Chasing the dragon across the world

A summary of a fascinating 1997 article on how the practice of consuming heroin by ‘chasing the dragon‘ – inhaling vapours after heating the drug on tin foil – spread across the world.

Heroin smoking by ‘chasing the dragon’: origins and history

Addiction. 1997 Jun;92(6):673-83;

Strang J, Griffiths P, Gossop M.

The history of heroin smoking and the subsequent development and spread of ‘chasing the dragon’ are examined. The first heroin smoking originated in Shanghai in the 1920s and involved use of porcelain bowls and bamboo tubes, thereafter spreading across much of Eastern Asia and to the United States over the next decade.

‘Chasing the dragon’ was a later refinement of this form of heroin smoking, originating in or near Hong Kong in the 1950s, and refers to the ingestion of heroin by inhaling the vapours which result when the drug is heated-typically on tin-foil above a flame. Subsequent spread of ‘chasing the dragon’ included spread to other parts of South East Asia during the 1960s and 1970s, to some parts of Europe during the late 1970s and early 1980s, and to much of the Indian sub-continent during the 1980s.

At the time of writing, ‘chasing the dragon’ has now been reliably reported from many parts of the world but not from others with an established heroin problem-such as the United States and Australia. The significance of this new form of heroin use is examined, including consideration of the role of the different effect with this new form of use, the different types of heroin, and changing public attitudes to injecting.

The article also notes that the popularity of particular drugs tends to rely equally on the methods of consumption as the effects of the substances themselves.

For example, the popularity of morphine in the late 19th century was equally dependent on the development of the needle and hypodermic syringe and the development of cigarettes massively increased the number of tobacco smokers.

Link to locked article on the history of ‘chasing the dragon’.

3 thoughts on “Chasing the dragon across the world”

  1. Brings to mind the cthe song “Time out of Mind” by Steely Dan.

    Tonight when I chase the dragon
    The water will change to cherry wine
    And the silver will turn to gold
    Time out of mind

  2. is this article only about lab-prepared diacetylmorphine hydrochloride (“pure” heroin)? People have been vaporizing plant oils off of flat heat conducting objects for thousands of years. The names or slang references may change through times and cultures, but the dates in the abstract are extremely misleading. People have been smoking opium since the beginning of human history, but “chasing the dragon” is how one “follows the smoke trail” when smoking in this method.

  3. It’s…vaporizing, is what it is.

    In the 80s, crackheads did this (that’s what the crack pipe was for).

    Now, medical marijuana patients, as well as health-oriented recreational cannabis users do this too.

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