Is morphine a controlled substance?

Dr. Chatterjee is a board-certified interventional pain management specialist. He has spent over a decade walking patients through the complicated world of risky prescriptions at the Cleveland Clinic and Columbia Hospital.

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Medically reviewed by Neil Chatterjee, MD

Yes, morphine is a controlled substance, a group of highly regulated and controlled drugs due to their addictive and abuse potential. Controlled substances are high-risk medications and include opioids, benzodiazepines, anabolic steroids, and stimulants.  

A little bit of history…

Morphine is an old drug that has been used for hundreds of years all over the world for pain control. Opium became popular in 1773 when the British began to control the poppy plantations in India. Opium addiction rose to alarming levels during the 18th and 19th centuries. In 1803 Friedrich Serturner, a German pharmacist, first isolated morphine from opium.  

What is morphine?

Morphine is a narcotic medication used to treat moderate to severe pain. Morphine  acts in the central nervous system to alleviate pain. Opioid medications activate specific receptors in the body known as mu, delta, and kappa receptors. Opioids activate these receptors throughout the body, including the gut, central nervous, and limbic systems, which explains opioid-induced constipation, pain alleviation, and the effects of euphoria. As the central nervous system is responsible for respiration, using higher amounts of morphine can lead to respiratory depression, especially when combined with other drugs such as Valium and Xanax. 

Types of Morphine Available 

Morphine comes in many forms, making it a commonly used pain medication in hospital and home settings. The following are some of the common forms of morphine available. 

  • Liquid form:  Morphine is available as a solution or liquid. It is imperative that you fully understand the measurement required for you, as it can be easy to overestimate the dose when measuring. 
  • Extended-release: Morphine is available in long-acting forms to control and manage moderate to severe chronic pain.  MS Contin, Morphabond, Kadien, and Arymo ER are examples of the extended-release morphine equivalents.
  • Immediate-release: Morphine tablets are available and are prescribed for acute pain to use only as needed.

What are the side effects of morphine?

As with all opioid medications, there are many side effects. Some of the more common side effects are constipation, nausea, somnolence (sleepiness), lightheadedness, dizziness, sedation, vomiting, and sweating.

  • Constipation
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Lightheadedness and dizziness
  • Increased sedation
  • Difficulty breathing


Morphine is a controlled substance and is NOT for everyone.  Morphine is not the correct choice of medication for many people, in particular:

  • Allergic reactions to morphine
  • Respiratory depression 
  • Acute and uncontrolled asthma or other chronic lung conditions
  • Particular diagnosis such as paralytic ileus and kidney failure
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