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What Are the Short-Term Effects of Morphine?

Peter Manza, PhD profile image
Reviewed By Peter Manza, PhD • Updated Sep 25, 2023 • 8 cited sources

Short-term effects of morphine include pain relief, euphoria, drowsiness and pinpoint pupils. These effects last approximately two to four hours after ingestion.[4] 

An overdose of morphine may lead to severe symptoms, such as extreme drowsiness, slowed heart rate and slow or shallow breathing that require immediate medical intervention.[1] Without quick response, such as administration of naloxone, morphine overdose can be fatal. 

What Is Morphine?

Morphine is an opioid medication prescribed to treat severe postoperative pain and pain associated with cancer and cancer treatment.[4] 

Though the drug is safe when used for the short term and as directed, it has a high potential for misuse, which can lead to opioid use disorder (OUD). 

While limiting the perception of pain, morphine also affects the reward system of the brain. It binds to opioid receptors and triggers the release of dopamine, which brings feelings of pleasure and relaxation. Over time, tolerance builds up, leading to the need for higher doses to achieve similar effects, driving people to take more and more of the drug.[7]

Even at low doses, morphine can slow down breathing and heart rate. When it is taken at high doses, the central nervous system depression can become life threatening and cause overdose.[4] In fact, of the 107,000 drug overdose deaths that occurred in 2021, more than 75% involved opioids like morphine, according to a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).[1] 

What Are Some Short-Term Side Effects of Morphine?

Short-term side effects of morphine include physical, psychological and behavioral effects.[2-4,7]

Physical Side EffectsBehavioral Side EffectsPsychological Side Effects
DrowsinessEuphoriaReduced or increased anxiety
ConstipationSlurred speechMood swings
NauseaImpaired coordinationConfusion
VomitingJudgment problemsHallucinations
SweatingRestlessnessImpaired memory
Dry mouthAltered sleep patternsIrritability
Reduced heart rateIncreased energyParanoia
Constricted pupilsHyperactivityDepression
Shallow breathingTalkativenessDelirium

How Long Do the Effects of Morphine Last?

Some effects of morphine use will last longer than others. For some people, effects may linger, while others bypass many of the side effects altogether. Each person is different.

The length of time that any morphine effects last will be impacted by the dose, use of other medications, personal metabolism and other factors. 

When taken intravenously, morphine’s effects will generally begin almost immediately. Peak effects will be reached within 15 to 30 minutes and usually last between two to four hours.[4]

When taken orally as a syrup or in tablet form, effects usually do not begin for about 30 minutes, with peak effects occurring within an hour. The effects will generally last for about the same amount of time as they would if the person were to intravenously take the drug (about two to four hours) unless the tablet is long acting. In this case, effects may last anywhere from eight to 24 hours depending on the type of pill.[4]

Recognizing a Morphine Overdose

Morphine overdose is a potentially deadly medical phenomenon and should be addressed right away. Look for the following signs of morphine overdose:[1,3] 

  • Depressed breathing
  • Difficulty staying awake
  • Bluish tint to the lips or fingernails
  • Muscle weakness
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Nausea, vomiting and other gastrointestinal issues
  • Confusion 
  • Unresponsiveness 
  • Irregular or slowed heart rate

Call 911 immediately if morphine overdose is suspected. If you have naloxone on hand, administer it.[8] This could be a life-saving action.

Signs of Morphine Misuse

If someone has been misusing morphine regularly, it’s a clear indication that help is needed. Look for these signs of morphine misuse:[5]

  • Taking higher or more frequent doses than prescribed or recommended
  • Using morphine without a prescription or obtaining it illegally
  • Intense cravings for morphine 
  • Preoccupation with obtaining and using the drug
  • Neglecting responsibilities in order to use morphine 
  • Engaging in risky behaviors, such as driving under the influence of morphine
  • Hiding use of morphine
  • Financial problems due to spending money on morphine or other opioids
  • Tolerance to the drug, which means no longer experiencing the same effects from the same dose. 
  • Withdrawal symptoms when morphine is not in the body

Morphine Withdrawal

Morphine withdrawal occurs when someone who is physically dependent on morphine stops or reduces their use of the drug.[4] 

Over time, tolerance to and physical dependence on morphine can develop even when the drug is used as prescribed. Even without a psychological dependence, it can be hard to stop taking the drug without experiencing significant withdrawal symptoms. 

Some of the withdrawal symptoms associated with morphine withdrawal include the following:[3,4,7]

  • Flu-like symptoms, such as body aches, chills and sweating
  • Gastrointestinal issues, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Yawning and teary eyes
  • Strong cravings for morphine or other opioids

It is not recommended that anyone taking morphine (with or without a prescription) stop taking it without the oversight and care of medical professionals. Attempting to push through withdrawal symptoms without help can lead to relapse. If relapse occurs during an attempted detox, overdose is possible, and this could be fatal. 

There are medications available that can manage the symptoms of withdrawal. These medications allow patients to safely stop misusing morphine. They limit withdrawal symptoms, making the detox process easier to complete. 

Getting Addiction Treatment With Bicycle Health

Morphine can be an effective tool in relieving severe pain, but misuse could pose life-threatening consequences. The good news is that effective treatments exist that can help people in crisis manage their opioid dependence and build a better future.

Bicycle Health offers assistance and support for individuals dealing with OUD through our Medication for Addiction Treatment (MAT) program. We use Suboxone, a medication that is considered to be the gold standard in treatment for OUD. 

When used in combination with a comprehensive therapeutic plan that is tailored to each individual patient, Suboxone can be an incredibly effective way to stop taking morphine entirely. With this kind of support, you can put all misuse of opioids like morphine in your past.

Learn more about how we can help you or your loved one move closer to a more balanced life in recovery when you contact us today. We’re ready to get you started right away with our telehealth services.

Reviewed By Peter Manza, PhD

Peter Manza, PhD received his BA in Psychology and Biology from the University of Rochester and his PhD in Integrative Neuroscience at Stony Brook University. He is currently working as a research scientist in Washington, DC. His research focuses on the role ... Read More

  1. Understanding the opioid overdose epidemic. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published June 1, 2022. Accessed August 5, 2023.
  2. Chau DL, Walker V, Pai L, Cho LM. Opiates and elderly: Use and side effects. Clinical Interventions in Aging. 2008;3(2):273-278. doi:10.2147/cia.s1847
  3. Murphy PB, Bechmann S, Barrett MJ. Morphine. StatPearls Publishing. Published May 22, 2023. Accessed August 5, 2023.
  4. PubChem Compound Summary for CID 5288826, Morphine. National Center for Biotechnology Information. Accessed August 5, 2023.
  5. Prescription Opioids DrugFacts. National Institute on Drug Abuse. June 1, 2021. Accessed August 5, 2023.
  6. Commonly Used Drugs Charts. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Published August 20, 2020. Accessed August 5, 2023.
  7. Dydyk AM, Jain NK, Gupta M. Opioid use disorder. StatPearls Publishing. Published January 2023. Accessed August 4, 2023.
  8. Naloxone for opioid overdose: Life-saving science. National Institute on Drug Abuse website. Published March 30, 2017. Accessed August 4, 2023.

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