Chasing the dragon

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"Chasing the dragon" (traditional Chinese: 追龍; simplified Chinese: 追龙; pinyin: zhuī lóng; Jyutping: zeoi1 lung4) is a slang phrase of Cantonese origin from Hong Kong referring to inhaling the vapor from heated morphine, heroin, oxycodone or opium. The "chasing" occurs as the user gingerly keeps the liquid moving in order to keep it from coalescing into a single, unmanageable mass.[1] 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.


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 always harmful to expose the lungs to any kind of smoke and inhaling heroin itself may lead to toxic leukoencephalopathy.[2]


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[3]). 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. Another metaphorical interpretation of chasing the dragon exemplifies chasing after a high getting closer and closer to death, the metaphorical catching of the dragon, which would result in the dragon turning on the chaser and killing him or her. Biblical chasing after the wind refers to the senselessness of earthly pursuits when one's death looms, such as wealth, possessions, and even family and prestige.

In popular culture[edit]

  • The song "Beware the Dog" by The Griswolds refers to chasing the dragon. The song is about being addicted to heroin with a former girlfriend and being dragged down by the experience with phrases such as "Now you chase the dragon on your own" and "She used to suck the life out of me".
  • The Blur song "Beetlebum" refers to an alternative phrase for chasing the dragon, "chasing the beetle". Lead singer Damon Albarn confirmed the song was about heroin.
  • The phrase is used as the title of multiple films, from different genres, but usually involving drug addiction.
  • A 1996 Lifetime Network Television movie was called Chasing the Dragon; it starred Markie Post as a middle-class mom who becomes addicted to heroin.
  • The 1980 autobiography Chasing the Dragon: One Woman's Struggle Against the Darkness of Hong Kong's Drug Dens (reprinted in 2003, but without the final "s" after "Den" in the subtitle, or else with the cover subtitle "The true story of how one woman's faith resulted in the conversion of hundreds of drug addicts, prostitutes and hardened criminals in Hong Kong's infamous Walled City") by British Protestant missionary Jackie Pullinger with Andrew Quicke recalls how she went to Hong Kong to help drug addicts quit "chasing the dragon" through Christian teaching and prayer.
  • The 2009 novel Chasing the Dragon—by English science fiction author JJustina Robson, and from her Quantum Gravity series—tells how a pair of human-cyborg and faery friends seek to rebuild their lives, with those around them, following a Quantum Bomb Event of 2015.[4]
  • Chasing the Dragon is a Led Zeppelin bootleg recording of a concert at Memorial Auditorium, Dallas, Texas on March 4, 1975, released by Empress Valley label.
  • "Chasing the Dragon" is the title of various songs by Thomas Leer, rapper Ill Bill, American glam metal band L.A. Guns, Dutch symphonic metal band Epica, Australian rock supergroup Beasts of Bourbon, Wan Kwong, Dream Evil, Machine Gun Fellatio, Legendary Newfoundland/Canadian band Thomas Trio and the Red Albino, and 90's Christian band Code of Ethics.
  • The title of Urge Overkill's album Exit The Dragon references the act of exhaling heroin smoke (as well as the Bruce Lee film Enter the Dragon). The front cover is a picture of (presumably exhaled) smoke. The song "The Mistake", a warning to "beware the overdose", contains the lyrics "Never gonna make it today / Until you finally exit the dragon". Ex-drummer Blackie Onassis is a known heroin addict and was fired from the band for his addiction.[5]
  • In the TV program Blue Mountain State, Harmon Tedesco often refers to having "chased the dragon".
  • In the South Park episode "Guitar Queer-O", Stan and later his dad become addicted to a video game in which the player chases a dragon (but never catches it) while injecting "virtual heroin".
  • In the Steely Dan song "Time Out of Mind" off the 1980 album Gaucho, the chorus includes the line "tonight when I chase the dragon".
  • In 2013, GFY Press released the fiction novel Chase The Dragon by Vancouver author Chris Walter.
  • The swing song "Brown Derby Jump" by the band Cherry Poppin' Daddies includes the line "A three year trip on the dragon", a variation on chasing the dragon.
  • The Yeah Yeah Yeahs song "Dragon Queen" might also be about usage of heroin.
  • Devilmans "Elite Sessions" freestyle includes the line "Don't give up your day job fam you're better off chasing the dragon on tin foil", which is a reference to smoking heroin.[6]


  1. ^ Frank Dikotter, Lars Laamann & Zhou Xun, Narcotic Culture: A History of Drugs in China (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 162.
  2. ^ Chasing the Dragon from Radiopaedia.
  3. ^ Biblical mentions of "chasing the wind",
  4. ^ Chasing the Dragon by Justina Robson reviewed by Niall Harrison, Strange Horizons, 19 February 2010,
  5. ^ John Tracey (2007). "Urge Overkill Feature: A Rock Star Runs Errands". The Spill Magazine Online (Toronto). Retrieved February 2009. 
  6. ^

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