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"Chasing the dragon" (a slang phrase of Cantonese origin from Hong Kong, Traditional Chinese: 追龍, Simplified Chinese: 追龙, Cantonese Jyutping: zeoi1 lung4, pinyin: zhuī lóng) refers to inhaling the vapor from heated morphine, heroin, oxycodone or opium that has been placed on a piece of foil. The 'chasing' occurs as the user gingerly keeps the liquid moving in order to keep it from coalescing into a single, unmanageable mass. Another more metaphorical use of the term "chasing the dragon" refers to the elusive pursuit of the ultimate high in the usage of some particular drug.
There are many ways to "smoke" heroin, but a common method involves some black tar heroin, 2 rectangular pieces of aluminium foil, a lighter and a cigarette. First, the entire surface of the aluminium foil is heated with the lighter to burn off possible toxic coatings. Then a tube is made by wrapping one of the pieces of foil around the cigarette. Heroin is placed on the other piece of foil, and the tube is placed in the mouth. Now, repeatably the heroin is melted and boiled, and the rising heroin vapor (the dragon) is inhaled with the tube. The boiling of the heroin is done by applying heat with the flame of the lighter to the underside of the aluminium foil. When heat is applied just left of the heroin above, the liquid heroin will move right, leaving behind a trail of impurities. A significant part of the heroin vapor will get stuck to the inside of the tube, which after some uses can be unwrapped and "smoked".
"Chasing the dragon" as an ingestion method has been accomplished with various vaporizing apparatus, including traditional opium pipes. A makeshift method involves putting the substance in an empty teapot, heating it over a stove, and inhaling through the nozzle via the nose or mouth.
It may also refer to the user "chasing" the smoke that flows in the space between the tube and the foil.
Such ingestion may pose less immediate danger to the user than injecting heroin, due to eliminating the risk of transmission of HIV, hepatitis, and other diseases through needle sharing, as well as the stress that injection puts on veins. A small puff can be inhaled as a method of gauging the strength of the heroin. Also, the lungs can act to filter out additional pollutants that otherwise would pass directly into the bloodstream; however, in any case, it is never harmless to expose the lungs to any kind of smoke and inhaling heroin itself may lead to toxic leukoencephalopathy.
The metaphorical meaning of the term alludes to the feeling that the next ingested dosage of the drug will result in a nirvana that seems and feels imminent and conclusive, yet upon consumption never quite yields the promised experience—leading to the desire for the next dose that still promises the same—thus chasing the dragon but never catching it (like "chasing after the wind [a wild wind]", a biblical term). Medically speaking, this sensation is a common aspect of drug addiction in which psychological and physical drug tolerance causes a diminishing return curve in the user's enjoyment of the drug. Here, the "dragon" represents the user's best euphoric experiences with the drug (usually due to novelty and inexperience), but with the positive effects diminishing (and often being replaced with negative effects) over time with each consecutive experience, causing the user to fruitlessly "chase" harder and use more of the drug to try to recapture the initial euphoria.