Morphine is a naturally occurring substance found in the Asian poppy plant. It has been used for over 6000 years as a way to treat pain and for its euphoric effects. Morphine is highly habit forming. Using the drug recreationally or in larger amounts or for longer periods of time than prescribed by a physician can lead to addiction.
Morphine is an opioid pain reliever and changes the way the brain perceives pain.
Morphine acts on the opioid receptors in the brain and central nervous system, reducing the perception of pain and the emotional response to the pain. Morphine has been part of American society since before the Civil War, where it was used to treat the soldiers’ pain from their battle injuries. While morphine has been used for centuries, the following facts about the drug may surprise you.
Opium Was Smoked in Dens
Recreational opium use, the precursor to morphine, became popular in the United States when thousands of Chinese men and boys came to this country to build the railroads in 1850s and 1880s. During these days, opium, morphine and heroin could be legally purchased and used without a prescription. Some of the most popular places to smoke opium was in opium dens.
The first ban on smoking opium came in 1875 in San Francisco after city authorities learned that even women and children were being enticed into opium dens to take up the practice of smoking the drug. Even in these early days, opium addiction was known to ruin the lives of individuals and families.
Morphine Was Developed from Opium
Morphine was developed from opium in 1810 as a painkiller. It was considered a wonder drug, as it eliminated pain and gave the user feelings of euphoria that left him in a dream-like state. A German pharmacist named F.W.A. Serturner discovered morphine. Because other chemists did not believe his initial report, he experimented with the drug on himself and three of his friends to provide that the drug he had isolated was in fact responsible for the actions of opium.
He named the drug morphine for the Greek god Morpheus, the god of sleep and dreams. After its discovery, morphine because widely used not only for pain relief, but as a substitute for alcohol and opium addiction.1
Morphine Addiction Treated with Heroin
Because morphine addiction was at epidemic levels in the mid-1800’s, German scientists worked to develop a new drug to combat the problem. Heroin, also an opium derivative was thought to be an effective way to wean morphine addicts off of the drug.
Heroin was also thought to be a safe substitute for morphine and was added to cough medicine and marketed for use in children suffering from coughs and colds.2 But the use of heroin to treat morphine addiction simply created a new kind of addict.
Morphine Addiction and Side Effects
When heroin enters the brain, it is converted back to morphine, so people struggling with addiction to heroin and other opiates are also addicted to morphine. Morphine addiction develops when the brain begins to depend on the drug for the feelings it produces.
Although morphine is a powerful pain reliever, using the drug for longer periods of time and in ways other than prescribed by a physician can quickly lead to addiction.
- Abdominal or stomach pain
- Blurred vision
- Burning, crawling, itching, numbness, prickling, "pins and needles", or tingling feelings, hives or skin rash
- Change in the ability to see colors, especially blue or yellow
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Decreased urination
- Dizziness, faintness, or lightheadedness when getting up suddenly from a lying or sitting position
- Fast, pounding, or irregular heartbeat or pulse
- Increased sweating or chills
- Loss of appetite
- Pounding in the ears
- Puffiness or swelling of the eyelids or around the eyes, face, lips, or tongue
- Nausea, severe constipation and/or vomiting
- Shakiness in the legs, arms, hands, or feet
- Slow heartbeat
- Sweating or chills3
Along with these symptoms, the abuse of morphine can cause cardiac arrest, high blood pressure, respiratory failure, coma and death.
Finding Help for Morphine Addiction
If you or a loved one struggles with morphine addiction, we are here for you. Call our toll-free helpline, 678-251-3189 24 hours a day to speak to an admissions coordinator about available treatment options.
By Patti Richards, Contributing Writer
1 “Friedrich Sertürner (1783-1841).” Science Museum Brought to Life, 27 Aug. 2018.
2 History.com Staff. “Heroin, Morphine and Opiates.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 2017.
3 “Morphine (Oral Route) Side Effects.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 1 Mar. 2017.