Morphine, Heroin, Papaver somniferum
Stories About Morphine & Heroin
Papaver somniferum features in a number of blog posts on this site. For a full list, go to the plant page.
Also known as
Big H, brown sugar, dope, golden girls, H, horse, junk, poison, skag, smack, sweet dreams, tar, train
What does it do?
Morphine and heroin are central nervous system depressants. This means they can substantially reduce pain but also produce sleep. Tests have shown morphine to be the most effective analgesic known. As a result, it is widely used in the relief of pain in cancer, especially where the cancer is terminal and issues of addiction are secondary to pain relief.
Heroin is diacetylmorphine, a chemical modification to produce the diacetate. As a result its effects are superior to morphine but so are its dangers.
In addition to its narcotic effects, morphine and heroin frequently cause severe constipation.
Is it Addictive?
Most certainly. Morphine and heroin meet the classic criteria for addiction. The lethal amount to a non-user is far lower than that for a regular user and withdrawal produces severe physical symptoms.
Perhaps the most telling demonstration of the effects of developing tolerance is seen in the number of deaths of released prisoners. Though drugs are undoubtedly available in British prisons the amounts available are restricted. Thus imprisoned addicts simply get by whilst incarcerated and, often, do not realise that their decreased use results in a decrease in tolerance. Upon release, they go straight back to their pre-imprisonment levels of consumption and die from overdose. A recent study found that men are 29 times, and women 69 times, more likely to die in the first two weeks after release from prison than the general population and many of these deaths are attributable to addicts thinking they can go back to their pre-incarceration levels of consumption.
Is it Harmful?
In Europe, there are in excess of 8,000 deaths every year as a result of a heroin overdose. Note, this is simply deaths from overdose and does not include deaths arising from the lifestyle of some addicts or the transmission of disease from sharing needles.
Deaths from morphine also arise and some, at least, are the result of deliberate action. In some cases, these deaths may be because, for the terminally ill, the amount of morphine needed for pain relief increases and it is easy to overdose. It is also possible that there are undiscovered successors to Dr Harold Shipman's mantle.
For many addicted users the harm is more in terms of the effect on lifestyle with the need to fund the habit and to engage with criminals to secure supplies which can result in criminal behaviour in the user or prostitution for both women and men.