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What Is Black Tar Heroin? | Common Side Effects

Peter Manza, PhD profile image
Reviewed By Peter Manza, PhD • Updated Oct 10, 2023 • 7 cited sources

Black tar heroin is a highly addictive opioid drug commonly referred to as black tar, big H or chiva on the streets.[1] 

It has a coloring that ranges from dark brown to black and a sticky, glossy texture. Its use produces various side effects, such as euphoria, pain relief, constricted pupils, slow breathing and an increased risk of overdose. 

Black tar heroin is just as addictive and dangerous as the powdered form of the drug. 

What Exactly Is Black Tar Heroin?

Black tar heroin is an illicit opioid drug with a sticky or tar-like consistency, hence its name. 

Produced through different processes than white powder heroin, black tar heroin features its signature dark hue and thick consistency due to less refined manufacturing procedures that leave behind impurities. Due to its wet nature and the impurities in the substance, it is often a breeding ground for bacteria that can be deadly to users.

Black tar heroin is a highly addictive opioid drug.[2] Similar to other forms of heroin, it binds to opioid receptors in the brain to induce sensations of pleasure and pain relief, leading users to misuse the substance for the purpose of experiencing its euphoric effects. Repeated use of the substance can quickly lead to physical and psychological dependence.

How Is Black Tar Heroin Different From Other Forms of Heroin?

Black tar heroin differs significantly from other forms of heroin in several ways.


  • As the name implies, black tar heroin is dark in color and looks and feels like a  tarry substance. Because the drug tends to be so sticky and difficult to handle, it is often sold in plastic wrap when it is broken down into “hits” or single use amounts.
  • The drug often takes the form of a semi-solid or dense mass rather than fine powders like other forms. In larger amounts, it feels and looks like a dark brick.
  • It has the consistency of thick molasses or roofing tar, which makes it difficult to ingest without heating it up or dissolving it completely. This is why the drug is usually smoked in a pipe or injected after dissolving it in water. Heat is necessary to consume it.

Production Process

  • Black tar heroin production involves a less sophisticated process compared with the process used to create white powder heroin production. 
  • The drug is primarily produced in Mexico and then illegally imported into the western and middle part of the U.S. and countries around the world.[3] 

Chemical Composition

  • Black tar heroin is less refined than white powder heroin. As a result, it contains more impurities and residue from the manufacturing process.
  • Because the drug often has a wet feel to it and is transported in dark spaces (often over a period of months), its dampness can harbor bacteria that can be deadly, triggering myonecrosis or causing a “flesh-eating” response in the system.
  • Due to its lack of refinement, it typically has lower purity levels than its white powder counterpart. It is still deadly to use and can trigger overdose easily.


  • Black tar heroin comes packaged in small, unmarked plastic bags or wrapped with plastic or wax paper.
  • Packaging is often minimal and discrete in order to avoid drawing attention to it.

Means of Consumption 

  • Common means of consumption of black tar heroin include injection and smoking, both of which pose significant health risks, including addiction as well as physical issues specific to the method of ingestion. 

Effects of Black Tar Heroin

These are some of the physical, mental and behavioral effects of black tar heroin:[2,4,5]

Euphoria and intense pleasurePain reliefConstricted pupilsNausea and vomitingItchingRisk of infectious diseasesCollapsed veins and infectionsLiver and kidney damage Abscesses and skin infectionsGastrointestinal issuesRespiratory issuesConfusionDrowsiness and nodding offImpaired attention and memoryAnxietyMood swings and emotional instabilityParanoia and hallucinationsDepression Impaired cognitive functionMemory and attention deficitsSuicidal thoughts and behaviorsImpaired judgment and decision-making abilitiesIsolation from family/ friendsNeglect of responsibilitiesLying and secretive behaviorEngagement in criminal activitiesFinancial difficultiesStrained relationshipsPreoccupation with drug use

How Is Black Tar Heroin Used? 

Black tar heroin is used in the following ways: 

  • Injection: Black tar heroin is usually injected directly into veins using a syringe for quick and intense euphoria. This method of use increases the risk of overdose and adds the additional risk of contracting blood-borne diseases like hepatitis C and HIV when needles are shared.
  • Smoking: Some users heat black tar heroin on aluminum foil and inhale its vapors, a practice known as chasing the dragon. This method provides a quick onset of effect, but it can also compromise the respiratory system. The drug may also be smoked in a glass pipe.
  • Mixing it with other substances: People may combine use of black tar heroin with other substances. For example, many combine heroin with cocaine or methamphetamine in the same hit. Combining these drugs is a practice known as speedballing, which increases the risk of overdose as well as health complications.[6]

Signs of Heroin Overdose 

The following are signs of a black tar heroin overdose:[1,2]

  • Slow, shallow breathing
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Extreme drowsiness or unresponsiveness
  • Bluish lips or fingernails
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Vomiting or gurgling sounds
  • Weak pulse
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizures
  • Coma

If an overdose is suspected, call 911 immediately. Administer naloxone (Narcan) to the individual if it’s available. This life-saving medication can immediately reverse an opioid overdose. In some cases, multiple doses of naloxone may be needed.

Risks of Black Tar Heroin

Use of black tar heroin comes with many risks, ranging from physical to mental and relational.[7]

Short-term RisksOverdose, potentially fatalItchingDry mouthNausea and vomitingInjection-related risksEuphoria and sedationConfusion and disorientationSocial isolationTrust issues
Long-term RisksAddictionPhysical health declineCollapsed veinsConstipationCognitive impairmentMental health disordersEmotional numbingStrained relationshipsNeglect of responsibilitiesCriminal behavior

Getting Started With Bicycle Health 

Use of black tar heroin, just like use of powdered heroin, can lead to opioid use disorder very quickly. With any use of heroin, the risk of overdose comes with every single use. 

Various treatments, including medications and behavioral therapies, have been proven effective in helping people to stop using heroin safely and effectively. At Bicycle Health, we utilize Medication for Addiction Treatment (MAT) to help people transition out of OUD and into recovery.[2] 

Our telehealth treatment services make it easier than ever before to enter and sustain recovery. You can meet with your treatment team from the comfort of your own home.

If you or someone you love is living with an active OUD due to heroin use, the time to seek treatment is now. Contact us at Bicycle Health to learn more about your options. You can potentially get started with a prescription for Suboxone today. 

Reviewed By Peter Manza, PhD

Peter Manza, PhD received his BA in Psychology and Biology from the University of Rochester and his PhD in Integrative Neuroscience at Stony Brook University. He is currently working as a research scientist in Washington, DC. His research focuses on the role ... Read More

  1. Heroin. Drug Enforcement Administration. Accessed July 28, 2023.
  2. Heroin DrugFacts. National Institute on Drug Abuse website. Published December 16, 2022. Accessed July 28, 2023.
  3. Heroin. National Drug Intelligence Center. Published October 2003. Accessed July 28, 2023.
  4. Houghland SM. Chasing the black dragon. Law and Order. 1992;40(11):81-84.
  5. Heroin use in Pacific Northwest linked to incurable kidney disease. University of Washington. Published June 19, 2018. Accessed July 28, 2023.
  6. Duvauchelle CL, Sapoznik T, Kornetsky C. The synergistic effects of combining cocaine and heroin (“speedball”) using a progressive-ratio schedule of drug reinforcement. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior. 1998;61(3):297-302. doi:10.1016/s0091-3057(98)00098-7
  7. Commonly used drugs charts. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Published August 20, 2020. Accessed July 28, 2023.

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