What’s the Difference Between Synthetic and Natural Opiates?

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According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, opioids can be either “natural or synthetic chemicals that bind to receptors in your brain or body,” causing a reduction in tension, anxiety, and pain. Synthetic and natural opiates act similarly to one another in most ways, but they are different in one major way.

Synthetic vs. Natural Opiates

Natural opiates are substances taken from the poppy plant, papaver sominferum. These substances are found in nature, hence their name, and while they are natural, they can also be dangerous and addictive when misused. Common natural opiates are opium, morphine, codeine, and thebaine.

Synthetic opiates (often called opioids to differentiate them from the natural substances) are man-made and do not occur in nature. Fentanyl, one of the most commonly used synthetic opioids, can treat severe pain because it was created to be extremely potent and powerful.

Synthetic and Natural Opiates

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid used to treat severe pain, but is also often mixed with heroin.

Semi-synthetic opioids are drugs that are synthesized from natural opiates. For example, heroin is synthesized from morphine, and oxycodone and oxymorphone are synthesized from thebaine. These drugs do not fit specifically into one category or the other because they were created from natural substances but do not themselves occur in nature.

Why are Some Synthetic and Others are Natural?

Many of the synthetic or semi-synthetic opioids we do have were created in hopes of making a less addictive drug for pain management. In the case of many, like heroin, this did not occur, and instead, another addictive opioid was created. However, a number of synthetic opioids available may be better tolerated by certain patients or otherwise more beneficial to their needs. Natural opiates are still used as well because they can also be beneficial to certain individuals.

What are the Differences?

Aside from how they are made, there are no major differences between natural opiates and synthetic opioids in general. No one type is more addictive or more likely to cause dependence than the other. While fentanyl is one of the most potent prescription opioids available, heroin, which is less potent, has the potential of causing addiction very quickly because of the way it reaches the brain. Morphine itself, though a naturally occurring substance, is also very addictive.

These drugs can all become dangerous and addictive to a person who abuses them. Consequentially, someone who is addicted to one type of opioid will abuse another type readily if it is on hand; all opioids cause similar reactions in those who use them and abuse them.

The main differences between these two drug types (and the fusion of semi-synthetic drugs) is how they were created. However, this does not necessarily predict how addictive or dangerous a specific drug will be or how potent its effects are. This is why, as a patient, you must discuss your medication with your doctor and discover for yourself how intense a specific medication is likely to be.

Are Natural Opiates Addictive Too?

Seek Opiate Addiction Treatment Now

If you have been abusing an illegal or prescription-based opioid, whether it is synthetic or natural, you should attend addiction treatment. According to the National Library of Medicine, “These drugs can be… habit-forming,” and it is important to seek treatment as soon as possible. Call 800-584-3274 today to learn more about opiates and to find addiction treatment programs in your area.


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