Morphine

Modified: 22nd Jul 2019

Last updated on July 22nd, 2019 at 12:45 pm

Morphine is regularly prescribed to treat pain and most patients find it highly effective. The problem is that it comes with an onslaught of side effects, the most dangerous being addiction.

Over 40 people fatally overdose on opioid pain medications every day.

What Is Morphine?

Morphine is a drug used to relieve moderate to severe pain. Morphine is a narcotic or opiate analgesic. This means it alters the way that the human brain processes and responds to pain.

The FDA classifies morphine as a schedule II drug which means:

  • It has medical benefits
  • It can be highly addictive
  • It can lead to serious psychological and physical dependence

How Is It Taken?

Morphine is available in three forms: liquid, extended-release tablets, and extended-release capsules.

Liquid morphine is administered into the bloodstream directly through an IV. New doses can be taken every four hours or as needed.

This happens in a hospital setting, usually following a surgical procedure or when the patient is in extreme pain. The patient is able to control their morphine dose in what’s called “patient-controlled analgesia.” Doctors set a “lockout” period so overdose doesn’t occur.

The extended-release tablets and capsules are taken orally. Depending on the brand and strength, oral morphine can be taken every eight, 12, or 24 hours.

Who Takes It?

Morphine is prescribed to treat pain when other non-habit-forming drugs are not an option. It’s prescribed for post-surgical rehabilitation, injury, chronic pain, and end-of-life care.

It’s used widely across racial, socio-economic, and gender demographics. But research has shown that there are four main risk factors for abuse of opiate analgesics like morphine:

  • Those living in rural areas and having low income
  • Those with high daily dosages of prescription pain relievers
  • Patients with a history of mental illness or of alcohol or other substance abuse
  • People who obtain overlapping prescriptions from multiple providers and pharmacies

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A Brief History of Morphine

Morphine was discovered and named in 1804 Friedrich Wilhelm Adam Sertürner, a German pharmacist.

During animal trials, it was discovered that when a certain alkaloid was extracted from opium that the opium no longer had the same pain-relieving effects as before.

Sertürner also found that when that alkaloid was administered alone it was significantly more effective than opium in its pure form. He began isolating the alkaloid, and due to its tendency to cause sleep, he named it “morphium” after Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams.

Morphine wasn’t widely used as a pain reliever until the 1820s after a French physician, Francois Magendie, published a paper on morphine’s ability to treat a young girl with chronic pain.

In 1853, when the hypodermic needle was invented, morphine became even more widespread and effective in treating pain. By that time, physicians and patients began to understand more fully it’s addictive nature.

The U.S. Congress passed an act in 1914 (Harrison Narcotics Act) that made it illegal to possess morphine and similar drugs without a prescription. It also called for a more controlled production process.

This was in an effort to control the misuse of, abuse of, and addiction to morphine.

In 1970 it was listed on the roster of schedule II drugs as having some proven medical benefit, but also being highly addictive.

Consequences of Morphine Abuse

Like all drugs categorized as opioids, morphine affects both the body and mind. This is because of how opioids block pain receptors. The body starts producing fewer endorphins, thinking it’s the opioid’s job.

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Effects on the Mind and Body

Psychological side effects include:

  • Nervousness and other mood changes
  • Agitations or hallucinations
  • Decreased sexual desire

Physical side effects include:

  • Seizures
  • A headache
  • Dilated eyes
  • Irregular menstruation
  • Stomach pain and cramps
  • Dry mouth and hoarseness
  • Fever, sweating, or shivering
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Blue or purple color to the skin
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Inability to get or keep an erection
  • Changes in heartbeat and chest pain
  • Difficulty urinating or pain when urinating
  • Drowsiness, weakness, dizziness, and fainting
  • Severe muscle stiffness or twitching, and loss of coordination
  • Hives, rash, itching, or swelling of the eyes, face, mouth, lips or throat

Short-Term and Long-Term Health Effects

Short-term health effects of morphine use include:

  • Constipation
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Feelings of depression
  • Trouble thinking clearly

Long-term side health effects include:

  • Memory damage or loss
  • Psychological and physical addiction
  • Cardiovascular from oxygen deprivation
  • Chronic constipation, hemorrhoids, and bowel damage
  • Hyperalgesia (feeling pain more intensely than normal)
  • Heartburn and irreversible damage to the throat and esophageal passage
  • Structural changes to the brain that cause reduced impulse control and other behavioral problems
  • Brain damage that causes hormonal imbalances which lead to mood disorders, infertility, and risk of cancer

Neither the immediate side effects or the long-term health effects make the high you get from morphine worth it. But, as addiction is a disease, it is treatable. First, you need to know how using morphine with other drugs can make the damage even worse.

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Using Morphine With Other Drugs

It is unsafe to take any drug with morphine unless specifically directed to by a licensed physician. Patients should remain under regular medical supervision while taking morphine.

Which Drugs Are Commonly Used With Morphine?

Benzodiazepine is a type of psychoactive drug used to treat anxiety disorders, insomnia, and seizures.

Because of morphine’s tendency to cause anxiety, insomnia, and seizures due to long-term use, abuse, or addiction many users self medicate with “benzos.” This is a highly dangerous practice that can result in harm and death.

The side effects of benzodiazepine drugs include:

  • Disorientation
  • Sedation and lethargy
  • Feelings of depression
  • Weakness and dizziness
  • Irritability and aggression
  • Confusion and memory impairment

Because of morphine’s sedative properties, a combination of these two types of drugs is not just harmful, it can be deadly. The combined drugs can cause the brain and heart to stop functioning partly or completely.

The combination of these two drugs can often lead to overdose.

Treating Morphine Addiction

If you or someone you love has been prescribed morphine to treat pain, make sure to pay close attention to their physical and psychological symptoms.

The key to preventing addiction and death is using morphine properly and for no longer than needed.

If you or a loved one has a morphine addiction, we can help you find the treatment you need. Contact us today and speak to one of our addiction specialists.

Article Reviewed by Dr. Keerthy Sunder, MD, DFAPA

Dr. Keerthy Sunder, MD, DFAPADr. Keerthy Sunder, MD is an accomplished and internationally recognized expert in the field of addiction. He has earned diplomates from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, the American Board of Addiction Medicine, and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.