By Anthony McDaniel, M.D.
Morphine (MS Contin, MSIR, Avinza, Kadian, Oramorph, Roxanol, Kapanol) is a potent opiate analgesic medication and is considered to be the prototypical opioid. It was discovered in 1804 by Friedrich Sertürner, first distributed by same in 1817, and first commercially sold by Merck in 1827, which at the time was a single small chemists' shop. It was more widely used after the invention of the hypodermic needle in 1857. It took its name from the Greek God of dreams Morpheus.
Morphine is the most abundant alkaloid found in opium, the dried sap (latex) derived from shallowly slicing the unripe seedpods of the opium, or common or edible, poppy, Papaver somniferum. Morphine was the first active principle purified from a plant source and is one of at least 50 alkaloids of several different types present in opium, Poppy Straw Concentrate, and other poppy derivatives. Morphine is generally 8 to 17 per cent of the dry weight of opium, although specially-bred cultivars reach 26 per cent or produce little morphine at all, under 1 per cent, perhaps down to 0.04 per cent. The latter varieties, including the 'Przemko' and 'Norman' cultivars of the opium poppy, are used to produce two other alkaloids, thebaine and oripavine, which are used in the manufacture of semi-synthetic and synthetic opioids like oxycodone and etorphine and some other types of drugs.(P. bracteatum) does not contain morphine or codeine, or other narcotic phenanthrene-type, alkaloids. This species is rather a source of thebaine. Occurrence of morphine in other papaverales and papaveraceae, as well as in some species of hops and mulberry trees has not been confirmed. Morphine is produced most predominantly early in the life cycle of the plant. Past the optimum point for extraction, various processes in the plant produce codeine, thebaine, and in some cases negligible amounts of hydromorphone, dihydromorphine, dihydrocodeine, tetrahydrothebaine, and hydrocodone (these compounds are rather synthesized from thebaine and oripavine). The human body produces endorphines, which are neuropeptides, with similar effects.
In clinical medicine, morphine is regarded as the gold standard, or benchmark, of analgesics used to relieve severe or agonizing pain and suffering. Like other opioids, such as oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet, Percodan), hydromorphone (Dilaudid, Palladone), and diacetylmorphine (heroin), morphine acts directly on the central nervous system (CNS) to relieve pain. Unlike the opioids, Morphine is an opiate and a natural product. Morphine has a high potential for addiction; tolerance and psychological dependence develop rapidly, although Physiological dependence may take several months to develop. A large overdose can cause asphyxia and death by respiratory depression if the person does not receive medical attention immediately. Treatments include administration of activated charcoal, intravenous fluids, laxatives and naloxone. The latter completely reverses morphine's effects, but precipitates immediate onset of withdrawal in opiate-addicted subjects. Multiple doses may be needed. The minimum lethal dose is 200 mg but in case of hypersensitivity 60 mg can bring sudden death. In case of drug addiction, 2-3 g/day can be tolerated.
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