Morphine is often regarded as a “Godsend” among all opioids because of its ability to treat chronic, long-lasting pain. The drug attaches itself to the natural opioid receptors in the central nervous system (CNS) and provides relief by altering the way the brain perceives pain. But, like other opioids, morphine is highly addictive and carries a significant risk for potential abuse.

There are visible physical and psychological effects of morphine dependency or addiction. Knowing what is morphine, morphine side effects, how long does morphine stay in your system, and about morphine withdrawal symptoms can help prevent abuse or a possible overdose. It can also serve as a catalyst for seeking treatment for morphine addiction.

vile of morphine with syringe

What is Morphine

Morphine is a narcotic that falls into the class of drugs called opiate analgesics. It is made from the opium poppy plant and is available for medical treatment by prescription only.

The medication is sometimes misused or abused by patients prescribed the drug or by other persons, e.g., someone in the home of the patient. Long-term misuse leads to morphine addiction. The prevalence of abuse of this and other prescription opioids, e.g., codeine, led to the opioid epidemic in the US.

What is Morphine Used For?

Morphine is prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain especially felt following a surgical procedure or a major injury. Some commercial brand names for morphine are Morphabond, MS Contin, and Kadian.

It is supplied in various forms which are an extended-release capsule, tablet, or powder for suspension, and instant release tablet, capsule, solution or syrup. Delayed-release capsules are also available. The extended-release capsule is often used to treat severe, round-the-clock pain that cannot be treated with pain medication usually taken as needed.

Regardless of the form in which it supplied, the drug should be taken as directed to prevent morphine tolerance. For this reason, the drug is almost always given under medical supervision.

People who have or ever had a mental illness such as depression or who use or abuse alcohol, street drugs or prescription medication are at a greater risk of becoming dependent on morphine after the pain is gone.

How Long Does Morphine Stay in Your System?

How long morphine stays in your system depends on the form in which it was supplied, dosage, the frequency of use, and how it was administered.

Morphine may be administered by mouth, injection, intranasally, or as a rectal suppository. When taken by mouth, the pain-relieving effects can kick in within 30-60 minutes. It takes longer to take effect when administered in an extended-release form. Injection or rectal suppository are two of the fastest ways to provide pain relief.

It can take up to 6 hours for the effects to wear off when a morphine tablet is taken by mouth. Extended-release formulations can last for between 8-12 hours. The drug will still remain in the body after the effects are gone. It takes twice as much time for the body to rid itself of the medication as it takes for the medication to lose effect.

Furthermore, traces of the drug can remain in the saliva and urine for 3-4 days and in the hair for up to 90 days after the last dose.

Morphine Side Effects

There is a list of morphine side effects that patients are warned about when prescribed this medication. They may begin within 15-60 minutes and may last for about 4-6 hours. The following are some of the most common Morphine side effects to watch out for. Symptoms may vary from person to person and may not be felt all at once.

  • Feeling sedated or extremely relaxed
  • Drowsiness
  • Abdominal cramps or pain
  • Headache
  • Nervousness
  • Mood swings
  • Constipation
  • Dilated pupils
  • Shallow or slow breathing

Rare but severe morphine side effects include:

  • Weakness
  • Dry mouth
  • Headache
  • Hives
  • Blurred vision
  • Irritated bowels
  • Spasms
  • Slowed heartbeat
  • Irregular breathing
  • Swelling of the throat

Life-threatening or potentially fatal side effects are as follows:

  • Seizures
  • Anemia
  • Collapsed lung
  • Hallucinations
  • Blood circulation issues
  • Coma

Recreational Use of Morphine

Recreational use of any type of opioid medication, including morphine, has the potential to lead to addiction. According to Global Information Network About Drugs, morphine is highly addictive and is the most potent of all the opioids.

The drug is often used by heroin users as an alternative to heroin because it provides similar effects of euphoria. Some street nicknames for morphine are God’s Drug, Mister Blue, MS, Dreamer, and Morpho.

Recreational users usually crush and snort the tablet or mix it into a solution to take by injection. Studies find that extended-release morphine is their favorite as it can provide a high over the course of an entire day. Crushing the tablet to use the powder activates the full potency of the drug all at once, making it almost lethal if enough is taken to cause an overdose.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine reported that in 2015, more than 20,000 people in the United States died from opioid prescription-related overdoses.

Symptoms of Morphine Overdose

Overdose can also occur from overuse or long-term prescriptive use. Overdosing on morphine can depress the respiratory system to the point where the user stops breathing completely, resulting in death by suffocation. Symptoms of morphine overdose include:

  • Sleepiness
  • Fainting
  • Slow, shallow, or irregular breathing
  • Slowed heartbeat
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Weak or limp muscles
  • Blurred vision
  • Small pupils
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Cold, clammy skin

Effects of Long-Term Morphine Use

Morphine is an addictive prescription medicine and patients can easily develop a tolerance for it. It is not intended for overuse or recreational use. Even when used as prescribed, over an extensive period of time, it can still cause drug dependency. Physical dependence can take months, but just a few doses can cause psychological dependence.

Those who use it for recreational purposes are attracted to the euphoric high they get from it. Once they develop a tolerance for this drug, they are forced to increase doses to get the usual effect. Increase in tolerance level is the leading cause of overdose.

Frequent and long-term use of morphine alters brain functions making the brain want more and more of it to get that feel-good sensation that comes with use. Dependency can become so chronic that users are not able to function the way they would without frequent doses of morphine in their system.

Tolerance builds with frequent use and increased dosage. Eventually it will take greater amounts to produce the same effects that were once achieved from smaller doses.

Side effects of long-term morphine use include:

  • Restlessness
  • Depression
  • Collapsed veins (when used by injection)
  • Severe constipation
  • Confusion
  • Suppressed immune system

Signs of Morphine Abuse

Morphine dependence can lead to morphine abuse. Signs of abuse may be difficult to tell apart from those of other opioids. It may also be challenging to tell apart in people dependent on it for medical use.

However, if someone is abusing morphine they are likely to show one or more of the following symptoms that may be more severe than in people dependent on it for treatment:

  • Slurred speech
  • Nodding off
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Dilated pupils
  • Shallow breathing
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Paranoia

Morphine Withdrawal Symptoms

Knowing the withdrawal symptoms of morphine can be a guide for persons wanting to prevent overuse or dependency on the drug. Tapering off the drug by gradually reducing doses is an effective way to alleviate withdrawal symptoms. The most common morphine withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Sweating and chills
  • Teary eyes or runny nose
  • Dilated pupils
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Irritability or anxiety
  • High blood pressure
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Depression
  • Muscle aches or pains
  • High blood pressure

Due to the serious and potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, people dependent on or addicted to morphine should not suddenly stop taking this drug.

Getting Professional Help

If you know someone who needs professional care to break free from morphine dependency or addiction, there are treatment centers available in almost every state. They typically have programs that include medical detox to manage withdrawal symptoms and intensive inpatient or outpatient treatment. A major part of recovery is psychotherapy to treat mental health issues, e.g., depression, which may be associated with morphine abuse.