Codeine: Chemical | Organic composition

Last modified: Thursday, 25. December 2008 - 10:21 am

Opium typically contains between 0.5% and 3.0% codeine by weight. Chemically, codeine is nearly identical in structure to morphine. The only difference between the two is that codeine contains an extra methyl group (two hydrogen atoms bound to a carbon atom) at one end of the molecule. In fact, once absorbed in the body, an enzyme removes the methyl group (demethylation) from codeine to produce morphine. Thus, codeine itself is not an analgesic.

The enzyme responsible for converting codeine to morphine is known as cytochrome P450 2D6, abbreviated CYP2D6. About 8% of people in the Caucasian population, 6% in the black population, and 1% of Asians have a genetic trait that results in a deficiency of CYP2D6. This means that codeine has little or no effect on them. A large number of other genetic variants of the CYP2D6 enzyme result in a wide variation in how well people metabolize codeine.

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