Pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of smoked heroin

Amanda J. Jenkins, Robert M. Keenan, Jack E. Henningfield, Edward J. Cone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

97 Scopus citations


Despite the current popularity of smoking as a route of drug self-administration, there have been few human studies characterizing the pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of smoked drugs of abuse. A variety of technological difficulties are encountered in the design of smoking studies, such as delivering reproducible doses and limiting the amount of pyrolysis of parent drug. As part of a concerted research effort to deliver precise, smoked doses of drug, a computer-assisted smoking device was utilized that delivered single puffs of heroin vapor to human subjects under controlled clinical conditions. Recovery studies indicated that the smoking device delivered approximately 89% of parent heroin to subjects. Although only two qualified heroin smokers could be identified as eligible volunteers, their participation provided the unique opportunity to study the pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of smoked heroin. The two subjects were administered four smoked heroin doses in ascending order. In addition, four intravenous doses of heroin were administered for comparison of effects and estimation of bioavailability. Concurrent physiological, behavioral, and performance measures were collected along with blood samples. Blood was analyzed for heroin, 6-acetylmorphine, and morphine by solid-phase extraction gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. Heroin appeared rapidly in blood after administration and peaked 1-5 minutes after smoking, which is similar to that observed following intravenous administration. Heroin concentrations declined rapidly to the limit of detection (1.0 ng/mL) by 30 minutes. 6-Acetylmorphine blood concentrations also peaked and declined rapidly after smoked heroin with peak concentrations occurring at 1-2 minutes after smoking. Morphine levels rose and decayed more slowly. Mean elimination half-lives for heroin, 6-acetylmorphine, and morphine were 3.3 rain, 5.4 rain, and 18.8 rain, respectively, by the smoked route. The bioavailability of smoked heroin was highly variable. Physiological measures such as pupil diameter demonstrated a counterclockwise hysteresis compared with heroin blood levels. The rapid onset of pharmacological effects together with the early appearance of heroin and metabolites in blood following smoked heroin demonstrated the effectiveness of this route of drug administration. It is evident that the smoking route enables individuals to obtain similar pharmacological effects as are produced by intravenous administration of heroin.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)317-330
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of analytical toxicology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Oct 1994

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Analytical Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Toxicology
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis
  • Chemical Health and Safety


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