Morphine is the most effective naturally occurring compound used for the relief of pain in medicine and surgery. It also induces sleep and produceseuphoria. The active ingredient in opium, from which it is derived, morphineis highly addictive with repeated use. Its story is the story of the founding of alkaloid chemistry, which grew out of the study of plant bases and playsan essential role in medicine.

In 1805, opium was widely used for its euphoric effects, and a German pharmacist named Friedrich Sertürner (1783-1841) decided to investigate the components of poppy juice, from which opium is derived. He found an unknown acid, converted it into a crystalline precipitate, and named it principium somniferum. Having determined that this substance was the active ingredient in opium, in 1809 he recommended the cultivation of the poppy on a large scale as away to further the national economy since morphine was used in the productionof the popular drug and poppy seed oil.

In 1815, Sertürner and three young volunteers each took three 30 mg doses of principium somniferum over a period of 45 minutes, and were not fully themselves again until several days later. In 1817 he published a paper describing the drug, in which he changed its name to morphium , after Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams. The same year, the name was changed to "morphine"by the French chemist Joseph Gay-Lussac.

During the 1800s, the French physiologist François Magendie advanced the use of morphine in medicine, administering it both orally and by injection. Morphine's greatest medical advantage is its depressant action, which causes the threshold of pain to rise, relieving pain many other analgesics are unable to control. Its narcotic properties also produce a calming effect, protecting the body's system in traumatic shock. Its greatest disadvantage, however, is its addictiveness.

Morphine is an alkaloid, which means that it is an organic compound that contains carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen, and which forms a water-soluble salt. Thechemistry of alkaloids is crucial in medicine; the analgesic properties of the opium alkaloids are a case in point, but other examples of important alkaloids include strychnine, which is a respiratory stimulant; codeine, which isa painkiller; and conine, which is the active ingredient in hemlock and was responsible for the poisoning of Socrates (469 B.C.-399 B.C.). Sertürner's groundbreaking research provided the foundations for the field of alkaloid chemistry and these contributions to medicine.

Morphine's popularity on the Civil War battlefields boosted its general use in the treatment of many kinds of discomfort, and a leading British doctor called morphine "God's own medicine." However, thousands of people worldwide were tragically addicted. Many chronicles of addiction have been written,including Eugene O'Neill's (1888-1953) semi-autobiographical play Long Day's Journey Into Night. Once addicted, a person is likely to experience severe symptoms of withdrawal, including pain, hyperventilation, restlessnessand confusion.

In 1898, the Bayer corporation synthesized heroin from morphine and marketedit as an antidote to morphine addiction, but the concurrent moral reform movements were beginning to give rise to anti-opiate sentiments, and morphine's popularity and acceptance began to decline. Today, morphine is often replacedin medicine by methadone, which also treats chronic pain and prevents morphine withdrawal symptoms.

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