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History and Derivation of Narcotics


Narcotics have always had a strange history involving manufacture by medical pharmaceutical companies, followed by eventual restriction as they become abused, followed by criminalization.  The prototype, or first, common narcotic is morphine. Morphine is extracted from opium, a gummy, black or dark brown substance produced when the pods of the poppy are incised at a certain time of year, and the sap seeps through the incisions, dries, and congeals on their outer surfaces. Opium contains morphine and many other substances, some of which also have narcotic effects; one of these is codeine. Raw opium is by nature an impure substance, but it can be smoked or ingested to produce narcotic effects. The substance was known to the ancients and was described in Homer’s Iliad. seeds has been known about for centuries and is documented in Roman and Egyptian writings. The actual extract of morphine from the opium poppy was first discovered in 1806. This innovation enabled a specific, measured dose of the narcotic to be swallowed as a liquid. It was not until the syringe and needle were invented in Edinburgh in 1853 that morphine could then be given as an injection.

Morphine and Heroin

Morphine was first used for women in labor in the early 1900’s. It was initially mixed with sedatives and injected into the woman’s vein to produce what was called ‘twilight sleep’. These drugs usually made the woman semiconscious (or totally unconscious), often forgetting the actual birth, as well as relieving pain.  Heroin is made from morphine by a fairly simple psychoactive chemical process that involves attaching two acetyl groups to the morphine molecule, hence the psychoactive chemical name of heroin: diacetyl morphine.

Interestingly enough as people became addicted to Morphine, the Bayer company introduced Heroin to the masses to help people get off of Morphine.  And, of course, we all know what happened to that “solution” for addiction.

More information about other types of drugs.

Different Types of Narcotics

  • Naturally Occurring–Codeine, Morphine, Opium, Thebaine
  • Semisynthetic–Dilaudid, Heroin (Horse, Junk, Smack, Skag), Percodan
  • Synthetic–Darvon, Demerol, Fentanyl, Suboxone, Methadone, Vicodin, Oxycontin, Hydrocodone

Symptoms of Narcotics

Drowsiness, lethargy, euphoria, slurred speech, bobbing head (nodding), flushing of skin of face, neck, chest, pinpoint pupils, constipation, and nausea. The duration of psychoactive chemical effect varies from 3-6 hours for Codeine to 12-36 hours for Methadone.

  •  How Used–Injected–(I.V. or “skin popping”) Orally or Smoked (Opium)
  •  Physical Dependence–YES (Very Rapid)
  •  Psychological Dependence–YES (High Degree)
  •  Tolerance–YES (Very Rapid)

Narcotic Withdrawal Syndrome

Narcotics produce a well-defined withdrawal syndrome that is rarely fatal. The onset and duration of withdrawal varies according to the compound used. Codeine would have a rapid onset and recovery of withdrawal of low intensity while methadone would have slower onset and slower resolution of withdrawal with a much greater intensity. The intensity and duration of methadone withdrawal is twice that of heroin withdrawal, making it much more difficult to withdraw someone from methadone.

Withdrawal from Narcotics

  • Begins as anxiety, watery eyes, runny nose, yawning, and sweating.
  • Progresses to dilated pupils, restlessness, irritability, tremors, chills and flushing, abdominal and muscle cramps, nausea, vomiting, and waves of “gooseflesh.”
  • Residual Withdrawal–A “Protracted Abstinence Syndrome” may be seen for as long as 8 to 12 months after withdrawal. The symptoms include an inability to tolerate stress or overcome discomfort, tiredness, weakness, anxiety, and a decreased pain threshold.

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