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Codeine is one of several addictive alkaloids of the opium poppy, which has been cultivated for thousands of years for medicinal properties. Laudanum, a preparation that contained unrefined opium, was something of a panacea from the renaissance till the mid 1800s, means something to be praised in Latin. Codeine was first isolated by Pierre Robiquet, a French pharmacist, in 1832. It is now the most commonly prescribed opiate in the world. Codeine is one of the weaker opiates.


Codeine, known chemically as 3-methylmorphine, is a natural isomer of morphine and a member of the opiate family. In the US it is classified as a Schedule II controlled substance. This means it has been determined by government agencies that codeine:

  1. Has a high potential for abuse.
  2. Has currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, or currently accepted medical use with severe restrictions.
  3. Abuse may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.


Codeine is a highly effective treatment for wide-ranging ailments, namely diarrhea, cough and associated pain. It is approximately one tenth the strength of morphine and is a relatively safe opiate. In the United States, codeine is most commonly seen as Tylenol 3 or 4 or in cough syrups, which frequently contain promethazine.

These drugs can be abused, or even used in the production of stronger opiates, such as morphine and desomorphine. Most of these prescriptions have no more than 15 mg per dose and typically only have 5 milligrams. This can lead to potential complication as there are typically other active ingredients in medical preparations of codeine.

Effects of Codeine Use

All the effects of codeine, intentional and otherwise, are subject to tolerance. Each effect decreases at a different rate. Euphoria typically is one of the quickest to dissipate while constipation is one of the slowest. Effects can begin to be noticeable as quickly as seven minutes after ingestion, due to absorption in the GI tract prior to its conversion to morphine during hepatic metabolism. They peak at about an hour in and last from 3 to 4 hours, depending on the dose. Recreational users describe the sensation they seek as a warm feeling coming over the body, sedation, and muscular relaxation. Less tangible sensations include a sense of well-being and contentment.

Side Effects Include:

  • Euphoria
  • Itching
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Miosis
  • Orthostatic hypotension
  • Urinary retention
  • Constipation

Similar Drugs

Codeine is related to almost all painkillers with a natural component. It is used in the production of many mild opiates like hydrocodone (Vicodin). It is the weakest of the commonly prescribed opiate pain medications. It is only ten percent of the strength of morphine, the same as Tramadol. This is six times weaker than Vicodin and 400 times weaker than Suboxone.

Addiction Information

Because of its relative weakness, the addictive properties of codeine are less than other opiates but; Despite this disparity, addiction to codeine is still possible. In countries where it can be bought over the counter, it is occasionally used recreationally. Codeine can be extracted and used in the clandestine manufacture of morphine and desomorphine, which are much stronger and therefore far more likely to result in addiction.

Codeine Withdrawal Symptoms

As soon as tolerance has developed, withdrawal will set in if the given dose is not maintained. The degree to which withdrawal will set in is dependent on the amount that the dose has been reduced. To make the withdrawal as manageable as possible, people dependant on codeine should gradually reduce their dose until they are eventually off. Relative to other opiates, the withdrawal symptoms of codeine are mild.

Withdrawal Symptoms Include:

  • Drug Craving
  • Dysphoria
  • Anhedonia
  • Runny nose
  • Yawning
  • Sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Weakness
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle spasms
  • Chills
  • Irritability
  • Pain

Codeine Overdose Information

Overdose on codeine alone is rare. In combination with other drugs, such as promethazine, which it is frequently used in tandem in many prescriptions with codeine, overdoses are more possible. It usually occurs through respiratory depression.

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