An opiate is a medication or an illegal drug that is derived from the opium poppy or that mimics the effect of opium (synthetic opium). Opiate drugs are narcotic* sedatives* that depress the activity of the central nervous system*, reduce pain, and induce sleep.
Opiates differ from opium in that opium is a dried latex obtained from the Opium Poppy. Approximately 12 percent of this latex contains the analgesic* morphine. Once this is processed chemically it produces a class of drug referred to as opiates. More than 20 opiates are found in opium, but just six occur in large amounts. Of those six, only four are used by the medical industry: morphine, codeine, thebaine and papaverine.
Morphine and codeine are the most well-known of the opiates. They are two of the oldest known pain medications-doctors still prescribe them today. Thebaine is not used as pain medication in its natural state. It’s converted into other chemicals, such as oxycodone or hydrocodone, which are used in the popular medications Percocet and Vicodin.
Oxycodone and hydrocodone are examples of semi-synthetic opioids. Semi-synthetic opioids are man-made chemicals that are derived from the naturally occurring opiates (morphine etc) Diacetylmorphine, more commonly known as heroin, is another example of a semi-synthetic opioid. Heroin is manufactured by boiling morphine and acetic anhydride.
The term opiate refers to drugs that are naturally found in the opium plant. On the other hand, the term opioid is a broader term that includes opiates and refers to any substance, natural or synthetic, that binds to the brain’s opioid receptors – the parts of the brain responsible for controlling pain, reward and addictive behaviours.
*narcotic- a drug that induces sleep, pain relief and addiction, or, any psychoactive compound with sleep-inducing properties
*sedatives- a drug that produces calming or sleep-inducing effects
*central nervous system- the system of nerves that controls the activities of the body e.g. the brain and spinal cord
*analgesic- a substance with pain relieving properties