Who Discovered Morphine?

Opium, the dried juice  from poppy seed capsules, was already known as a  painkiller in ancient times   . But how many  active ingredients  are contained in raw opium and why the same amounts of opium often have different effects required more precise analysis.

History of Morphine

It was not until 1805 that the groundbreaking isolation of the active principle of opium succeeded. Morphine was originally named the sleep-inducing substance after Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams. Later, morphine was given the name morphine.

In his book “History of Plant Poisons” from 1777, Johann Friedrich Gmelin describes the effect of opium as follows: “The poppy juice acts on the soul through the nerves. A weak weight puts the mind in a calm and serene state that, as long as this Effect lasts, defies even the most violent pain and depressing sorrow.”

acids and bases

At the time morphine was discovered, only acids were known to be active herbal ingredients. When the Paderborn pharmacist’s assistant Friedrich Wilhelm Adam Sertürner (1783 – 1841) published his discovery in Trommsdorff’s Journal der Pharmazie and at the same time claimed that morphine was an alkaline base, his findings were ignored. Only later was it recognized that morphine was the first representative of a class of substances to be discovered: the alkaloids. Since then, several alkaloids have been extracted from opium, the mixing ratio of which varies depending on their origin, which explains the different effects of the same doses of opium.

effect of morphine

The strongest component of opium is morphine, a highly potent analgesic narcotic whose isolation revolutionized medicine, especially surgery. However, it was soon discovered that not only opium but also morphine was addictive. However, since this rarely occurs in the doses required in modern pain management, morphine is still the first choice for combating severe and chronic conditions.

In his later years, Friedrich Wilhelm Adam Sertürner worked as a pharmacist in Einbeck and Hameln, where he also devoted himself to further research. Sertuner died at the age of 58 and was buried in the Bartholomäus chapel in Einbeck. His tombstone reads: “Through the meritorious discovery of morphine, he worked to the blessing of many sick people.”


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