Morphine: A Guide to the Pain Medication

At the age of 21, pharmacist Freidrich Wilhelm Adam Serturner discovered morphine by conducting a series of experiments. In 1806 he published these findings. It wasn’t until 1818 that doctor Francois Magendie realized that the drug could bring pain relief and worked effectively as a sleep aid.

Fast-forward to the 21stcentury and morphine is still at the top of its class as a pain reliever. In fact, it is thought that morphine is the most effective pain reliever and is the standard that all other such medications are tested against. Could it be that an up and coming pain reliever could rival morphine? Cannabinoid (CBD) may do just that.

What is Morphine?

Morphine is a medication that has been assigned to the narcotic analgesics class of drugs, also known as opiates. The Food and Drug Administration approved morphine in 1941 for use as a pain reliever. This narcotic is obtained from the opium poppy by way of an alkaloid substance. Any opioid-based pain reliever has the opium poppy as its foundation.

What is Morphine Used For?

Doctors and healthcare providers will turn to the use of morphine as a form of pain management when other less potent pain relievers prove to be ineffective. Morphine may then be the first line of pain relief in cases where it is known that other pain relief medications will not work. Codeine, a derivative of morphine, is used for sleep and less severe pain.

Morphine, as with other prescription opioids, works by attaching to opioid receptors in the brain. This then changes the message that is sent to the brain regarding pain. When this occurs pain is no longer perceived at all or as severely as it would have been without the medication.

Recommended Dosage For Morphine

Morphine is a prescription drug. This means that it should only be taken at the direction of a healthcare provider. This pain reliever should only be taken by the prescribed individual as doses are given based on a person’s needs, history, and other health factors. Morphine, though originally given as an injection, is now available as an oral solution, tablet, capsule, injection, and suppository.

Doses are based on the needs of the individual, because of this, the dose will vary greatly. Unfortunately, long-term use may lead to the body becoming tolerant of the prescribed dose, which may require the patient to take a higher dose. This tolerance should not be confused with addiction. To prevent addiction morphine should be taken as directed, not more.

Are There Any Morphine Equivalents?

While there are a number of equivalents to morphine, two in particular rival morphine the most. These two strong opioids are Dilaudid and fentanyl. As with any medication equivalents and generic forms will arise on the pharmaceutical market.

These equivalents should not be dismissed because they are not the original form. Weighing the similarities should be the first approach.

Dilaudid vs Morphine


  • Active Ingredient – Hydromorphone hydrochloride
  • Used For – Pain relief
  • Available Forms – Tablet, oral solution, suppository, injection
  • Brand Names – Dilaudid, Exalgo


  • Active Ingredient – Morphine sulfate
  • Used For – Pain relief
  • Available Forms – Tablet, oral solution, suppository, injection
  • Brand Names – Roxanol, Kadian, Avinza, MSIR, MS-Contin, RMS3

Fentanyl vs Morphine


  • Active Ingredient – Fentanyl citrate
  • Used For – Pain relief
  • Available Forms – Spray, tablet, film, lozenge
  • Brand Names – Atiq, Fentorra, Duragesic


  • Active Ingredient – Hydromorphone hydrochloride
  • Used For – Pain relief
  • Available Forms – Tablet, oral solution, suppository, injection
  • Brand Names – Dilaudid, Exalgo

Morphine Side Effects

There are side effects with any medication. Side effects are not always harmful or concerns, they are just a natural part of putting a new substance into the body. Some side effects will disappear as the body becomes used to the drug being in the body and working properly. However, side effects can be quite severe and even life-threatening.

The causes of more severe side effects range from negative interactions, drug allergy, to overdose.

What Are The Effects Of Morphine?

Morphine is not immune to causing common and severe side effects. The user should be aware of these potential effects and notify their healthcare provider at the first sign of concern.

Common Side Effects

  • Drowsiness
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Lightheaded
  • Dry mouth
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Constipation
  • Confusion
  • Difficult or painful urination
  • Changes in sexual desire

Severe Side Effects

  • Breathing problems
  • Addiction
  • Blurred vision or other vision changes
  • Hives
  • Itching
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Increased sweating
  • Potential bowel blockage (abdominal pain, constipation, nausea)
  • Changes in the heartbeat (pounding, slow, or fast)
  • Seizures
  • Allergic reaction (swelling face or throat, nausea, and vomiting, trouble breathing, abdominal cramps).
  • Changes in menstruation
  • Fainting
  • Chest pain
  • Hallucinations or agitation
  • Blue or purple skin color

Morphine May Cause Serious Breathing Problems

During the first few days, 24 to 72 hours, of treatment with morphine serious breathing problems can arise. Increasing the dose can also lead to trouble breathing. The elderly, severely weak, or malnourished are most at risk of developing this serious side effect. Anyone with lung disease or asthma should let their doctor know before taking this medication.

Mixing morphine with alcohol or street drugs is dangerous and can quickly lead to trouble breathing.

Morphine Causes Sedation And May Lead To A Coma

At times it is necessary to administer a dose of morphine great enough to lead to sedation. Sedation is a state of calm, or sleep, generally brought on by a medication. A dose too high can lead to coma. This is a significant potential side effect that should be considered before taking morphine as a sedative.

The Effects Of Mixing Morphine And Alcohol

The mixing of most prescription medication with alcohol often leads to unwanted or dangerous side effects. Drinking alcohol or taking prescription medications that contain alcohol is not recommended when taking morphine. Breathing problems can form as a result of mixing morphine and alcohol.

The brand of morphine named Avinza is especially dangerous when mixed with alcohol. It is a long-acting morphine that may be released too quickly into the body when it comes into contact with alcohol.

Buying Morphine Online

Morphine can only be purchased with a prescription. There are some online pharmacies, especially in Canada, that will sell and ship the medication to the patient. Extreme caution should be taken when buying morphine online and should be avoided at all cost. Fraudulent online sellers are only making the opioid epidemic worse.

Morphine Abuse And Addiction

It is no secret that there is an “opioid epidemic” in today’s society. This term is thrown around a lot in mainstream media and what it essentially means is that opioid addiction is growing at a rapid rate. Morphine withdrawal is the number 3 cause of emergency room visits, both to subside the withdrawal symptoms as well as gain access to the drug.

Of the 63,600 Americans that died from drug overdoses in 2016, sixty-six percent of those were from opioids.

Morphine Withdrawal Effects

Withdrawal from morphine, whether from addiction or taking the medication as needed, can be a difficult road. The effects of withdrawal range from minor to severe. However, withdrawal symptoms should not be ignored and a healthcare provider should be consulted immediately.

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Shivering
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sweating
  • Clammy skin
  • Body aches
  • Anxiety

Alternatives To Morphine

Morphine may not be the pain-relieving medication for everyone. Allergy, past addiction, or preference may all drive an individual to seek other pain management options. There are both opioid and non-opioid alternatives to traditional morphine.

Opioid Alternatives

If morphine is not an option or preferred pain relief method there are other opioids available on the market that a prescriber may choose. Some opioid alternatives include Fentanyl, OxyContin, Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, and Dilaudid.

Non-opioid Alternatives

Over the counter pain, relievers may be the preferred method of pain management for some. Non-opioids may also be given as an individual’s pain level subsides and less aggressive forms of pain management are required. Ibuprofen can be prescribed in doses high enough to manage pain without having to take multiple capsules from over the counter options. Acetaminophen is a common household pain management medication.

CBD: The Natural Pain Medication


While opioids like morphine and Dilaudid are effective in the treatment of pain one has to ask if it is worth the risk. The risk of addiction, the painful withdrawal, and the severe side effects. If there is a natural option that is just as effective, if not more so, then shouldn’t it be made available? Shouldn’t patients have this option?

CBD is proving to be an effective method of pain management. It is thought that CBD acts in the same way as morphine by connecting to pain receptors in the brain. This natural remedy is making great progress in the treatment and management of arthritis, cancer, and other chronic pain diseases and illnesses.

How CBD Helps With Pain

Pain and discomfort are either acute or chronic. A wide variety of health conditions and diseases can lead to pain and CBD may be the perfect remedy. Inflammation is known to cause pain and discomfort and can be the result of ongoing illness or disease.

While additional human studies need to be conducted some studies show that CBD oil is effective in reducing pain and inflammation related to arthritis as the gel form of this product has an anti-inflammatory effect.

Where To Get CBD

CBD can be purchased online or at shops offering CBD and other cannabis products. As with any herb or medication, it is important to purchase from reputable suppliers only. Currently, there are only four states in the US that do not allow for CBD products to be shipped to them; Idaho, Iowa, South Dakota, and Nebraska.

Before purchasing CBD there are a few questions that should be asked concerning the suppliers and the CBD. This is not an exhaustive list, but it provides a great place to start.

  • How much THC is in the CBD product? While most manufacturers claim that CBD does not contain THC it is most beneficial to choose CBD with less than 0.03% of THC.
  • Are there any fillers in the product? Because CBD is derived from the hemp plant there is the possibility that pesticides, solvents, bacteria, and other foreign matter may make its way in. A pure CBD product should be sought.
  • What is the extraction method? It is easiest and cheapest to extract the CBD from the hemp plant via solvents. However, this is not the purest method as it can leave behind a chemical residue. The purest method is to use carbon dioxide along with high pressure and low temperatures.

Why Choose CBD Over Morphine?

After reading the facts for CBD and morphine the question begs to be asked; why choose CBD over morphine? The near lack of withdrawal symptoms with CBD is almost a good enough reason alone to choose CBD over morphine. While they are both derived from plant sources, morphine goes through a more stringent process to get to its optimal form making it more synthetic and less “natural.”

A prescription is generally not needed to obtain CBD. Side effects from CBD are rare and generally minor including nausea, sleep issues, and irritability.

Weighing the Options

This review of opioids and CBD provides the reader with the necessary tools to make an informed decision on what pain-relieving medication to choose. Will it be a synthetic pharmaceutical with known dangerous side effects and addiction or a growing herb-based remedy?

Eliminating as many unnecessary side effects as possible should be the goal of any treatment option.

The pain is enough to deal with without having to worry about how your medication will impact you. However, it must be made clear that morphine is not the enemy of pain relief. It is a necessary option at times and should be considered by weighing the benefits versus the risks. Each patient must be their own advocate for their health if able.

Farma Health Desk Editor