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Monday, 4 July 2016


Morphine is the most abundant opiate found in opium, the dried latex extracted from the unripe seedpods of the Papaver somniferum poppy.

A freshly-scored opium poppy seedpod bleeding latex.

In December 1804 the German pharmacist Frederick Sertürner (June 19, 1783 – February 20, 1841) isolated the alkaloid compound morphine from unripe poppy blossoms. As he found it gave relief from severe pain, and relaxed the patient by making him drowsy, he named the drug after Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams.

Morphine was the first ever alkaloid to be isolated from any plant. Thus Sertürner became the first person to isolate the active ingredient associated with a medicinal plant or herb.

Friedrich Sertürner

The drug was first marketed to the general public by Sertürner and Company in 1817 as an analgesic, and also as a treatment for opium and alcohol addiction
A Scottish doctor Alexander Wood developed in 1853 a hypodermic syringe with a needle fine enough to pierce the skin. This syringe was mainly used for giving injections of morphine as a painkiller.  Doctors believed at the time that morphine is not addictive if it bypasses the digestive tract and the needle Wood perfected allowed the drug to be injected directly into the blood stream, thus avoiding the stomach.

Alexander Wood's wife was the first person the over dose from morphine injection.

An ampoule of morphine with integral needle for immediate use. From WWII. By Gaius Cornelius - Wikipedia Commons

After the invention of the hypodermic needle the easy availability of morphine injections led to serious problems of abuse and addiction. Family doctors gave morphine at the drop of a hat for pain relief, and these physicians created numerous morphine addicts.

Morphine addiction was especially a problem for American Civil War soldiers among whom it was known as "Soldiers Disease". It is estimated the Civil War produced over 400,000 morphine addicts.

Despite it's addictive consequences, at the turn of the 20th century morphine was being used as a general painkiller for many ailments even colds and minor headaches. In 1903, the US had over 3,000 stores selling over 50,000 different opium-based drugs over the counter.

Before the Morphine by Santiago Rusiñol

The Nazi Hermann Goring was wounded when he took part in the 1923 failed coup known as the Beer Hall Putsch. He became addicted to morphine after being treated with the drug for his injuries.

Morphine was used as a cure against opium addiction and later heroin was used as a cure against morphine addiction and even later methadone was used as a cure against heroin addiction.

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