The following provides individual information about heroin and morphine and then highlights the key differences between heroin and morphine.

Opioids are something most people in the U.S. are all too familiar with. Even if they’ve never used an opioid and they don’t have a family member who’s been affected by the opioid epidemic, they likely do know just how serious the problem is.

Two opioids often spoken about are heroin and morphine. One of these substances, heroin, is completely illegal, while morphine is used in medical settings. So, what are the differences between heroin and morphine?

The following provides information about heroin and morphine and then highlights the key differences between heroin and morphine.

What Is Heroin?

First, before looking at the differences between heroin and morphine, what is heroin?

Heroin is an illegal opioid that’s sold on black markets and is derived from the poppy. When you take heroin, it creates a euphoric high at first and then, because it depresses the central nervous system, people will become very drowsy or sedated. A sign of heroin use is often nodding off intermittently, which is the result of the effects of the drug on the central nervous system.

Heroin attaches to the opioid receptors in the brain and floods the reward pathways with dopamine, which is a feel-good brain chemical. While this dopamine flood is responsible for the high that people seek when they use heroin, this is also what triggers the development of addiction. Your brain’s reward pathways push you to continue seeking heroin after you use it and it’s a highly addictive drug.

There’s also physical dependence that occurs with heroin. Physical dependence means that your body becomes used to the presence of heroin and if you stop using it suddenly, you go into a type of shock which is called withdrawal.

Heroin is most often injected, so along with the risks of the drug itself, there are also risks associated with intravenous drug use.

What is Morphine?

Morphine is derived from poppies, and it’s used in medical settings as a powerful pain reliever. In medical settings, morphine is usually reserved for only severe pain management including following surgery and in terminal cancer patients. When you are on morphine, it not only reduces pain but it also reduces appetite and cough.

Much like heroin, morphine can also be highly addictive, which is why it’s meant to be tightly controlled in medical settings. However, it is widely abused.

On the street, morphine is often known by names like God’s Drug, MS and Dreamer.

In the past, morphine was most often administered in an injectable form, but now it’s given as a pill, a suppository or as a solution that can be ingested instead.

When someone takes morphine, it enters their bloodstream and then crosses the blood-brain barrier, activating opioid receptors. Much like heroin, morphine can cause respiratory depression because it affects the central nervous system, and people can not only become addicted but also develop tolerance and physical addiction. This means that the effects of morphine may start to subside, so the person would have to take more of it to get the same results. Morphine is classified as a Schedule II drug in the U.S.

So, how can you compare heroin and morphine? Are there differences between heroin and morphine?

What Are the Differences Between Heroin and Morphine?

There are many similarities between heroin and morphine, but differences as well.

One of the biggest differences between heroin and morphine is the fact that heroin is three times more potent than morphine, which can be shocking. Heroin, along with being three times more potent, is also semi-synthetic. Heroin is made when morphine is combined with unknown chemical substances.

There are also differences in how heroin and morphine are administered. Heroin is primarily injected, and it doesn’t have any medical uses in the U.S., while morphine is usually given as a pill or a suppository.

Another one of the differences between heroin and morphine relates to how quickly they reach the brain. Both heroin and morphine can pass the blood-brain barrier, but heroin does so faster than morphine, and once it reaches the brain, it’s converted to morphine. Generally, the more fast-acting a drug is, the more addictive it is.

With heroin and morphine, it’s also easier and cheaper to get heroin in most cases. The market is flooded with heroin, and much of it is poor quality or mixed with dangerous ingredients, while morphine is closely regulated, making it much less accessible.

Summing Up—Heroin and Morphine

There are very few differences between heroin and morphine. Heroin and morphine are so similar that heroin even converts into morphine once it reaches the brain, but there are a few key differences.

Two of the most notable differences between heroin and morphine is the fact that heroin reaches the brain more quickly and is three times stronger than morphine.

While heroin tends to be seen as more dangerous than morphine, both are addictive drugs that can cause severe side effects and consequences.

If you or a loved one live with addiction or are using drugs recreationally and want to stop, The Recovery Village® can help. Reach out to one of our representatives today to learn how you can start on your path to recovery.

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Editor – Camille Renzoni
Cami Renzoni is a creative writer and editor for The Recovery Village. As an advocate for behavioral health, Cami is certified in mental health first aid and encourages people who face substance use disorders to ask for the help they deserve. Read more
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The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.