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Is Morphine an Opiate?

Is Morphine an Opiate?


On the surface, it seems like a simple question, but then we might counter with this: Is morphine an opiate, or an opioid? And what even is the difference between an opiate and an opioid?

Opiates vs. Opioids: What’s The Difference?

If we were to poll readers on whether morphine is an opiate or opioid, the results would probably be pretty split. And for good reason. There is plenty of confusion over what drugs qualify as an opiate and which are opioids. It is especially confusing since both classes of drugs essentially have the same long-term side effects on the user, and the treatment plans for each are very similar as well.

What Are Opiates?

An opiate is a non-synthetic narcotic alkaloid that is derived from the opium poppy. As natural pain remedies, many pain-relieving drugs are made from opiates.

Opiates have been harvested from the sap of opium poppy for centuries, dating back to ancient cultures. This sap is distilled into a sticky substance, dried, and then turned into a powerful painkiller.

What Are Opioids?

While opiates are natural pain relievers, opioids are synthetic or semi-synthetic drugs that are made to achieve similar effects as opiates. Opioids are often derivative of opiates and other substances. The active ingredients in opioids are created through chemical synthesis. While they use a natural, opiate base, some of these synthetics use so much added or subtracted from them that they no longer resemble their original counterparts.

Originally designed to be less dangerous and addictive than opiates that come directly from the opium plant, it turns out opioids are just as addictive as natural opiates. Opioids come in many forms. Some of the most common opioid drugs are oxycodone, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, methadone, heroin, and fentanyl.

Both opiates and opioids are commonly prescribed by doctors as pain medications. They are commonly abused, which can often lead to addiction. In fact, opium-based drugs are thought to be some of the most addictive drugs in the world. Overcoming Morphine addiction symptoms or any of these drugs will be very difficult because of their severe withdrawal symptoms.

While the difference between an opiate and opioid may seem simple enough to understand, they are still commonly confused. Why?

Because the term “opiate” is often used incorrectly. People often use the word to describe both opiates and opioid drugs, or even any drug that seems close to an opium-based painkiller. Essentially, “opiate” became a catch-all term for a painkiller.

However, as we know, opiates are pain-relieving drugs that originate from the naturally-occurring alkaloids found in the opium poppy plant. Opioids are synthetic or partially synthetic drugs that produce opiate-like effects.

How Do Opiates And Opioids Work?

Opiate-based drugs work by attaching to proteins called opioid receptors that are found in the brain, spinal cord, and gastrointestinal tract. When an opiate or opioid binds to these receptors, it produces a large amount of dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical that is responsible for feelings of euphoria, pleasure, and contentment.

When this rush of dopamine is produced by the drug, it blocks the transmission of pain messages to the brain. This will change how the person experiences pain, rather than making the pain go away. The dopamine sends signals to the brain that aren’t accurate measures of how much pain their body is experiencing. In this way, the person taking the drug experiences less pain, despite the pain not being taken away from their body.

Users of these drugs will have their feelings of pain replaced by a calming feeling of elation, often followed by deep relaxation and sleepiness. Other effects of opiates or opioids may include decreased appetite, feelings of euphoria, slowed breathing, coughing and slowed heart rate.

Addiction To Opiates And Opioids

This effect on the brain’s pleasure center is why all opiates and opioids are highly addictive. The impact they feel won’t last with repeat use, as the person will begin to develop a tolerance, causing the person to take more of the drug to achieve the desired feeling of euphoria. The effects felt from an opiate, and opioid addiction are very similar. And while all opiates and opioids are addictive, some are more so than others.

Patient expectations of painkillers are often what leads to addiction.

Seeking relief from pain is one of the biggest reasons people seek medical treatment from a doctor. While it is human nature to want to avoid pain and suffering, the patient expectation is often what leads to morphine addiction. “Painkillers” are prescribed to help bring pain to a manageable level, not necessarily to entirely take it all away.

When used as prescribed by a doctor for a short period of time, patients who take opiates or opioids are much less likely to become addicted. But patients often think it should eliminate the pain completely, and end up taking more of the drug to achieve that feeling, void of pain. When a person begins taking the drug outside of their doctor’s recommended dosage, it can develop into a full-blown addiction to the drug.

A person may also begin using more of the drug as they develop a tolerance to the level of medication they have been prescribed. They will no longer get the same pain relief from their current dosage and will take more to achieve the desired feeling. But upping your dosage is dangerous. Any prescription medication, especially any opiate or opioid, should only be taken under the advice and close supervision of a doctor.

Morphine Is One Of The Most Powerful Opiates

To answer the question that brought you here: Yes, morphine is an opiate. Morphine is derived directly from the opium poppy plant.

Morphine, named after the Greek god of dreams, Morpheus, is actually the most active alkaloid that naturally occurs in opium. In fact, it was the first medicinal plant alkaloid ever to be isolated. Morphine is mainly utilized to help manage severe pain. It is commonly given through an IV to patients who have undergone surgery.

A very powerful painkiller, morphine is also highly addictive. Know by the street names M, morph, and Miss Emma, morphine is thought to be second to heroin in terms of risk of dependency. Morphine is most often injected, but can also be swallowed, snorted, or smoked. The most intense effects are felt via injection.

It is fairly easy for a person to build a tolerance to morphine, and they will need to increase their dosage in order to feel the same effects of euphoria and relaxation.

Morphine is used by doctors to treat severe and chronic pain, like the pain associated with cancers and chronic arthritis. Other types of opiates vary in strength and are used to treat pain as well, but are also commonly abused recreationally. These other opiates include codeine, thebaine, and papaverine.

Other Types Of Opiates

There are several other forms of prescription medications that are considered opiates.


Codeine is also used to treat pain but is not nearly as strong as morphine. Because the amount of codeine in opium poppy is so small, the drug is often synthesized from morphine. It is also often combined with other medications. Some examples are Empirin with codeine, Fiorinal with codeine, and Tylenol with codeine, with Tylenol being the most common.

Codeine is usually taken in pill form, but can also be injected into the muscle. It is never given through an IV because it can cause convulsions. Codeine’s effects are much less intense than morphine, but addiction can still occur if the drug is abused.

Codeine was first isolated in 1830 by the French chemist, Jean-Pierre Robiquet, to be used as a less powerful drug that would replace raw opium for medical purposes. It is still used today, mainly as a cough remedy.

Thebaine and Papaverine

Thebaine is actually poisonous and not used in medication, but can be converted into other narcotics, like hydrocodone and oxycodone. Buprenorphine used to treat opioid withdrawal, is also synthesized from thebaine.

Papaverine, meanwhile, is mainly used for its antispasmodic effects, meaning it can suppress muscle spasms. It can also be used to treat erectile dysfunction.

Types of Opioids

Opioids, the semi-synthetic or synthetic cousins of opiates, can come in many forms. Most commonly, they are prescribed directly by a doctor, but are currently among the most abused drugs in the U.S. A rash of overdoses across the country has led to the current dire situation being called the opioid epidemic. Here are a few of the most commonly abused opioids.


Oxycodone is an opioid that is synthetically produced from the opiate thebaine. The key difference between Oxycodone and Morphine is that it is less intense than morphine and is most commonly prescribed as an after-surgery pain medication. Common names include Percocet and OxyContin. On the street, it is known as oxy, hillbilly heroin, or percs.

OxyCodone typically comes in pill form and may be ingested, or crushed up to be snorted, smoked, or even injected. It is also often combined with other drugs, such as aspirin. When this painkiller addiction sets in, users will often seek stronger drugs as they build a tolerance.


Synthetically produced from either codeine or thebaine, hydrocodone is often prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain as well as bad coughs. Hydrocodone is significantly less strong than morphine.

Hydrocodone is most commonly prescribed as Vicodin but is also found in more than 200 medications, typically coming in tablet form. Among the most commonly abused recreational drugs, hydrocodone is known on the street as vikes, viko, or norco. People who abuse hydrocodone may ingest the pills or crush them up to snort, smoke, or inject the drug.


Another drug synthetically produced from morphine, hydromorphone is one of the strongest opioids available. It is thought to be up to eight to 10 times stronger than morphine, but with fewer side effects and a lower rate of dependence. Used to treat severe pain, hydromorphone is typically given to patients who are terminally ill to help ease their pain.

Prescribed as Dilaudid, hydromorphone is known on the street as juice or dillies. It is most often injected, producing almost instant effects similar to those of heroin. Addiction to hydromorphone is less common, as it is difficult to obtain.


Heroin is classified as a semi-synthetic drug. This is because heroin is often combined with other substances. Heroin is synthesized from morphine and is one of the most abused and addictive recreational drugs in the country and world. Ironically, heroin was created by chemists who were trying to find a less addictive form of morphine. Unfortunately, heroin has up to twice the potency of morphine, and addiction to the drug has become a big problem.

A Brief Morphine History Lesson

Harvested from the opium poppy, opiates have been used for recreational and medicinal purposes for thousands of years. Opium dates as far back to 2000 BC when the ancient Egyptians famously grew poppy fields and traded the substance. Fast forward to the sixteenth century, when opium was prepared in an alcoholic solution and used as a painkiller called laudanum.

It wasn’t until the early nineteenth century that morphine was first extracted from opium in a pure form. It gained notoriety during the American Civil War when it was widely used as a painkiller for injured soldiers–many of whom became addicted to the drug. Morphine, and its parent compound, opium, became such a sought-after substance that it was at the center of the Opium Wars during the 19th century.

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