  • Drug quality
  • Metabolism rate
  • State of the liver and kidneys
  • Hydration
Some of the factors that affect how long heroin stays in your system are:
  • Whether the heroin is water-soluble — mostly pills and powders — or not. Non-water-soluble heroin can remain in muscle tissue for up to 30 days.
  • How much heroin has been consumed in a specific period.
  • An individual’s metabolism, size, and weight.
  • Chemical intake to detoxify the body. This speeds up the heroin’s metabolic breakdown.
  • Learn about our Adolescent Intensive Outpatient in Los Angeles

Heroin Detection

When it comes to heroin detection, laboratories use various techniques to detect opioids from samples. The United Nations has developed a manual for use by National Drug Testing Laboratories for testing Opium, Morphine, and Heroin. Let’s break it down!

Color Test

A color test is simple, quick, and involves using different reagents. Due to its sensitive nature, the smallest sample quantities, less than 1 mg, are used for the tests. There are two procedures employed during color tests to detect heroin:

  • The sample is mixed with water and then filtered. The resulting liquid is then reacted with the color reagent to determine the resulting color.
  • The second procedure involves mixing the sample with methanol instead of water. After filtration, the liquid is evaporated to dryness, and then the sample is reconstituted in a minimum amount of water before reacting drop by drop with the color reagent.

The presence of heroin is detected by a purple-violet color in Marquis, a dark green color in Mecke, and purple/purple becoming grey in Frohde.

Anion Test

The Anion test can be used to detect all opioids except prepared or raw opium. When used to test heroin, it will be encountered as a free base or hydrochloride salt. In an anion test, solubilities are combined with selected reactions, and the presence of a precipitant indicates the presence of the opiate tested.

Heroin base dissolves in carbon tetrachloride, whereas heroin hydrochloride is soluble in methylene chloride and chloroform. Other heroin bases are insoluble in carbon tetrachloride. Heroin citrate, heroin tartrate, and other inorganic chlorides are insoluble in chloroform and methylene chloride.

Thin Layer Chromatography (TLC)

Another method for detecting heroin is TLC. This technique applies to many substances and visualization techniques; it is less expensive, sensitive, and fast. With this technique, heroin solution is used moving on TLC plates as a free base. Heroin is then detected through spotting.

Gas Chromatography (GC)

Gas chromatography is another old technique that is used to detect heroin and other opioids. It has undergone upgrades and updates. Today, micro-bore capillary column GC systems can conduct baseline separations between 100 and above compounds as opposed to 60 or 80 earlier. However, most laboratories use and recommend using narrow-bore capillary GC, which is easier to use, performs similarly to micro-bore GC capillary, and maintains a packed column system.

Other techniques used to detect opiates include:

  • High-Performance Liquid Chromatography
  • Spectroscopic/Spectrometric data

Detecting Heroin in Special Cases

Did you know that breastfeeding, pregnancy, and surgery can significantly affect heroin tests? Special circumstances may call for extra caution when testing for heroin. Let’s explore!

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

Do not use heroin if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Heroin passes to the baby via the placenta during pregnancy and through the breast milk during breastfeeding. Heroin use can be dangerous to you and your baby. The known heroin problems during pregnancy are:

  • Placenta abruption
  • Congenital disabilities
  • Premature birth
  • Low birth weight
  • Stillbirth
  • Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS)

During pregnancy, heroin use can be detected through routine tests such as health screening, ultrasounds, and blood tests. Tissues like urine, hair, maternal blood, umbilical cord tissues, placenta, and neonatal meconium can be tested for heroin use during pregnancy. The techniques used to detect heroin during pregnancy are high-performance liquid chromatography (HLC), gas chromatography (GC), enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISAs), and mass spectrometry (MS).

Medical Procedures and Heroin Detection

Patients are always administered opioid-based analgesics during surgery. Some of these analgesics may be derivatives with properties like heroin. Some analgesics can also break down into substances that can be detected in drug tests, thus producing incorrect results. Anesthesia may also affect heroin metabolism and clearance rates, which will, in turn, complicate test results.

Injecting heroin into your blood or skin popping may complicate intravenous access. This may make your surgery slightly difficult and dangerous. Anesthesia and analgesia may be difficult for long-term heroin users. Long-term heroin users are known to have high sensitivity to pain due to heroin-induced hyperalgesia. Since heroin has variable purity levels, it becomes difficult to calculate an equianalgesic dose of a different but therapeutic opioid.

Effects of Heroin

Heroin is a narcotic pain reliever, and if misused, one might become addicted to it. That is just the way our brains work. Heroin makes you feel “good” by flooding your brain with dopamine and serotonin. Long-term drug use causes your brain to stop producing these “happy” chemicals in a natural way. Quitting heroin might then lead to extreme depression.

Once in the brain, heroin is converted to morphine and quickly binds itself to the opioid receptors. These receptors are located all throughout the brain, in the spinal cord, and in the digestive tract. Heroin users often describe feeling a wave of euphoric sensations or a “rush.” The amount of heroin taken and how quickly it enters the brain determines the intensity of the rush. If your or a teenager you know is using heroin or has a drug problem, contact us about our Evidence-Based Los Angeles Teen Addiction Treatment Programs. Up to 100% of the costs might be covered by insurance.

Common side effects of heroin use are warm flushing of the skin, dry mouth, heavy feeling in the extremities, nausea, vomiting, and itching. After the initial effects are gone, users feel tired for several hours, their mental functions are muddled, and both breathing and heart activity slows down substantially. The latter can result in coma and brain damage, meaning that the side effects might be life-threatening.

Symptoms of Overdose

Heroin overdose always begins with the user becoming unconscious as their breathing ceases. Weak blood pressure can be felt. Regardless of the ingestion method, the drug reaches the brain and then slows down the respiratory system until death occurs due to a lack of oxygen.
Another symptom of a heroin overdose is hypoxia. Hypoxia is a condition that occurs when there is a reduction in the amount of oxygen that enters the brain. Short- and long-term psychological and neurological repercussions of hypoxia include organ failure and lifelong brain damage.

How to Get Heroin Out of Your System

Heroin has the highest allowable threshold quantity when it comes to being flagged as positive for drug tests. Although heroin is very addictive, there are several ways to remove it from your system in a short time.
Drinking plenty of water and doing plenty of exercises are the best ways to speed up drug metabolism. The more you sweat, the more rapidly the drugs will leave your body. Our kidneys regularly produce considerable amounts of sodium bicarbonate to flush toxins. Consuming sodium ascorbate will help to detoxify faster. Additionally, increasing the acidity of your system by consuming high doses of vitamin C mixed with baking soda will help you eliminate narcotic metabolites more quickly.

Legal Implications of Heroin Detection

In California, the employer holds the discretion to have a drug-free workplace policy. However, one holds an inherent right to privacy, which every employer must respect. The law allows employers to conduct suspicionless pre-employment drug testing as a condition for employment as long they respect the employee’s voluntary and informed consent.

An employee’s right to privacy also negates random drug tests by employers. An employer, thus, cannot conduct random heroin tests without notifying the employee of the intended drug tests. Employees in public positions are exempted from this rule for public safety.

The following instances of heroin tests are illegal in California:

  • Discrimination involving drug testing of some applicants instead of all.
  • Violating an employee’s right to privacy during or after drug tests.
  • Failure to provide reasonable accommodation for employees who are undergoing drug rehab.
  • Insisting that employees pay for their drug tests.

Getting Help for Heroin Abuse and Addiction

Whether a person is an inpatient or outpatient, heroin therapy is incomplete without behavioral and cognitive therapies. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Contingency Management (CM) Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) are two examples of mental health interventions that teach people how to navigate the outside world and reintegrate into society.

The therapy for heroin addiction begins with a three-day detox period, during which the addict has given Suboxone or similar medicine to help with withdrawal symptoms. Then there’s a 28-day recovery program that includes drug education, behavior modification, and other forms of treatment. The addict is frequently referred to a sober living facility, often known as a halfway house, for 3 to 6 months of drug-free living in a monitored environment. Following that, the addict is usually advised to attend frequent NA sessions.


Heroin is an extremely addictive substance that drags its users down hard and fast. It might make you feel as if your worries have vanished, but they will be waiting for you when you return from the “high.” The comedowns are gradual and give your mind adequate time to reintegrate with life facts, so you will not perceive this as an issue at first. While you might feel cognitively strained at first, you might also experience a mentally serene high for several days after the drug has left your system early on.

Call us today if you or a teen you know is experiencing adolescent heroin addiction.