Morphine: Physiological effects

Last modified: Saturday, 20. June 2009 - 1:08 pm

In the gastrointestinal system, morphine slows the stomach and smooth muscle of the gut, causing constipation and loss of appetite. It slightly lowers body temperature, causing flushing and sweating. Morphine also causes sensations of itching or prickling of the skin, especially after intravenous use. Morphine can decrease libido and interfere with a woman’s menstrual cycle.
Recent findings are leading researchers to try local applying opiates to joints affected by arthritis.
Harmful side effects
The slowed breathing caused by morphine is dangerous in those who already have trouble breathing. Indeed, the slowing of respiration is considered the most dangerous action of the opiate drugs. At high doses, the respiratory suppression caused by morphine and other potent opioids can lead, in extreme instances, to death.
Morphine’s effects in the digestive tract can also be severe, especially for cancer patients already rendered nauseous by chemotherapy. Nausea and vomiting are commonly encountered at therapeutic doses of morphine (although there are medicines to counter this). Morphine may also cause constipation.
Long-term health effects
Morphine can be highly addictive. When an addict stops using, the signs of all opiate withdrawal include anxiety, restlessness, yawning, flu-like symptoms including muscle and bone pain, diarrhea, insomnia, vomiting, cold flashes, goose bumps, and involuntary movement of the legs. All aspects of withdrawal are physiologically opposite to the acute effects of the drug. It takes days or even weeks for the recovering addict to regain balance.
Steady or repeated use of morphine causes tolerance as well as withdrawal (also called physical dependence). More and more drug is needed to produce the same effect as the original dose. A tolerant morphine user can take massive doses that would kill a first timer. Compared to the therapeutic range of 5-20 mg, several hundred milligrams a day is not unusual in either cancer patients or street addicts. In extreme cases, four or five grams of morphine may be taken a day.
A newly discovered risk of opiate abuse relates to a role of endogenous opiates — opiates naturally produced by the body — as growth factors. External opiates like morphine will block such functioning, possibly harming a growing embryo as well as the mother’s adaptation to pregnancy.
Endogenous opiates also help form new brains cells. Morphine abuse will interfere with this process, ultimately destroying the formation of new cells.

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