Morphine, a potent opiate drug, is used as a pain reliever. Morphine was isolated by Friedrich Sert-rner in 1804. He started distributing it in 1817 as an analgesic as well as a treatment for alcohol and opium addiction, but morphine was commercially sold for the first time in 1827 by Merck. In 1857, the hypodermic needle was invented and this led to the widespread use of morphine. The drug is named after Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams. Opium, the dried latex that is derived from the seedpods of poppy, has more than 50 alkaloids present in it and the most abundantly found alkaloid is morphine. In lower Mesopotamia, the poppy plant was cultivated as early as 3400 B.C. The poppy plant was referred to as Hul Gil, meaning Joy Plant, by the Sumerians. They passed on their knowledge in cultivating poppies to Assyrians, the Babylonians and finally the Egyptians who cultivated poppy plants and traded opium with Europe and all parts of the Middle East from their capital city of Thebes by 1300 B.C.
About 800 years later, Hippocrates, the Greek Physician, dismissed the mystical effects of opium and noted its usefulness in relieving severe pain as well as stopping bleeding. Alexander the Great introduced opium to India and Persia around 330 B.C. and the Arab traders introduced it to China by 400 A.D.Though opium was not used in Europe during the Middle Ages, it was reintroduced as seafaring and exploring activities surged in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. It is believed that the Portuguese sailors were the first to smoke opium during the 1500s. Paracelsus first compounded laudanum, an alcoholic solution of opium, around 1527. It was extensively used till the nineteenth century to treat a number of disorders, but opium's addictive property was not known.
Recreational use of opium gained prevalence in India and Persia in the early seventeenth century and opium was traded everywhere. The ships that were chartered by Queen Elizabeth I was told to get the finest opium from India.In the eighteenth century, people started using pipes to smoke the drug. By the end of the eighteenth century, opium trade was banned in China. However, many Chinese adults were addicted by then.
Synthesis of morphine, classified by Linnaeus in 1753, from opium by Friedrich Sert-rner was considered as a milestone achievement in taming opium. The reliability, safety and long-lasting effects of morphine were highly appreciated. However, it was later on found out that morphine was more addictive than both opium and alcohol. It was extensively used during the American Civil War and this allegedly caused 400,000 soldiers to be addicted to morphine which was referred to as "soldier's disease." The technique of injecting morphine with a syringe was discovered by Dr. Alexander of Wood Edinburgh. Morphine injection provided instantaneous effects and was three times more powerful when compared with oral administration.
In 1874, diacetylmorphine, better known as heroin, was synthesized from morphine by C.R. Wright, an English researcher. However, it was not used until 1895 when Heinrich Dreser, an employee of Bayer, the drug produced by diluting morphine with acetyls did not have the common side effects of morphine. The company marketed the product in 1898. Weight by weight, heroin is 1.5 to 2.0 times more potent when compared with morphine. It has the capability to break the blood-brain barrier faster because of its lipid solubility.The U.S. law-enforcement imposed tax on morphine and opium in 1890. However, the consumption of the drugs, including heroin, continued to grow during the latter part of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century. The U.S. congress banned opium in 1905 and in the subsequent year the Pure Food and Drug Act was passed. This act required pharmaceutical companies to attach labels to the medicines they patented with details of contents. This served to reduce the availability of opiate drugs in the U.S. The Congress banned opium import in 1909 and in 1914 morphine was declared as a controlled substance under the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act. It called for registration and payment of taxes by pharmacists, doctors and others prescribed narcotics. Possession of morphine without a prescription was considered as a criminal offense.
Following the ban imposed on all legal sales of narcotics by the Narcotics Division of the U.S. Treasury Department in 1923, addicts had to rely on illegal dealers in New York's Chinatown. Heroin was illegally brought to the U.S. by the Chinese during the 1920s and 1930s. Southeast Asia became a major player in drugs trafficking in the 1940s. Dr. Marshall D Gates announced his patented process for manufacture of morphine from petroleum products in 1952. Mafia and Corsican gangsters dominated the heroin trading scenario during the period 1948 to 1972. In 2003, it was discovered that the human cells that formed in reaction to cancerous neuroblastoma cells had endogenous morphine in trace amounts.The most commonly abused narcotic analgesic in the world was morphine till the synthesis and use of heroin began. Morphine is considered to be the golden standard in clinical medicine when it comes to opoid analgesics used for relieving agonizing or severe pain and suffering. Though it is addictive, morphine is still used in hospitals for treating extreme pain and in palliative care.