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Opioids, What are They?

Opioids are drugs that are manufactured often for medicinal purpose. Opioids include Opiates. Opiates are drugs extracted from the Opium plant. Opium was widely used for medicine during Ancient times. But opium had other unwanted effects that modern medicine is studying to control.

Today, opioid drugs are used to treat various ailments. However, some abuse the drugs for other effects than its intended purpose. Opioid drugs, or opiates, that are commonly abused are morphine and heroin. Abusing opiates can have more damaging effects on the health.

What are the Different Types?


Codeine is fast acting and also stops its effects quickly. It’s a Schedule 3 drug which means that it has a moderate risk for abuse. Codeine is also the most affordable drug among its kind.


This drug is used to treat joint injuries and muscle infractions. Hydrocodone is a prescription drug that is sometimes mixed with other pain-relieving medications like ibuprofen. It’s a Schedule 3 drug which makes it have a low potential for addiction.


Morphine is the most common opiate drug. It is also a common opiate that is abused by many. Due to its addictiveness, it is categorized as a Schedule 2 drug by the Drug Enforcement Agency. Under legal use, morphine is used by physicians to treat patients undergoing surgery or cancer treatments.


This drug is prescribed for acute pain. They are classified as a Schedule 2 drug, which means that it has the potential for abuse. Due to its classification, it must be obtained per prescription.


Heroin is one of the most abused drugs in the world. Currently, it is classified as a Schedule 1 drug by the Drug Enforcement Agency. Heroin’s effects are strong but don’t last long. This is the reason why people would tend to abuse it and become dependent on it. With its powerful effects, it also has strong withdrawal symptoms.

How do Opiates Work?

Opiates work by being able to pass through the “blood-brain-barrier.” This barrier is what protects the brain from other chemicals or toxins. Whatever the body believes would be bad for the brain would not be able to directly affect it.

Opiates, however, have a way to pass through. This is because the compounds of opiates mimic those of neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are the natural chemicals that the body creates to stimulate the brain. Neurotransmitters trigger emotions, adrenaline, pain, hunger, and many others. Because opiates mimic neurotransmitter, the body thinks it is one, therefore lets it be absorbed by the brain.

What do Opioids Treat?

Opioids have many effects, but its intended purpose if for medicinal treatments. Here is the list of medicinal effects that opioids have:

Pain Relief

Opioids were used to treat pain for many generations. Today, morphine and fentanyl are used to treat pain instantly. Both formulas are quick to treat pain and even reduce anxiety. These kinds of opioids are preferred for treating muscle pain and first-aid treatments for patients with injuries.

Other kinds of opioids, such as codeine and hydrocodone have a slower release than morphine and fentanyl. These drugs are used for chronic pain due to major illnesses or to give relief for patients undergoing serious and painful treatments. Patients recovering from major surgeries or undergoing chemotherapy can be treated with these drugs under their physician’s supervision.


Along with its pain-relieving effect, opioids are proven to have a calming effect. This effect is useful in treating chronic anxiety and sleeping disorders. Opioids lessen neural activity, which causes the calming effect. Unlike other sedatives, opioids won’t cause unconsciousness. Instead, it promotes sleep by calming our brain by releasing dopamine, a chemical in the body that produces pleasure and a sense of well-being.

Relief from Cough

Cough relief is a side effect of opioids. Though many formulations don’t have cough relief as their intended effect, they are still effective. Codeine, a form of opioid, is included in many early formulations of cough syrups. However, people have abused this formulation and extracted the opioid from simple cough syrups. This had researchers develop a new ingredient to suppress a cough. This new ingredient is called Dextromethorphan. Unlike codeine, dextromethorphan doesn’t affect the brain, thus it doesn’t cause any addictive psychoactive effects.

Treatment for Diarrhea

Opioids can reduce activity in the intestine and bowels. This would cause constipation. On a different perspective, opioids can also reduce diarrhea. With this fact, researchers developed what is now the most common anti-motility drug in the market, Loperamide. Loperamide had been formulated to prevent the euphoric effects of opioids. This would prevent addiction to the drug.

Treatment for Addiction

Opioids are addictive. Treating addiction has many inconvenient side effects including withdrawal symptoms. However, some opioids are formulated to help mitigate these symptoms.

An example is a methadone. Methadone is formulated to be similar to morphine, but with significantly less addictive psychoactive effects. Methadone is meant to trick the brain into thinking that it has taken morphine, thus reducing any withdrawal effects. By reducing the withdrawal effects of avoiding the drug, recovering from drug addiction will be more bearable and comfortable. By tapering off the drugs with methadone, it can lead to a safer recovery.

What are the Side Effects?

Like many medication drugs, opioids have side effects that are often unintended. While the side effects that were mentioned above can be used for treating other illnesses, other effects can affect our health negatively. Here are some of the side effects of opioids:


Opioids have a calming effect. It releases dopamine to calm the nerves while it reduces neurological activity. While this can be useful to treat anxiety and sleep disorders, in any other cases, this would be highly inconvenient. In extreme cases or opiate abuse, opiates can cause chronic fatigue or lethargy.


A common side effect of opioids is that it’s highly addictive. The reason it’s addictive is due to its effects on the brain. Opioids relieve us from pain and give us a euphoric and pleasurable sensation. Our brain remembers what gives us pain and what gives us pleasure. It remembers to avoid what brings pain but it would want to repeat what brings pleasure. This is what makes opioids addictive.

Its addictive effect may be considered its riskiest effect. Being addicted to opioids can lead to opiate abuse. Opiate abuse can lead to further and even more dangerous health conditions. Opioid addiction opens the possibility for more health concerns.

Behavioral Effects

Opiate abuse can cause behavioral changes such as anxiety and paranoia. Opioids affect the brain’s activity. Our moods and behavior are triggered by chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. Opioids replicate the effects of neurotransmitters, which forces the brain to produce less of them or stop producing them altogether.

Its effects on the brain can change our behavior. It can cause mental conditions like anxiety, paranoia or depression. Addiction to opiates also warps the victim’s sense of right and wrong. This can affect their relationships with people around them.


Opioids cause our intestines and stomach to slow down. By slowing down their activity, opioids can help suppress diarrhea. But opiate abuse can cause gastroparesis, a disorder that causes delayed gastric emptying. This can stop food from moving from the stomach to the small intestine. This can lead to pain, bloating, heartburn, and weight loss.

Respiratory Depression

Opiates can cause respiratory depression. Respiratory depression is when our breathing is reduced to something that is more similar to sighing than breathing. With reduced breathing, it can cause the person to constantly feel tired.

Opiate Resistance

Like many drugs, using opiates too much can lead to resistance from its intended purpose. Opiates are pain relievers and taking too much would cause its pain-relieving effects to be null. During opiate addiction, its pain relieving and euphoric effects will diminish. This would convince the victim to increase the dosage to feel the same effect.

CNS Depressants

Opioids are known to directly affect the brain. The brain is the main part of the Central Nervous System or CNS. If abused, opiates can damage the central nervous system. Opiates are central nervous system depressants. This allows the drug to reduce functions such as pain sensations and even respiration.

With the central nervous system controlling the majority of our body’s functions, opioids’ effect on our central nervous system can be dangerous. By dulling the central nervous system, it affects our organs such as our lungs, stomach, and intestines. This could also cause brain damage.

Cleaning it from the Body

Taking opiates doesn’t necessarily cause addiction. If taken under the physician’s instructions, addiction can be prevented. But in case of addiction, it’s advisable to treat addiction as soon as possible.

Addiction can be treated by rehabilitation or therapy. There are other remedies that can be done at the comforts of your own home. Detoxing from opiates can be done by simple methods. But before trying to do home remedies, it’s best to seek medical advice. Treating addiction can have withdrawal symptoms, which might affect your health and can be dangerous.

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