Morphine is an opiate drug derived from the opium poppy, Papaver somniferum. Morphine is a naturally occurring chemical found in many plants and animals.

What Is Morphine?

Morphine is an opiate drug derived from the opium poppy, Papaver somniferum. Morphine is a naturally occurring chemical found in many plants and animals. It works by binding to the opioid receptors in the brain, affecting the nervous system. It has been used in medicine since the 19th century and is effective in treating moderate or severe pain relief. Morphine and other opiates and opioid drugs are also commonly abused and have a high potential for addiction and dependence.

Is Morphine an Opioid or an Opiate?

Morphine is an opiate. While all opiates are considered to be opioid drugs, not all opioids are opiates. Opiate drugs are directly derived from natural chemicals contained in the opium poppy while opioid drugs are made synthetically. More recently, the term opioid is now being used as an umbrella term referring to both opiates and opioids. All opioids, regardless if they are natural or synthetic, work by interacting with opioid receptors in the brain and other parts of the body.

Medical Uses

Morphine is clinically used to treat both chronic and acute pain. It can be taken orally, intravenously, or injected directly into the muscle tissue. Morphine can also be used to treat respiratory problems like shortness of breath due to its ability to slow the breathing. In some cases, morphine is used in replacement therapy for people who are addicted to other opioid drugs and need to manage their withdrawal symptoms. Side effects of morphine include constipation, nausea, vomiting, euphoria, itchiness and respiratory depression.

Recreational Use

Morphine is, like most other opiate and opioid drugs, a common drug for recreational use. People taking morphine will feel sedative and euphoric effects. Recreational use of morphine is very dangerous. Thousands of people die in the United States every year from overdoses on opioid drugs like morphine. Regular opioid use leads to tolerance, causing people to increase doses over time, which can lead to more intense side effects like respiratory depression. Long-term adverse side effects are also possible. Once someone has become addicted to morphine, it is very difficult for them to stop using it.

Morphine Addiction

Chronic misuse of morphine leads to tolerance and physical dependence. Once people start to become tolerant of the drug, they will need to take more of it to get the same euphoric effects they were getting with smaller doses. People who become dependent on morphine will experience increasingly severe withdrawal symptoms when the drug’s effects begin to wear off.

Common morphine withdrawal symptoms are:

  • Muscle aches
  • Shivering and goosebumps
  • Restlessness
  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Diarrhea
  • Depression

One of the main side effects of morphine is respiratory depression. Morphine overdose causes severe respiratory depression, which can lead to death by asphyxiation.

The high potential for people to become addicted to and dependent on morphine and other opioid drugs, paired with the large amounts that doctors have been prescribing for years, has led to an opioid epidemic in the United States. In 2014, overdoses from opioid drugs claimed the lives of over 24,000 Americans.

Addiction Treatment

Recovery from morphine addiction or another opioid addiction requires comprehensive treatment. Treatment usually begins with a detoxification process in which an opioid replacement drug may be used to help manage withdrawal symptoms during the withdrawal period. Withdrawal symptoms can last for up to a week or longer.

After detox, patients are encouraged to participate in other therapies that address various underlying issues that may have led them to abuse drugs. Drug treatment centers offer different options for inpatient and outpatient treatment and cater to a large number of different demographics. With proper treatment and a strong support structure, people who struggle with morphine and opioid addiction can walk the 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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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Jessica Pyhtila, PharmD
Dr. Jessica Pyhtila is a Clinical Pharmacy Specialist based in Baltimore, Maryland with practice sites in inpatient palliative care and outpatient primary care at the Department of Veteran Affairs. 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.