History of Heroin and Its Laws

As one of the most notorious drugs around, heroin is a powerful narcotic that was once used legitimately as a pain reliever and respiratory aid. Since its induction into the medical world, the drug has been exposed for its addictive potential and made illegal in the United States. Like drugs with similar origins, it became popular among addicts of other substances. If you have been charged with a heroin crime, contact a drug defense attorney right away.

Origins of Heroin

Heroin is one of the many derivatives of the opium plant. The earliest known use of opium occurred in 3400 B.C. in lower Mesopotamia. Sumerians referred to opium as “the joy plant.” From the Sumerians, Assyrians picked it up and subsequently passed it on to the Egyptians. Knowledge of the plant’s effects spread through the Middle East and beyond, thus the demand increased. To meet this demand, people throughout the area began growing and processing the plant to make it easily available and more affordable. This surge in growth progressed along the Silk Road all the way to China, eventually leading to the Opium Wars of the mid 19th century.

Rise of Opium in America

The gold rush, coupled with Chinese immigration of railroad workers, led to the trend of opium smoking in the United States. Along with this new trend came the spread of opium dens. Popular in China, Southeast Asia and Europe, these dens served as known areas to buy and sell the drug. Starting in Chinatown in San Francisco, the sites spread all the way to New York.

Medicinal Use of Opium

Even before the spread of the plant for recreational purposes, it was used as an anesthetic, digestive aid and sleep inducer by Greeks and Romans. Some even thought the powerful substance could protect one from being poisoned. In later years, physicians used the substance to ease the discomfort of childbirth and for spasms caused by tetanus.

The main ingredient in opium, morphine, was first extracted from its resin in the early 1800s. Morphine was found to be ten times more powerful than the processed form of opium. The abuse of morphine became such a problem that heroin was thought of as a suitable alternative to the drug. In 1898 the Bayer Company created heroin for medical use, unaware of its strong addiction potential. It was presented as a cough medicine as well as treatment for painful respiratory illnesses such as tuberculosis and pneumonia.

Popularity in 20th Century America

The rate of heroin abuse rose dramatically after its introduction as a medical supplement, and the drug was made illegal in 1924. After its ban, the narcotic saw two sharp surges in use in the United States. The first wave took place at the end of World War II. The second occurred in the 1970s, with both instances subsiding only due to the lack of purity in the supplies available in addition to its rising costs.

During its use in the 1970s, heroin was mostly popular among young men serving in the Vietnam War. Opiates were available at low cost in Vietnam, thus a preferred drug for those not old enough to purchase alcohol. It was often mixed with tobacco or marijuana for smoking.

Heroin as a Modern Crop

In order to create heroin, it must first be cultivated from opium poppy seeds. The plants are often grown by farmers in remote third world countries across the globe. The plant grows best in warm, dry regions and the majority of opium poppy growth takes place in the mountains of central Asia. It eventually became more popular with farmers in Latin America, most often grown in Mexico and Colombia.