What is Morphine & Why is it Dangerous?

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Morphine is a painkiller and a central nervous system (CNS) depressant. It is used in situations that require substantial pain relief, such as with late-stage cancer patients or after a severe injury. 

Morphine is also used for treating long-term, chronic pain when lesser painkillers, such as acetaminophen, are no longer strong enough to ease chronic pain. 

There are two different forms of morphine: immediate-release and extended-release. Both of these are only available by prescription. 

Morphine is typically not recommended as a first-line drug by the CDC or other medical professionals, except for treating terminal cancer pain. This is because physical dependence or overdose can easily occur, even under medical supervision.

lethal dose of morphine

Morphine is typically not recommended as a first-line drug by the CDC or other medical professionals, except for treating terminal cancer pain. This is because physical dependence or overdose can easily occur, even under medical supervision. 

How Addictive is Morphine?

Although morphine is naturally-derived primarily, it is still a prescription opioid painkiller. As with all opioids, there is a high risk of developing an addiction or misusing morphine. 

You can become physically addicted to this drug after very little exposure. As stated above, this can even occur under supervision with recommended dosage levels.

Symptoms of Morphine Addiction

Several symptoms can be telltale signs of morphine addiction. Unlike adverse reactions or side effects from the drug itself, these symptoms tend to manifest in behavioral changes or longer-term physical changes.

Symptoms to watch for that accompany morphine addiction include: 

  • Ignoring important social activities
  • Irritation
  • Aggression
  • Dramatic weight loss
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Financial difficulties

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Can You Overdose on Morphine?

Yes, it is very easily possible to overdose on morphine. Overdoses are common and can happen at any time. They can occur whether you have been taking morphine for a while or having never taken it before receiving your first dose. 

How Much Morphine Does it Take to Overdose?

It generally takes only 200 milligrams to overdose on morphine. However, in some cases, overdoses can occur with as little as 60 mg. 

Some people suffering from morphine addiction can become tolerant to such high doses as 2000 mg per day, which can cause other long-term adverse effects. 

Overdosing on morphine does not have to be fatal. Many people recover from an overdose if they are given prompt medical care. That is why it is essential to seek medical assistance immediately if you suspect that you or someone you know has overdosed on morphine. 

Symptoms of Morphine Overdose

Symptoms and side effects of morphine overdose include:  

  • Agitation
  • Increased heart rate
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Fever
  • Hallucinations
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Cold or clammy skin
  • Bluish lips or fingernails
  • Pupil constriction
  • Blurry vision
  • Vomiting
  • Severe constipation
  • Respiratory depression
  • Limp muscles
  • Loss of consciousness

Risk Factors for Morphine Complications 

Risk factors for developing complications when taking morphine include:

  • Advanced age
  • Poor liver or kidney function
  • Emphysema
  • Sleep apnea
  • Taking other drugs, including oxycodone, benzodiazepines, or other substances
  • Abusing morphine or taking more than prescribed
  • Depression
  • Social anxiety or other social issues
  • Inadequate treatment for chronic pain

What is the Lethal Dose of Morphine? 

The lethal dose of morphine is only 200 mg, though in extreme cases, a fatal overdose can occur with as little as 60 mg administered.

Lethal doses depend heavily on several factors, such as the patient’s size and tolerance level for morphine. Regardless of these factors, a fatal overdose could quickly occur if any patient is given two-to-three times more than their typical dosage at once.

What to Do if You Overdose on Morphine

The first thing that should be done if you or someone you know has overdosed on morphine is to call for medical help.

If specialized overdose-treatment services are unable to respond within minutes, or the overdose occurs somewhere other than home, call 911 immediately. Any overdose is a life-threatening emergency that requires immediate action. 

If you would prefer to avoid going to the hospital in this situation, plan to get the help needed promptly.

How to Treat Morphine Overdoses

Morphine overdose is typically treated with a medication called naloxone. It works by blocking opioid receptors in the brain.

In some cases, overdose can be treated onsite with naloxone, as more people carry it on-hand due to the current opioid epidemic. However, naloxone can only be administered by a certified individual, so calling for medical help is typically your best option. 

Naloxone may also cause immediate withdrawal symptoms in long-term morphine users. This is another reason why it is best to let doctors and other healthcare professionals treat overdoses.

Some patients may require multiple doses of naloxone, and serious complications can still occur even after several shots of the opioid antagonist. It may also take several days for residual morphine to be cleared from the body.

How to Prevent Opioid Overdoses

The best way to prevent opioid overdoses is to address the root cause and prevent unnecessary opioid use and addiction. This includes:

  • Improving the opioid prescription process
  • Reducing exposure to opioids for everyone, especially youth
  • Preventing misuse through education
  • Treating opioid use disorder

Treatment for Opioid Misuse & Addiction

Treatment for opioid addiction often requires addressing the underlying conditions that lead to addictive behavior in the first place. With morphine, this is not always the case since a physical dependence can be formed even under medical supervision with proper dosing being followed. 

In any case, treatment involves dealing with withdrawal symptoms and coping with intense cravings. These are best managed in the presence of a dedicated healthcare team that specializes in addiction treatment. 

Supervised treatment options will often include a combination of medication to treat withdrawal and therapy to address cravings and the mental difficulties associated with recovering from addiction. Treatment plans vary in length and can transition into an outpatient program if progress is being made.

If you or a loved one is suffering from morphine addiction, get in touch with your local healthcare provider for more information.

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Resources +

National Center for Biotechnology Information (2021). PubChem Compound Summary for CID 5288826, Morphine. Retrieved March 29, 2021 from https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Morphine.

Murphy PB, Bechmann S, Barrett MJ. Morphine. [Updated 2020 May 30]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK526115/

Listos, J., Łupina, M., Talarek, S., Mazur, A., Orzelska-Górka, J., & Kotlińska, J. (2019). The Mechanisms Involved in Morphine Addiction: An Overview. International journal of molecular sciences, 20(17), 4302. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms20174302

Cepeda MS, Carr DB. Women experience more pain and require more morphine than men to achieve a similar degree of analgesia. Anesth Analg. 2003 Nov;97(5):1464-8. doi: 10.1213/01.ane.0000080153.36643.83. PMID: 14570666. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14570666/

LiverTox: Clinical and Research Information on Drug-Induced Liver Injury [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases; 2012-. Morphine. [Updated 2020 Nov 24]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK548230/

Saedi Marghmaleki, V., Alaei, H. A., Azizi Malekabadi, H., & Pilehvarian, A. (2013). Effect of Physical Activity on Symptoms of Morphine Addiction in Rats, after and before of Lesion of the mPFC Area. Iranian journal of basic medical sciences, 16(10), 1091–1099. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3874096/

Gálvez R, Pérez C. Is morphine still the best reference opioid? Pain Manag. 2012 Jan;2(1):33-45. doi: 10.2217/pmt.11.78. PMID: 24654616. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24654616/

Norn S, Kruse PR, Kruse E. Opiumsvalmuen og morfin gennem tiderne [History of opium poppy and morphine]. Dan Medicinhist Arbog. 2005;33:171-84. Danish. PMID: 17152761. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17152761/

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