Morphine: Boon and bane

Carmen Lobitz
Abbildung von Morphin-Zubereitungen
© Sherry Young/

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Opium, opiate, opioid, morphine – What is the difference? Let’s start with some basic facts. Opium is the latex or gum of the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum). It is used as a narcotic and an intoxicant. Morphine is an alkaloid and one of the main components of opium. Opiates are substances that contain opium or morphine. Opioids are substances that function similarly to morphine.

The drug heroin is a semi-synthetic opioid which is twice as potent as opium. Fully synthetic opioids are fentanyl and methadone. An endogenous opioid is endorphin (endogenous +morphine = endorphin) which is synthesized within the human brain. Morphine acts in the brain by binding to opioid receptors, there mimicking the effect of endogenous opioids. This inhibits the transmission of the pain stimulus. Morphine has a dampening and anxiolytic effect.

How were morphines used in the past and what is the current status?

For thousands of years, people have used opium as curative medicine. In 1805, the German pharmacist Friedrich Sertürner extracted morphine for the first time, paving the way for its primary use as a painkiller. However, after more and more people became addicted to morphine,…

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