Morphine is a narcotic analgesic drug, which means that it is a downer painkiller. It is most commonly given intravenously (by injection) for more rapid results, but it can also effectively be given orally. It has a remarkable ability to reduce physical distress, and its calming effect protects against exhaustion in traumatic shock, internal hemorrhage, and several other conditions. This drug is truly a miracle worker.
Morphine is an opiate, coming from the poppy seed. It was first isolated from opium in 1803 (some sources say 1806) by the German pharmacist F. W. A. Serturner, who named it after Morpheus, the god of dreams. Morphine was first used as a painkiller, and mistakenly, as a cure for opium addiction. Morphine quickly replaced opium as a cure-all recommended by doctors, not to mention its popularity as a recreational drug. The exchange of morphine addiction for that of alcohol was considered positive for the reason that alcohol was harder on the body, and more likely to trigger antisocial behavior. By the time heroin was discovered in 1874, morphine had already addicted hundreds of thousands of people. Soon heroin found its way to the level of morphine and codeine. Since the practice of selling patent medicines had no regulation until 1906, with the Pure Food and Drug Act, it was common to simply mail order any of these drugs.
Morphine played a part in the American Civil War as well. Not only was it commonly the companion of a soldier injured on the field, it often returned home with many of the soldiers, as a relief of pain. With the benefit of a pain free hospital visit came the drawbacks of addiction. It got so bad in America that in 1887, Congress passed a bill prohibiting the importation of opium. With this came the development of a huge black market for crude opium. However, the patent uses of morphine, heroin, and codeine continued to be used legally. In fact, heroin was available in a cough suppressant in 1898. Fascinatingly, the typical users were white middle-class women.
In 1914, legislation was passed to prohibit narcotics use with the exception of medicinal purposes. This simply changed the manner in which people got the drugs. During the Vietnam War the use of heroin reached epidemic proportions, with the soldiers return home, treatment clinics were set up across the country, and methadone was introduced as a part of addiction treatment.
Morphine acts directly on the central nervous system. As well as relieving pain, it impairs mental and physical performance, relieves fear and anxiety, and produces euphoria. It also decreases hunger, inhibits the cough reflex, produces constipation, and usually reduces sex drive; in women, it may meddle with the menstrual cycle. Morphine is highly addictive. Tolerance (the need for an increased dosage to maintain the same effect) and physical as well as psychological dependency develops quickly. Withdrawal from morphine causes nausea, tearing, yawning, chills, and sweating that lasts up to three days. Also, morphine often crosses the placental barrier, which means that babies born to morphine using mothers usually go through withdrawal.
Morphine has brought a surplus of help to the fight against pain. It is addictive; however, it brings so many benefits, and it is rarely used illicitly, anymore. Morphine has truly been a blessing to the medical field. There is no wonder why they call morphine the most effective drug for the relief of pain.
Morphine. The New Encyclopaedia Britannica: Micropaedia 15th ed. 1995.