What are opiates?
Opiates are widely prescribed for treating pain. Opiates are derived from opium which can be obtained from the poppy plant. Medications that are very close relatives of opium are called opiates, while those belonging to synthetic opiates are called opioids.
How do opiates work?
Opiates work by attaching themselves to specific proteins that we have in the body that are called opioid receptors. These can be found in your brain, spinal cord, and in your gastrointestinal tract. Once a drug attaches itself to an opiate receptor, they can block transmission of pain messages to the brain and can elicit a feeling of euphoria as it affects the regions of the brain that creates the sensation of pleasure.
People who use opiates experience a reduction of pain symptoms, a general feeling of warmth, often feel drowsy, and have a feeling of contentment. Opiates can also result to decrease in heart rate, widening of the blood vessels, and depression in respiration.
Opiates are generally prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain, usually for those dealing with chronic pain or those who just came out of surgery. Some opiates are also prescribed to relieve cough symptoms and diarrhea.
How do opiates affect our body?
As mentioned, our body has opiate receptors in the brain, spinal cord, and gastrointestinal tract. These opiate receptors do not exclusively accept the body’s own opiates but also substances that may have the molecular structures that resemble it. Opiates have the same chemical structure as your body’s own endogenous opioids. This is why opiate medications are so effective in reducing pain symptoms by inhibiting the activity of the neurons responsible for the sensation. It automatically blocks the pain messages transmitted by your spinal cord and reduce pain symptoms.
Opiates also have a direct effect on the brain’s reward system that provides pleasure. By changing your limbic system, it can control your emotions and increase your feelings of pleasure. Dopamine is a neuro transmitter that we have in the brain which is directly responsible for reward motivated behavior. Opiates bind to receptors in this region of the brain which results to the increase in the release of dopamine from their terminals.
Aside from this opiates also act on the function of the brain stem and can affect the regulation of your breathing. Once in the body, opiates can depress your breathing and slow respiration, which is just as dangerous of a side effect as it sounds.
Short term effects of opiates can include a feeling of euphoria or an intense rush, warmth, slow breathing, clouded mental state, nausea, vomiting, itching, and flushing of the skin. Long term use of opiates can result in infectious diseases, addiction, liver disease, cardiac problems, respiratory problems, and other serious medical issues.