Other Names


morfina, morphin, morphinium, morphium

Substance type: opium alkaloid

Sometime around 1803 and 1804, Friedrich

Wilhelm Adam Serturner (1783-1841), a

pharmacist's assistant, first isolated morphine as

the "sleep-inducing principle" in opium (cf.

Papaver somniferum, opium alkaloids). This

achievement was the most important "quantum

leap" in the history of pharmacology and represents the beginning of the true chemical investigation

of plants. Today, the Serturner Medal is still

awarded for exceptional work in pharmaceutics.

Morphine may also be present in Papaver

decaisnei Hochst., Papaver dubium 1. [syn. Papaver

modestum Jordan, Papaver obtusifolium Desf.],

and Papaver hybridum 1. (Slavik and Slavikova

1980). Whether morphine occurs in Argemone

mexicana and other Papaver species (Papaver

spp.) is doubtful, while the idea that hops (Humulus

lupulus) contains morphine is a figment of

someone's imagination. Tiny traces of the

substance have been found in hay and lettuce (cf.

Lactuca virosa) (Amann and Zenk 1996, 19).

Morphine has also been detected in the skin of Bufo marinus toads (cf. bufotenine) (Amann and

Zenk 1996, 18).

Since the time when morphine was first

detected in breast milk, cow's milk, and human

cerebrospinal fluid, it has been known that it is a

natural endogenous neurotransmitter in higher

vertebrates, including humans (Amann and Zenk

1996; Cardinale et al. 1987; Hazum et al. 1981).

Morphine does not bind well to the encephalin

receptors (to which the endorphins dock) but

docks at the specific morphine (m) receptors

(Hazum et al. 1981). It is most likely biosynthesized

in the body from dopamineA neurotransmitter associated with movement, attention, learning, and the brain’s pleasure and reward system. (Brossi 1991).

Another closely related substance, codeine, is also

endogenous in humans (Cardinale et al. 1987).

Morphine is the best and strongest natural

painkiller known. Its efficaciousness is surpassed

only by that of the synthetic morphine analogs

(heroin, fentanyl). Morphine is particularly well

suited for treating chronic pain, such as in cancer

therapy (Amann and Zenk 1996; Melzack 1991).

Endogenous morphine constitutes the body's own

pain medication:

Studies on rats have shown that among

animals who were suffering from arthritis,

morphine concentrations in the spinal cord

and urine were significantly elevated. Because

of this, it is assumed today that the organism

produces increased amounts of morphine in

certain disease states. Consequently, endogenous

morphine may serve to regulate pain

in the organism. Morphine exists in animal

and human tissue and is excreted in significant

amounts in the urine. (Amann and Zenk


About 30 mg orallyRoute of administration in which the subject swallows a substance. represents an effective

dosage. Habitual morphine users may use as much

as 1 g per day (Hirschfeld and Linsert 1930,255*):

It is known that opium eaters experience a

significant increase in sexual functions during

the initial period of opium consumption.

During opium inebriation, erotic images

appear and may even include extraordinary

sexual fantasies.... The effects of morphine

are similar, where an increase in sexual

excitability was observed following several

weeks of taking 0.03 to 0.06 g per day. (Max

Marcuse, 1923, Handworterbuch der Sexualwissenschaft

[Handbook of Sexual Sciences] )

When used for sedation, in anesthesia, and for

calming and antispasmodic purposes, pharmaceutical

preparations of morphine hydrochloride and

atropine sulfate or morphine hydrochloride and scopolamine

hydrobromide are used-the final

reminders of the recipes for the former soporific


During the Golden Twenties, the use of morphine

in Berlin society circles was depicted in

numerous pictures and illustrations (e.g., by Paul

Kamm) that appeared in magazines. These illustrations

played a great role in creating the stereotype

of the "Morphinist" (cf. Papaver somniferum),

who also became the object of literary treatments

(Bulgaka 1971; Mac From 1931). Even the life

story of the man who first discovered the substance,

Friedrich Wilhelm Sertiirner, became the

subject of a novel (Schumann-Ingolstadt n.d.).

Heroin, a derivative of morphine, has also inspired

a rich body of literature. One of the first of this

was the novel Heroin, by Rudolf Brunngraber

(1952*), which dealt with the role of heroin in

Egypt during the Golden Twenties.

Morphine was and still is a popular inebriant

in the music scene (particularly that of jazz and

rock). "Sister Morphine," a song by the Rolling

Stones (Sticky Fingers, Virgin Records, 1971), is

arguably the most famous hymn to the drug.

Morphine, a crossover band that mixes elements

of cool jazz and modern rock, took its name from

the alkaloid, and one of its albums is titled Cure for

Pain (Rykodisc, 1993).

Top Contributors