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How Do Opiates Differ from Opium?

How Do Opiates Differ from Opium?

Opium has been used as a pain medication since at least the Neolithic age

Opiates and opium are closely related chemical cousins with many pharmacological and addictive similarities and several important differences. Although opium has been a part of the human experience for thousands of years, and opiates for hundreds, there are still many misunderstandings about these drugs and the risks they present.

Opium: The Ancient Drug

Opium is a compound derived from the sap of certain poppies. The immature bulbs of the Papaver Somniferum poppy are scored and drops of the sticky sap begin to seep out. This sap, also called tar, is then collected from the seedpods. Opium contains roughly 12 percent concentration of the active chemical morphine, as well as codeine and thebaine, and other chemicals. Morphine and codeine block the transmission of pain signals through the central nervous system by binding to special chemical receptors in the brain. In the process they also give users a euphoric high that relieves both physical and emotional or psychological distress.

Opium has been used as a pain medication since at least the Neolithic age. Ancient archaeological evidence shows that opium use was widespread throughout the Mediterranean, North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Recreational use is documented as far back as the 15th century in China but was not widespread for another two centuries. Opium addiction became such a problem in China that it was the first banned substance there. Laws intended to eradicate it only drove prices up and began early versions of drug wars.

The use of unrefined opium tar remained common until the middle of the 19th century when researchers began to discover how to isolate certain compounds, such as morphine, and to refine them This allowed the drug to be administered at more controlled doses. While morphine was the first substance refined from opium, others soon followed.

What Are Opiates?

The term “opiates” refers to substances derived from opium. Over the last 200 years these chemicals have been refined to higher and higher potencies. Heroin was one of the first opiates and it quickly surpassed raw opium due to its concentration, reduced bulk, and ease of transportation. The term “opioids” originally referred only to chemicals that were synthesized to replicate the effects of opiates but were not actually derived from the opium poppy. The terminology has evolved, however, and currently “opioid” refers to any of the natural or synthetic versions of the drug.

The following are some of the most popular opioids:

  • Hydrocodone
  • Oxycodone
  • Demerol
  • Buprenorphine
  • Methadone

Opioids remain some of the most commonly prescribed painkillers in the world. As has always been the case, however, these drugs are highly effective and incredibly addictive.

Is Opium Safer because it Is Natural?

“Natural” opium has become largely obsolete with the advent of the more powerful opioids, but a recent cultural re-engagement with organic and traditional foods and products has caused some young people to romanticize old-fashioned opium. Many mistakenly believe that because it is a more raw or primitive version of the drug it must therefor be healthier or safer. The truth is, however, that opium is simply a bulkier, messier, and dirtier form of the drug. It is often blended with tobacco and smoked and can be found at rock concerts, festivals, and other places where there is a high frequency of illicit drug use.

As the user develops an inevitable tolerance to the weaker opium he will almost certainly eventually find his way to more powerful prescription painkillers or heroin. So, while the primary difference between opium and opiates is the concentration of morphine, all of them function in essentially the same way. They are all physically and psychologically addictive.

Safely and Effectively Overcoming Opiate Addiction

Opioids create both physical and psychological dependence. They replace naturally occurring pain managing chemicals in the brain. If and when the user stops using the drug he will experience the following withdrawal symptoms until his natural chemical balance is re-established:

  • Pain in the bones, joints, and muscles
  • Fever, chills
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Sleeplessness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Severe headache
  • Tremors

While these physiological symptoms of addiction tend to pass in a matter of days, the more troubling and challenging aspect of the disease is the psychological impact it has on its victims. In addition to blocking symptoms of physical pain, opioids block the following types of emotional pain:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Loneliness
  • Personality disorders
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions

This all happens in the same part of the brain that manages impulse control, habit formation, pleasure, and memory. The brain builds new neural pathways to reinforce and drive continued opioid use. The resulting cravings are more powerful than conscious thought or willpower.

Opioid addiction recovery requires comprehensive treatment of both the physical and psychological symptoms through specialized individual and group counseling as well as education, generalized health care, coping skill development and generalized wellness. Although finding the best treatment programs for opioid dependence can be a challenge, the staff members at our toll-free helpline are available 24 hours a day to help you do exactly that.

24 Hour Opium and Opiate Helpline

Call us any time of day or night for immediate, confidential answers to all of your questions about opium, opiates, addiction, and recovery. There are no strings attached when you call. We’re ready to help. Call now.

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