Most mind-altering drugs can be put into one of a few main categories. Stimulants are the drugs that ‘stimulate’ the body, increasing a person’s energy level and speeding up many bodily functions. In contrast, depressants are substances that ‘depress’ the body, causing intense drowsiness and slowing down many bodily functions. Hallucinogens are, as you may have guess, a group of drugs with dissociative and hallucinogenic properties. Meanwhile, opiates — though often classified as ‘depressants’ — warrant separation due to the many different opiates that exist and the fact that opiate addiction has reached epidemic-level proportions. Among the opiates that are extremely problematic, morphine is one to know about. In particular, we should know where it comes from, its effects, how it’s used, and how to treat morphine addiction.
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What exactly is morphine?
Before we review morphine, it’s necessary to look back on the opiate class of drugs as a whole, starting with the substance that started it all: opium. There’s archaeological evidence of the use of opium for various purposes — for medical procedures, spiritual practices, and even recreationally — dating back at least seven thousand years. For the most part, opium cultivation and use originated in the Mediterranean region of Europe/Asia before spreading into surrounding regions. Soon enough, populations in ancient Egypt, Syria, Greece, and modern-day Iran were using opium. However, it was when opium reached China that the drug became infamous.
After being introduced to Chinese culture, opium quickly became a hot commodity. The Chinese population learned the hard way just how addictive opium can be, resulting in widespread use and addiction. In fact, a number of so-called ‘opium dens’ sprung up throughout China, serving as places where users could go to use the drug. By the nineteenth century, Chinese emigrants had begun introducing opium to many other countries, including the Americas in the West. At the time, the United States was on the brink of the American Civil War, resulting in opium being used by and on soldiers. Meanwhile, opium dens began to appear across the U.S., too. Much like child had beforehand, the U.S. was learning about the addictive power of opium firsthand.
This led to an odd situation: Opium was extremely useful and effective in certain circumstances, but its addictive potential made it a huge risk to use at all. Therefore, chemists began hoping to develop an opium derivative that offered many of the same therapeutic effects while eliminating or minimizing the negative effects. It was during experimentation with opium that we learned opium’s active effects were the result of two main alkaloids that opium contains: codeine and morphine. The latter quickly became a staple painkiller for wounded soldiers throughout the Civil War; as well, morphine came to be used quite extensively in hospitals for surgical procedures.
Unfortunately, while morphine was considered a preferable alternative to opium, opium itself was still needed. Much of the world was becoming dependent on opium, either for medicinal or recreational purposes. At a point, China attempted to suppress the export of opium, which led to Britain sending warships to the Chinese coast in what would be the First Opium War.
In the years since its discovery, morphine has been a very important opiate substance. In fact, morphine has served as the basis of many other well-known and widely used opiate substances, including oxycodone, hydromorphone, and even heroin. For this reason, morphine is at the root of much of the world’s problem with painkillers.
Effects of morphine?
Although morphine is certainly a substance of abuse today, morphine tends to be abused much less frequently on the street. More often than not, morphine is used in hospitals and in other surgical settings, but that’s not to say that morphine abuse doesn’t happen at all. One of the reasons why morphine is one of the most popular drugs for surgical use is because it doesn’t have the same level of euphoric effects. When a person takes morphine, typically the drug causes slowed or shallow breathing, itchiness, slowed heart rate and/or irregular rhythm, constricted or ‘pinpoint’ pupils, confusion, drowsiness, constipation, and similar effects. However, there are a number of even more unpleasant effects associated with morphine.
Some of the negative side effects include loss of appetite and dramatic weight loss, seemingly unprovoked mood swings, seizures, loss of consciousness, dizziness, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, and urinary retention.
Morphine withdrawal symptoms
When a person takes morphine frequently over an extended period of time, he or she is likely to become physiologically dependent on the substance. In other words, he or she becomes addicted. When addicted to morphine, a person experiences a number of negative effects when he or she is unable to obtain or imbibe morphine. Some of the symptoms that are most characteristic of morphine withdrawal include insomnia, sweating, nausea, diarrhea and/or vomiting, anxiety, agitation, mood swings, trembling hands, restlessness, yawning, watery eyes, running nose, sneezing, physical discomfort throughout the body, lack of appetite, extreme cravings for the drug, abdominal cramping, and intermittent hot flashes and cold chills. Typically, these symptoms will persevere until the individual is able to consume more morphine.