What are the Differences Between Heroin Opiates and Morphine?

manOpioid addiction is devastating. Whether to the illicit drug heroin or the prescription drug morphine, dependence on either leads to broken families, crushed dreams, and destroyed lives.

As in most cases of drug addiction, knowledge is empowering. Most drug addicts admit that if they had known everything about drugs before their first hit, they would never have tried them. Understanding the differences between heroin and morphine and the consequences of both may prevent the heartache of opioid addiction.


The opium poppy is the source of all opiates (also known as narcotics), including both heroin and morphine. Typically grown by impoverished farmers in remote regions of the world, the pure drug (opium) is extracted from the seed pod, packaged, and put on the black market.

Opiates work directly on the central nervous system to relieve pain. In truth, they numb the senses, which is why long-term use can lead to a general feeling of apathy.

Other opiates include oxycodone and hydromorphone.


Morphine is the main psychoactive chemical in opium. The medical community uses morphine as the yardstick for the potency of other narcotics. It acts rapidly on the central nervous system to numb pain.

Morphine is very addictive. Very quickly, the user can find himself physically dependent on the drug, meaning that he experiences withdrawals if it is not continually in his system.

The extraction of morphine from opium is the first time an active ingredient has been purified from a plant source. This discovery was made in 1804 by Friedrich Serturner, and it hit the commercial market in 1827. It has been used since them to treat severe pain.

Doctors administer morphine at a dose that should not be addictive, although tolerance to the drug can occur rapidly.


Known on the street as H, smack, horse and tar, the illicit drug heroin is a close cousin to morphine. In fact, it is composed of morphine, and its effect on the system is due to the fact that the drug converts to morphine when inserted into the body. Heroin alone is an inactive drug.

Like morphine, heroin is typically consumed through injection. Because it is an illicit drug, however, this is typically done in dangerous circumstances using shared needles. This increases the risk of STD’s like HIV and other painful diseases.

Heroin was produced to solve the problem of morphine addiction during the late nineteenth century. It was supposed to be a non-addictive alternative to morphine–much like the methadone treatment used today.

Heroin usually comes as a fine powder and is white, gray, brown or black in color. The white color indicates pure heroin; other colors show that additives have been used to “cut” or dilute the drug–things like sugar, caffeine and even poisons like strychnine.

Injecting, smoking or sniffing heroin produces a strong euphoria. The drug has the same strong addictive effects as morphine, which causes the user to have a hard time coming “down” from the drug. Withdrawal from heroin is extremely painful and can cause insomnia, restlessness, muscle and bone pain, diarrhea, vomiting, cold flashes, and worse.


While there are many differences between morphine and heroin, there is one factor that remains the same: addiction. Whether the user is on morphine or heroin, he will stop at nothing to get more of the drug. Life revolves around the next hit, and addicts will sacrifice friends, family, career, and happiness for it. Whether an addict begins as an innocent patient seeking pain control, or someone on the street looking to get high, the end result is always the same.




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