We have covered both opiates and opioids on this page. But what are the differences, what are the similarities? It’s a question we get asked a lot and one that we aim to answer here in a guide on Opiate vs Opioid.
Opiate vs Opioid
Historically, “Opiate” was used to refer to drugs that came directly from the opium poppy; “Opioid” was anything that was synthetically derived from these drugs. So, you would have drugs like morphine referred to as an opiate, because it can be found in its natural form in opium, and drugs like codeine, which is derived from morphine, defined as an opioid.
The reason we used the past-tense in that description is because these terms are rarely used anymore, at least not officially. You will still find dugs like codeine (as described in our page on Codeine Addiction) defined as ”Opioids”, but it seems that official circles simply lump everything into the group of “Opiates”.
That’s probably all you needed to know about the question of opiate vs opioid. But we like to be thorough here on Addictive Addiction, so if you would like to learn more about opiates, including how they come to be, the history of opiates and more, then read on. You may also want to take a look at our pages on things like Heroin Addiction, Heroin Withdrawal and even Codeine Cough Syrup, which is, rather surprisingly, a widely available opiate that is often bought over the counter.
For everything else concerning the question of opiate vs opioid, read on.
What is an Opiate?
Opiates and opioids come from the opium poppy, or rather from the latex that is secreted from this poppy. These poppies are grown in large fields, with the biggest producers located in Asia (for a long time, Afghanistan has been one of the leading producers).
Prior to flowering, the poppy pods are scored with a knife. The latex inside then leaks out and is allowed to dry before it is collected. By this point it is thick and viscous. This substance, which is pure opium, is then refined to isolate the many chemicals. There are dozens of these in the opium poppy, but only a few produce euphoric effects and it is these that are processed into everything from heroin and morphine, to hydrocodone and codeine.
There are four main opiates, which are listed below. From these, you get a host of opioids, which you can also see below.
List of Opiate Drugs
The four main opiate drugs used as pain medications are:
- Codeine: The most basic of opiate painkiller. This is where the comparison of opiate vs opioid gets complicated, as it’s listed as both, but typically it is seen as the former.
- Morphine: It is from this drug that we get heroin. It is often used for moderate to severe pain.
- Thebaine: This is a minor constituent of opium and has a stimulant effect as opposed to the sedative effects of morphine and codeine.
List of Opioid Drugs
If you focus on brand names then the list of opioids out there is huge. However, if you focus on the chemical names and the ones that are widely used, then the list is a little shorter.
Drugs that are related to codeine include Codeine Phosphate and Codeine Sulphate, as well as dihydrocodeine. Morphine can be converted into heroin, also known as diamorphine) which is actually legally prescribed in some countries, often as an end-of-life treatment drug). As for Thebaine, it is from this opiate that we get drugs like Hydrocodone, Oxycodone, Oxymorphone, Naloxone and Buprenorphine.
As mentioned already the lines are blurred when it comes to opiate vs opioid, but needless to say, there is a vast number of drugs that somehow stem from the opium poppy and can help with pain ranging from mild to severe. These drugs can be taken orally, injected, or released steadily via a patch.
There are chemicals in the opium poppy that are used for other purposes. Such is the case with Loperamide, which is sold under brand name Imodium. This does not cross the blood-brain barrier and therefore has no recreational benefit. But it is greatly effective in the treatment of diarrhea. In fact, this alkaline likely contributes to the severe constipation many opium users feel, although this is also an issue with all other opiates and opioids.
Opioid or Opiate: Which One is Tramadol?
Tramadol is synthetic and is therefore classed as an opioid. It has many of the pain killing properties of the other drugs mentioned above, but it also had other mechanisms of action. You can learn more about this by visiting our page on Tramadol Addiction, which makes for an interesting read, as well as a stark warning for anyone that was told tramadol is not addictive.
Tramadol is actually metabolized to 0-Desmethyltramadol inside the body and it has many similarities to codeine.
Opiate vs Opioid for Addiction Substitution
All opiates and opioids have a strong potential for abuse and all are dangerous. But there are many opioids that are used to help with opioid addiction. This may seem counterintuitive, but there is some sound reason behind it.
Methadone is a good example. It is used in the treatment of heroin addiction, helping the user through withdrawal. The reasoning is that it is not as strong or dangerous and it is not as popular with recreational users. It is also easer to give an addict a steady and safe dose of methadone than to let them take their chance on the street.
It is basically used as a taper, giving them an exact dose and then gradually reducing this. They will still feel withdrawals, but they will not be as strong as they would be if they were to go cold turkey. There are other drugs used for this purpose as well, including Subutex.
These are used for heroin only and not for prescription drugs. Thats because heroin is typically seen as one of the strongest of all opiates, but also because one dose on the street can be completely different from the next, which makes it difficult to regulate properly and to ease the addict into a taper.