Morphine is a strong opioid pain killer, used for the relief of intense, agonizing pain. It’s chemical formula is C17H19NO3. Morphine is the most common alkaloid in opium, usually accounting for about 10 percent of the weight of a typical sample of opium.
To make morphine, opium is gathered from the seed pods of Papaver somniferum poppies. The opium farmer will make a series of shallow incisions in the skin of the poppy seed pod. The opium will flow from these incisions, and harden. The farmer will then scrape the opium off of the outside of the pod the next day. To isolate morphine, 10 to 15 kilograms of solid opium (about 5 acres of poppies worth) is added to a barrel of boiling water. The opium dissolves, and calcium hydroxide (lime) is added to turn the morphine into calcium morphenate. Any impurities, such as sticks or leaves, and the other alkaloids settle to the bottom at this point. The still liquid calcium morphenate is then poured through cloth to filter out any further impurities. This liquid is then reheated, and ammonium chloride is added. Once the solution cools, the morphine hydrochloride forms a precipitate that can be filtered out, to get about 1.5 kilograms of morphine “base”. This morphine base is usually made right at the poppy fields, and then transported to laboratories. The final steps in converting morphine base into the safe medical morphine we get in North America are done in sterile labs. Using ether and hydrochloric acid, these labs transform the brown morphine base into the white powdered morphine used by pharmaceutical companies. Overall the isolation of morphine is relatively simple compared to most other drugs, so there is nearly no synthesized morphine oh the market today.
Morphine, legally, is used most often as a painkiller. It affects the nervous system directly, by stopping the pain signals from getting to the brain of the patient. This prevents the patient from feeling the pain. Morphine is used in cases such as severe back pain, post-operational pain, pain from injuries and in palliative care for the pain from incurable diseases like cancer. Morphine can also be used, though it is much less common, as a cough medicine and to relieve severe diarrhea, such as the kind caused by AIDS. Until the 1960’s morphine was also used as an antidepressant, and to lower blood sugar in diabetics. Like all opioids, morphine acts very differently on those not in pain. When used recreationally it causes euphoria and sedation.
Overall morphine is a very beneficial drug to humanity. It decreases the suffering of many people whom would otherwise have unbearable pain. It also makes the last few days tolerable for many palliative care patients. Morphine does have minor side effects when used as prescribed, such as drowsiness, headaches, nausea, constipation, confusion, vomiting, difficult urination or skin rashes. Most of morphine’s dangers come with its addictiveness. Psychological dependence can come after just a few days of morphine use, while physical dependence can take months. Withdrawal from morphine is incredibly painful, and includes symptoms such as muscle and bone pain, shakiness, twitching and anxiety. Overdose is another danger of morphine use, because it can cause slowed breathing, convulsions, coma or even death. While most use of morphine is beneficial, its dosage should be carefully watched to ensure it is not being abused.
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