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Morphine is one powerful molecule! This simple structure is one of the strongest painkillers used in hospitals for pain relief during situations such as heart attacks and labour.
Found in the opium poppy, Morphine is known as an opioid, and was first isolated between between 1803 and 1805. At the time of its discovery, due to its tendency to induce sleep it was named after the Greek god of dreams, Morpheus.
Morphine mainly acts on the opioids receptors in the central nervous system, and the secret to its power is that it binds very strongly to these receptors. This means it is great for pain relief but it also means it can easily lead to physical and psychological dependence and so it is very addictive.
Whilst it is very addictive, it is not so different to some other molecules that occur naturally in the body, endorphins. These molecules are released in the body (endogenous) in response to pain, exercise, or excitement, and are responsible for natural pain relief and feelings of pleasure. They are also opioids. Infact endorphins get their name from the words endogenous morphines.
So there you have it the powerful, but incredible addictive, painkiller morphine.