There is a painkiller still that is hundreds of years old. One that occurs naturally, gives rise to other medications and is used as the standard for pain relievers the world over. That medication is morphine. Each of these attributes necessitates further explanation, and so it is best to start from the beginning — the early 19th century, that is. Morphine traces its origins to the 1800s, but the compound itself was used long before — think thousands of years prior — by fledgling civilizations in the Eastern hemisphere. China, for example, has a long history of using morphine as it exists within plant matter.
This is the perfect segue into the next point: morphine is a natural substance. Morphine is the product of opium plants, more specifically, the poppy straw portion of the plants. Ancient cultures were unaware of morphine in its refined form, but they were still able to use it for various rudimentary medicinal purposes. It would take a German pharmacist to unlock the full therapeutic potential of opium’s biological makeup.
Friedrich Wilhelm Serturner isolated the pain-relieving qualities of morphine while circumventing the crippling addictions that plagued opium. However, this potential was not eliminated entirely and remains an issue facing American society in full force today. Hundreds of thousands of citizens are directly or indirectly impacted by this drug epidemic. Morphine contributes to the problem, but it is truly its prescription and illicit progeny that take the brunt of the blame. Morphine’s discovery quickly gave rise to the invention of other painkillers. Oxycodone, codeine, and hydrocodone can trace their chemical lineage to morphine, as can heroin. Collectively, these drugs are known as opioids.
The answer to this question is simple: yes, morphine is an opiate. More so than that, it is the original opiate, the opiate that started it all.
What is an opiate exactly? Well, in the plainest of terms, it is a group of painkilling medications. To elaborate further, the compounds found within opiates bind to corresponding receptors found in the human central nervous system. From here, the drug can treat pain on a molecular level.
Many individuals make the assumption that opiates are the same thing as opioids. This is partially true. All opiates are opioids but the same cannot be said for all opioids being opiates. The reason for this lies within their unique chemistries.
Opioids are manufactured in laboratories with fully or semi-synthetic materials. In other words, they do not exist by themselves in nature. Examples of opioids include fentanyl, oxycodone, and hydrocodone. Opiates, as has been established with morphine, are natural in their origin — even if the final product is not, as is the case with heroin and codeine.
Both opioids and opiates have similar potential for dependence and substance use disorders. These maladies arise once a tolerance has built up and a patient or recreational user takes more of the drugs to achieve the same or heightened effects. This can lead to disastrous results in the long term, including adverse side effects or even overdoses.
Morphine side effects range from mild to severe and common to rare. The intensity, duration, and frequency are largely dependent on the individual’s usage habits and biology. Such reactions include:
- Excessive tiredness and relaxation
- Itchy or pus-filled hives
- Nausea, vomiting, or dry heaving
- Profuse sweating spells
- Constipation and irregular stool
- Amplified pressure in the neck area or throughout the skull
- No desire to eat or drink
- Spasms and convulsions
- Abnormal vision
- Dangerously low heart rate
- Troubled breathing (collapsed lungs in the most severe scenarios)
- Psychological disorders such as anxiety or depression
As mentioned, overdoses are serious hazards all their own, and these episodes come with symptoms, too. Signs of a morphine overdose can include:
- Muscular weakness: extremities will go numb and the musculoskeletal system will lose its vigor.
- Breathing abnormalities: the characteristic rhythmic rising and falling of the chest may be replaced with an irregular, ragged breathing pattern.
- Eye issues: pinpoint pupils are a common occurrence, as are eyes that react sluggishly to stimuli.
- Nausea: vomiting is perhaps the most recognizable (and stereotypical) symptom of opioid overdoses.
- Cyanosis: this is simply a term to describe blue or purple colorations of lips and nails.
- Fainting spells or full coma: victims may collapse and even enter a comatose state.
In nearly all drug tests that are currently administered, morphine will appear as an opiate or opioid. The medicine can last approximately four days in urine and upward of three months in hair follicles. Some drug tests are advanced enough to identify morphine itself directly from a lineup of other painkillers. This is particularly helpful with instances where an individual is on a morphine prescription and they need to prove it. If morphine tests positively as just an opiate, there is no context, meaning the results are lumped in with illicit opioids like heroin.
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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.