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 today and sets the standard by which all other opiate potency is tested. The potential for morphine addiction is very high, both physically and psychologically.
Morphine was discovered by Freidrich Wilhelm Adam Serturner (1783-1841), an obscure, uneducated, 21-year-old pharmacist’s assistant with little equipment but loads of curiosity.
Serturner 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, he managed to isolate an organic alkaloid compound from the resinous gum secreted by the opium poppy.
Serturner found that opium with the alkaloid removed had no effect on animals, but the alkaloid itself had 10 times the power of processed opium. He named that substance morphine, after Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams, for its tendency to cause sleep.
He spent several years experimenting with morphine, often on himself, learning its therapeutic effects as well as its considerable dangers. Although his work was initially ignored, he recognized its significance, and as he predicted, chemists and physicians soon grew interested in his discoveries. Serturner’s crystallization of morphine was the first isolation of a natural plant alkaloid. It sparked the study of alkaloid chemistry and hastened the emergence of the modern pharmaceutical industry.
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. Many new pain relievers have been synthesized since the crystallization of morphine from opium almost 200 years ago. “Morphine remains the standard against which all new medications for postoperative pain relief are compared,” notes Jonathan Moss, MD, PhD, professor of anesthesia and critical care at the University of Chicago.
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. 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, the increase of morphine use in the United States has increased dramatically in the last several years. According to the DEA, there has been a three-fold increase in the number of morphine products available in the U.S. 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.
If you or someone you know has become addicted to the pain relief powers of morphine please contact our toll free number at (877) 259-5633. We can also help with information you may need on symptoms and effects of morphine use.