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The Greek god of dreams goes by the name Morpheus. It is fitting then, that one of the most soothing, as well as one of the most dangerous pain relief drugs takes its name from him. It was so named because it is effective at causing deep sleep and euphoria, but there is a lot more to morphine than just sleeping soundly. While it’s a commonly used drug in the health care industry, its use carries with it certain risks that every patient should be aware of.

What is Morphine?

This drug is a common and effective opiate analgesic drug that’s typically used to treat severe pain in medical patients. Morphine has its origins in the early 1800s, when it was first identified by Friedrich Sertürner. After a few years of tests and trials, he made it available for the first time in 1817. It became commercially available via Merck in 1827.

As its status as an opiate would indicate, it is created by chemically processing opium, which comes from the opium poppy. This medication is a Schedule II drug. This means that it has medical uses, but has high potential for dependency.

Why is Morphine Prescribed?

Because of its potency, it is considered the benchmark for all analgesics used in the relief of severe suffering and pain. More specifically, it is the drug of choice for addressing chronic pain, both severe and acute. Other applications include treatment for myocardial infarction, labor pains, and until recently when scientific findings refuted the practice, acute pulmonary edema.

Morphine classified as “immediate release” has been found to be useful in addressing certain symptoms of cancer, as well as acute shortness of breath.

How does Morphine Affect the Body?

The ability of the medicine to counter physical pain is thanks to its ability to effectively mimic endorphins, which are neurotransmitters naturally produced by the pituitary gland. They are typically associated with feelings of excitement, pain, sexual arousal, and general pleasure. It shares the ability of endorphins to induce analgesia, which is the reduction of pain. In other words, this can cause sleepiness and feelings of pleasure.

While effective at reducing chronic pain, can also affect the body in a number of undesirable ways. The effect of this drug on the immune system is well documented. Since the 1970s, evidence has piled up that says that morphine may weaken the immune system of the patient in question, thereby increasing their risk of infection and other complications.

How does Morphine Affect the Body When Abused?

Recent studies have confirmed that the use of morphine may cause mild impairments of motor, attention, and sensory abilities. Given the fact that morphine is a depressant that acts on the central nervous system, this is not especially surprising. High doses of morphine can cause a degradation of fine motor skills, though no conclusive studies have proved a correlation between morphine use and impaired gross motor skills.

Those who use morphine and other opiates in excessive amounts over extended periods of time may not present physical symptoms consistently, but there is evidence that short-term visual memory may be negatively affected.

The abuse of morphine has also been linked to:

  • Increased risk of lapses in consciousness
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Suffocation
  • Coma

When all is said and done, it is the combined effects of morphine tolerance and risk of overdose that present the most danger to morphine abusers. Because the body can build up a tolerance to morphine, more of the drug is required to reach the same state of euphoria each time it is ingested. Because of this, the risk of a fatal overdose increases dramatically as the chronic misuse of morphine continues.

How is Morphine Dangerous?

Morphine is derived from the dried latex of the opium poppy. Opium itself contains about 12% morphine, which is an integral component in the creation of heroin. It goes without saying, then, that morphine is a highly controlled substance, rife with dangers if it’s abused or over-prescribed by a doctor.

Even without getting into the question of morphine abuse, the drug itself is associated with certain adverse effects. Like other opiates, morphine can sometimes cause severe constipation in patients. Of course, this is to say nothing of morphine’s addictive qualities. Morphine addiction is a real danger and is regrettably too common. It has been known to cause dependence of both the psychological and physical varieties. Moreover, a tolerance to morphine may develop over time. This is caused by the desensitization of the receptors responsible for the proper processing of morphine. Tolerance lessens the effectiveness of the drug and necessitates higher doses.

Even taken in moderation, however, morphine is responsible for some truly harrowing withdrawal symptoms. The withdrawal process for morphine is identified by six distinct stages which are associated with ever-worsening symptoms such as cramping, involuntary leg movements, heavy perspiration, depression, runny nose, hot flashes, and more.

By the sixth stage of morphine withdrawal, which typically occurs more than three days after the last dose, the patient will have recovered their appetite on at least a small scale, and resumed normal bowel function. However, even after the physical symptoms of morphine withdrawal have receded, or at least lessened in intensity, the psychological dependence may remain. As mentioned previously, morphine is a habit- forming drug on a physical, as well as a psychological level.

Of course, the ultimate danger for any addictive substance is an overdose. If a morphine user overdoses, they may experience asphyxia. Asphyxia is a severe difficulty breathing on account of a severe deficiency of oxygen in the body. Asphyxia may lead to death by respiratory depression if it goes unaddressed. The treatment for a morphine overdose is, thankfully, fairly easy to administer providing the patient is treated quickly. Naloxone is known to reverse the effects of morphine, but it may bring about symptoms of withdrawal.

How Does One Go About Getting Help for Morphine Addiction?

While morphine addiction is a regrettably common addiction, it’s easy to find support in your area. A quick internet search will yield many options that will point you in the right direction toward addiction treatment.

There are websites and hotlines that you can reach out to for help. Somebody will be standing by to point you toward the nearest treatment facility. Best of all, there are many inpatient facilities available to choose from that can give you the care and attention you need to help get through the difficult detox process.

Addiction can be insidious; you might not know you’re in danger until it’s too late. If you suspect you’ve developed a morphine addiction, or fear you may be in danger of developing one, let this be the encouragement you need to seek treatment as soon as possible. You’ll be glad you did.

For those who may have a friend or a loved one who has become dependent on morphine, don’t waste any time encouraging them to seek help. Morphine can be one of the most dangerous drugs when used recreationally, even if no obvious physical symptoms present themselves. If you suspect that somebody close to you is suffering from morphine addiction, sometimes a firm hand is needed to get them to a nearby treatment facility. They may not thank you immediately, but you’ll have their thanks soon enough.

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