History of Morphine

Morphine is a highly potent opiate (narcotic) analgesic that is used to treat moderate to moderately severe chronic pain. Morphine is said to be the most powerful pain reliever medicine has to offer and sets the standard by which all other opiate potency is tested.

The potential for morphine addiction is very high, both physically and psychologically.

Origins of Morphine (Opium Poppy)

Morphine was discovered by Freidrich Wilhelm Adam Serturner (1783-1841), a 21-year-old pharmacist’s assistant. He wondered about the medicinal properties of opium, which was widely used by 18th-century physicians.

In a series of experiments, performed in his spare time and published in 1806, Serturner managed to isolate an organic alkaloid compound from the resinous gum secreted by the opium poppy.

He found that opium with the alkaloid removed had no effect on animals, but the alkaloid itself had 10 times the power of processed opium. Sertuner named that substance morphine, after Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams, for its tendency to cause sleep.1

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Morphine as Pain Relief

In 1818, French physician Francois Magendie published a paper that described how morphine brought pain relief and much-needed sleep to an ailing young girl. This stimulated widespread medical interest. By the mid-1820s morphine was widely available in Western Europe in standardized doses from several sources, including the Darmstadt chemical company started by Heinrich Emanuel Merck.

In 1853, the hypodermic needle was developed and the use of morphine became more widespread. From its earliest application, it was used as a form of pain relief and that is still how it is meant to be used today. Since then, various delivery systems for morphine have been developed, including epidural injection and pumps that allow patient-controlled analgesia.

Although morphine was originally touted as a cure for many maladies, even for alcohol and opium addiction, by the 1870s physicians had become increasingly aware of its own addictive properties.2 Many new pain relievers have been synthesized since the crystallization of morphine from opium almost 200 years ago.

Morphine in America

In December 1914, the United States Congress passed the Harrison Narcotics Act which called for control of each phase of the preparation and distribution of medicinal opium, morphine, heroin, cocaine, and any new derivative that could be shown to have similar properties. It made illegal the possession of these controlled substances.3 The restrictions in the Harrison Act were most recently redefined by the Federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970. The act lists opium and its derivatives and all parts of the plant except the seed as a Schedule II Controlled Substance.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says morphine is the standard against which other analgesics are measured. As with many other narcotic pain relievers, morphine use in the United States has increased dramatically in the last several years.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse says many opiates, including morphine, can cause physical and psychological addiction with prolonged use. Users may also develop a tolerance to pain medication, causing them to take more and more to achieve the same effect.

Finding Help for Morphine Addiction

If you or someone you know has become addicted to the pain relief powers of morphine please contact our toll-free helpline at 678-251-3189. Our admissions coordinators are available 24 hours a day to answer your questions and help you find treatment.

1 Heroin, Morphine and Opiates.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 12 June 2017.
2 Pain Management in History: Morphine and the Civil War.” North American Spine, 8 Sept. 2016.
3 Trickey, Erick. “Inside the Story of America’s 19th-Century Opiate Addiction.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 4 Jan. 2018.

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