Morphine in Medicine

Morphine was used for medicinal purposes before it even truly existed. This may sound like an oxymoron or contradiction but, in fact, it is simply a case of semantics. As it turns out, ancient civilizations simply did not know what morphine was, though they used opium plants for medical practices. Morphine’s actual discovery would not take place until sometime between 1805 and 1816, by a man named Friedrich Wilhelm Serturner.

Before Serturner’s breakthrough in isolating morphine from opium, the plant itself was as much a menace as it was a source of treatment. Even after morphine was discovered, countries like China were disseminated with opium addictions as a result of the British opium trade. This event resulted in what is known as the Opium Wars. As an alternative in a world of alternative medicine, morphine was seen as a way to retain the pain-relieving abilities of opium while reducing its addictive potential.

Other advances would soon follow to enhance morphine’s effectiveness and popularity in medical applications. Perhaps the premiere of which being the invention of the hypodermic needle in the middle part of the 19th century. Following this, morphine became a staple drug used on soldiers suffering from battlefield injuries during the American Civil War. However, the drug’s overuse led to thousands of instances of soldiers developing debilitating use disorders. Stopping pain came at a heavy price at that time — the inability to stop the drug.

Morphine Pain Medicine

Most everyone is familiar with morphine in today’s world. It is the quintessential painkiller medication. The reason for this is two-fold: Morphine is an exceptional yardstick for research and clinical applications, and it is actually the precursor to other opioids. These drugs, such as hydrocodone and codeine, are recognizable in their own right — and some, like heroin, are notorious for all the wrong reasons.

When someone mentions morphine as pain medicine, they may very well be referring to any of a number of variants. Morphine comes in dermal patches (not available in America), oral pills, and intravenously injected liquids among others. The doses of each type vary, as do the doses necessary to treat a patient’s unique pain. Dosages range anywhere between 10–200 mg, and individuals with high opioid tolerances may require the latter figure.

In addition to potency, the timing in which morphine distributes itself within the body differs among varieties. Two main formulations exist, extended release and immediate release. Standard, or slow, release describes extended-release (ER) while immediate is a synonymous term for immediate-release medications. Many people who use morphine recreationally will lean toward extended-release morphine to get high. Extended-release pills are intended to work over the course of an entire day — crushing and snorting them activates all of the morphine at once. Adverse side effects and overdoses may occur.

Morphine Medicine Side Effects

Opioid medicines have a laundry list of side effects. Now, this isn’t to say that every patient will experience them. There is not a completely accurate way to tell how often side effects will emerge. However, scientists and physicians do know that some reactions are more routine than others.

Common side effects that are not considered dangerous on their own include:

  • Lethargy
  • Profuse sweating
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Faintness
  • Constipation
  • Drowsiness
  • Headache

Additional serious side effects include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Loss of appetite
  • Hives
  • Blurred vision
  • Spasms
  • Weakness
  • Irritated bowels
  • Slowed heartbeat
  • Abnormal breathing patterns
  • Shortness of breath (this can be life-threatening as respiratory depression is what can cause death in overdose)
  • Swelling of the throat or vocal cords

Rare side effects that are potentially life-threatening include:

  • Anemia
  • Coma
  • Hallucinations
  • Circulation issues
  • Seizures

Using morphine incorrectly or in excess may also lead to an opioid overdose. These episodes have symptoms all their own, most of which fall under three broader categorizations:

  • Unresponsiveness: an individual may be passed out or comatose.
  • Small pupils: contraction of the pupils may occur during an overdose.
  • Trouble breathing or no breathing: morphine interacts with centers of the brain linked to respiration. Overstimulation of opioids can greatly impair these systems.

Morphine Medicine Names

Morphine has numerous nicknames: Mister Blue, Morpho, Dreamer, God’s Drug, MS, Morf and more. These colloquial nicknames are likely to only be heard as part of illegal street trades.

On the medical side, morphine is available in multiple brand names. Some names are more prevalent than others and include MS Contin, Kadian, Roxanol, Avinza, and Morphabond.

Opioids are undeniably among the most effective pain-relieving medicines to ever exist. Still, in recent years, their propensity to develop crippling dependences and substance use disorders within their users have come to the forefront. This is a growing calamity and a problem. It is the opium epidemic of the 19th century with a new face for modernity. But if you or someone you love is struggling with morphine use, help is on the horizon.

If you know someone who needs professional detox care to overcome a drug or alcohol addiction, The Recovery Village can help. The programs at this renowned center range from medically assisted detox through outpatient care and each client are able to pursue sobriety in a safe and supportive environment. To learn more about a center near you, call  888.654.5072 today.

a man with a beard wearing glasses and a hoodie.
Editor – Thomas Christiansen
With over a decade of content experience, Tom produces and edits research articles, news and blog posts produced for Advanced Recovery Systems. Read more
a man with a beard wearing a suit and tie.
Medically Reviewed By – Nathan Jakowski, PharmD
Nate Jakowski is a clinical pharmacist specializing in drug information and managed care. He completed his Doctor of Pharmacy degree at the University of Wisconsin. Read more
Medical Disclaimer

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.