Updated on November 22, 2023
7 min read

Opium - Side Effects, Risks, & Treatment

What Are the Side Effects of Opium?

Opium is heavily regulated due to its addiction risks and common side effects, including:

  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Euphoria
  • Tiredness
  • Headache
  • Stomach pain
  • Vomiting
  • Dry mouth
  • Flushing
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness and lightheadedness
  • Low blood pressure
  • Itching and rash
  • Seizure
  • Red eyes

Severe Opium Side Effects

Alert your doctor right away for medical advice if you have more serious side effects, such as:

  • Agitation
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Blurred vision
  • Severe stomach or abdominal pain
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Fainting
  • Seizures
  • Slow or shallow breathing
  • Profound fatigue or difficulty remaining awake

What Is Opium?

Opium is a narcotic known for its pain-relief properties. Many civilizations worldwide have been using this ancient drug for over 8,000 years. 

Users may abuse this potent substance for its psychoactive and euphoric effects, leading to harmful consequences. Therefore, its use, possession, and distribution are tightly controlled by federal law. 

While opium is generally not used directly for medical purposes in its raw form, it is processed to produce other opioid medications. Opium derivatives, such as morphine and codeine, are used legally for medical purposes under strict regulations.


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How Is Opium Created?

Opium is derived from the latex of the opium poppy plant (Papaver somniferum). It serves as a foundational element for the synthesis of legal opioid prescription drugs, including:

Opium is also a key ingredient in the illicit drug heroin. 

What Does Opium Look Like?

In its raw form, opium extraction from seed capsules of the poppy plant is a milky substance called "latex." The latex is processed and manufactured into various opioid products.

Users can smoke, inject, drink, or snort these variants. Some can take them in tablet form.

Opium Poppy Plants
Opium Poppy Plants
Opium Milky
Opium Plant Dripping "Latex"

Processed Opium
Opium Tincture
Opium Tincture

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What Precautions Should You Take Before Taking Opioids?

Before using any derivative of opium, give your doctor your full medical history. This is especially important if you or your family has any history of:

  • Neurological conditions (e.g., epilepsy and migraine)
  • Breathing problems
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Drug use
  • Stomach problems
  • Prostate, pancreas, or gallbladder issues

Opium can also pass into breast milk and affect nursing babies. If you’re pregnant or plan on getting pregnant, speak with your doctor first. Request complete drug information before starting any opioid medications.

What Are the Medical Uses of Opioids?

Opium receptors regulate processes such as pain perception, mood, and reward. Opioid drugs help moderate pain by binding to these receptors in the central nervous system (CNS). 

Depending on the specific receptor subtype and brain region involved, they can suppress pain signals and induce euphoria or relaxation.

Currently, many FDA-approved opioid medications treat moderate to severe pain. They come in many different forms and have varying levels of potency.

The FDA approved the following opium-derived medications to treat moderate to severe pain.

  • Morphine 
  • Codeine
  • Hydrocodone
  • Oxycodone
  • Hydromorphone
  • Fentanyl 

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What Are the Potential Risks and Addiction Factors of Opioid Use?

Excessive drug consumption can depress the CNS to the point of slowed breathing. This suppression can lead to dangerously low oxygen levels or completely stop breathing altogether.

Opioids also carry a substantial risk of addiction, as they induce behavioral and motivational changes in the brain. Consequently, doctors exercise caution when prescribing opioids, so users should adhere rigorously to their prescriptions.

The Opioid Crisis in America

Illegal use of opioids is a significant problem worldwide, particularly in the U.S. In 2020, opioids contributed nearly 75% of all drug overdose fatalities. Over 13,000 people lost their lives due to heroin overdose. 

That value equates to 4 fatalities for every 100,000 Americans. The misuse and illegal sale of prescription drugs is also a concerning trend. 

The number of deaths involving opioids in the U.S. increased significantly from 68,630 in 2020 to 80,411 in 2021.

Many turn to illicit opioids for a euphoric high. In contrast, others resort to cheaper alternatives due to addiction to prescription opioids.

How Does Opium Dependence Look?

Dependence describes a person's physical and psychological loss of control. Abuse or misuse of the drug occurs when a person:

  • Consumes more of the drug than prescribed
  • Takes medicine without a prescription altogether
  • Uses it in any way other than intended

What Are the Symptoms of Opium Addiction?

Opioids pose a serious risk of drug abuse and dependence. Those who fall victim to opioid addiction undergo a radical transformation. Obtaining the drug consumes their thoughts, and they will go to great lengths to acquire it. 

Other addiction symptoms include:

  • Depression
  • Neglect of personal relationships and isolation
  • A decline in fulfilling responsibilities at work and home
  • Visible fatigue and drifting off
  • Strong desire to use the drug
  • Frequent visits to the ER to coax doctors into writing them a prescription
  • Mood swings
  • Apathy
  • Lapses in memory
  • Decreased appetite and weight loss
  • Financial or legal problems
  • Visiting different physicians to obtain opioid prescriptions (doctor shopping)
  • Acting seemingly distant or "nodding out"

Challenges in Identifying Opioid Addiction

Identifying an addiction remains challenging. People with legitimate opioid prescriptions may unknowingly slip into addiction, as they can legally obtain the drug.

Yet, there are cases where addiction is alarmingly evident. Illegal opioids, boasting high potency, are often ingested in dangerous ways to maximize the euphoric effect.

What Are the Withdrawal Symptoms of Opium Use?

Once dependent, a person will experience withdrawal symptoms if they abruptly stop taking the drug. Opioids are highly potent drugs, so the withdrawal symptoms can be severe.

These symptoms include:

  • An intense craving for the drug
  • Profuse sweating and clamminess
  • Runny nose
  • Chills and goosebumps
  • Muscle spasms
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Depression
  • Psychosis
  • Agitation and irritability
  • Hallucinations
  • Homicidal or suicidal thoughts
  • Insomnia

What Are Overdose Symptoms of Opium Use?

Opium overdoses can be deadly, as even a tiny excess can be toxic. This powerful CNS depressant has severe consequences for the respiratory system and other bodily functions, including:

  • Vomiting and stomach cramps
  • Slurred speech and loss of basic motor functions
  • Slow pulse and low blood pressure
  • Pin-point-shaped pupils
  • Blue lips and fingertips
  • Feeling cold to the touch
  • Clammy skin
  • Seizure

The most dangerous effect of an overdose is slow, inadequate breathing, which deprives the brain and vital organs of oxygen. In some cases, breathing may stop altogether.

This symptom causes permanent, irreversible damage or even death. Seek immediate medical attention in these situations.

What Treats Opioid Overdose?

Naloxone reverses the respiratory depression and other effects of opioid overdose. It’s an opioid antagonist that blocks receptors that opium binds to, displacing the opioids from these receptors.

Naloxone is fast-acting, so it can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose in minutes. However, its effects can be very short-lived, so emergency medical attention is still necessary after administering naloxone.

How Do You Treat Opiate Addiction?

The physical and psychological effects of opium addiction can be devastating, so it’s vital to seek professional help. Treatment for opioid addiction includes:


Detoxing cleanses the body of opioids, which is crucial to initiate treatment. It involves withdrawing from the drug and managing withdrawal symptoms with medical support.


Following detoxification, a person can start rehabilitation. This process includes cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or other therapies to address psychological addiction factors.


Drugs like Methadone, Buprenorphine (Subutex), or Naltrexone can help manage the symptoms of opioid withdrawal and cravings.

Support Groups

People should never underestimate the importance of support networks. They offer invaluable emotional support during recovery and can provide access to resources for help with addiction.


Opium has long been used for medicinal purposes but can also be dangerous if misused. It's highly addictive and carries a high risk of overdose, making it a potential cause of injury or death.

It’s important to talk to your doctor before taking any opioid medications. Additionally, it's essential to carefully follow the instructions on the label and your prescription.

If you abuse opioids or suspect someone is misusing them, seek help immediately. Professional medical treatment can drastically reduce the risk of addiction and other risks associated with this powerful drug.

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Updated on November 22, 2023

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