Other names: narcotics, opiates, opioid analgesics
What are Narcotic analgesics
Narcotic analgesics (also called opiates, opioid analgesics, or narcotics) are a group of medicines that relieve acute and chronic severe pain by binding to opioid receptors. There are at least four opioid receptors: mu, delta, kappa and opioid receptor like-1 (ORL1) receptor. These influence the opioid system which controls pain, reward and addictive behaviors. Opioid receptors are most abundant in the brain but are also found elsewhere in the body, including the digestive tract, respiratory tract and spinal cord.
Pleasurable activities (such as laughing and loving) release natural endorphins, dynorphins, and enkephalins which activate opioid receptors, improving our mood. Opioid receptors can also be activated by exogenous compounds, for example narcotic analgesics. Most narcotic analgesics act on the mu receptor and are very effective at relieving pain, but unfortunately, also activate reward pathways meaning that narcotic analgesics have a tendency to cause addiction, dependence and tolerance (where increasing dosages are needed to provide the same pain-relieving effect). Morphine and codeine are alkaloid opiates because they occur naturally. Heroin, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, oxycodone and oxymorphone are semi-synthetic because they are made by modifying morphine.
Common side effects of opiates include constipation, itch, low blood pressure, miosis (excessive constriction of the pupil of the eye), nausea, sedation, urinary retention, and respiratory depression. Most are also effective at suppressing the urge to cough. Different narcotic analgesics have different potencies, based on how strongly they bind to the opioid receptor, meaning dosages vary considerably from one narcotic to the next (for example, fentanyl is 80 to 100 times stronger than morphine).
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