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Heroin vs. Morphine

Because opioids, like heroin and morphine, produce such desirable effects, however, they both carry a risk of misuse. Unlike morphine, heroin is never considered safe to use.

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Traditionally prescribed as a pain medication or used as a common ingredient in other medications, morphine can be legally obtained throughout the United States, though it comes with potential for abuse. 

Heroin produces similar effects as morphine, but it is an illegal substance. Its use comes with dangerous side effects. 

Heroin vs Morphine@2x

Breaking Down Heroin & Morphine

Both heroin and morphine belong to the class of drugs called opioids. Opioid pain-relieving drugs are typically safe to use when taken as prescribed by a doctor and for a short period of time. 

Morphine is a non-synthetic narcotic drug derived from opium. It is a naturally occurring substance made from the seed pods of certain poppy plants. It can be used directly for pain management or processed into other medications, such as codeine. 

Some researchers suggest that use of prescription opioid drugs, such as morphine, opens the gate to heroin use, says the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). 

Heroin is a fast-acting drug derived from morphine. It is most commonly sold as a white or brown powder, or as a sticky black substance referred to as black tar heroin

Once consumed, heroin rapidly enters the brain and binds to opioid receptors that affect sensations of pain and pleasure. The same receptors are involved in the control of breathing, sleeping, and heart rate. 

What Are the Differences Between Heroin & Morphine? 

While they share many similarities, there are some distinctions between heroin and morphine.

Effects on the Brain & Body

Morphine has relaxing effects on both the mind and the body. Mentally, morphine can induce a sense of euphoria and pain relief. On the body, morphine reduces physical pain, inhibits the cough reflex, and can decrease appetite.

Heroin creates similar relaxing effects as morphine, though typically in a greater surge. A rush of euphoria is followed by a state where the user vacillates between feeling awake and feeling sleepy. Additional physical effects of heroin include flushing of the skin, drowsiness, dry mouth, extremities feeling heavy, constricted pupils, and respiratory depression. 

Addiction & Abuse 

Both heroin and morphine have a risk of addiction and abuse. As heroin enters the brain so quickly, however, the risk of psychological and physical addiction is particularly high. 

Heroin is typically injected, smoked, or snorted. Morphine can also be injected, though it is also prescribed as oral solutions, tablets, and capsules. When being abused, morphine is often injected, as it is the quickest route of administration.

Risk of Overdose

Both heroin and morphine pose a high risk of overdose. Heroin is an unregulated substance, so users can never know the true dosage or ingredients, explains the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). According to NIDA, 13,165 people died of a heroin-related overdose in 2020

Although morphine is a controlled substance, it is also abused and frequently consumed with disregard to a doctor’s prescription. In 2020, 68,630 overdose deaths were recorded involving any type of opioid, with 16,416 overdose deaths involving prescription opioids, like morphine. 


Medication and behavioral therapies have proven effective in the treatment of opioid use disorders.

When administered in time, naloxone can nearly instantly reverse an opioid overdose, including overdose from heroin and morphine. To treat an opioid use disorder that involves use of either heroin or morphine, a combination of medication and behavioral therapy is recommended. 

Methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone are three types of medications that are used in the treatment of opioid use disorder as part of medication-assisted treatment (MAT). Combined with behavioral therapies that help people recognize and adjust their unhealthy patterns of thinking and behavior, opioid use disorder can be effectively treated. 

Heroin & Morphine

While morphine has a medical purpose, it can be abused. It is possible to become dependent on and addicted to both morphine and heroin, and serious consequences can result. Substance use disorders, overdose, and death can result from excessive morphine and heroin use. 

Heroin remains, however, an illegal Schedule 1 substance with no accepted medical use in the United States, explains the DEA. It has an extremely high potential for abuse and no recognized safe way to use it. While it is abused, morphine maintains a legal space in the medical field when used safely and responsibly for the pain-relieving effects it can produce. 

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Medically Reviewed By Dr. Alison Tarlow

Dr. Alison Tarlow is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in the States of Florida and Pennsylvania, and a Certified Addictions Professional (CAP). She has been a practicing psychologist for over 15 years. Sh... Read More

Updated May 1, 2023
  1. Heroin. (April 2020). Department of Justice/Drug Enforcement Administration.
  2. Heroin Drug Facts. (June 2021). National Institute on Drug Abuse.
  3. Opioids. (No Date). National Institute on Drug Abuse.
  4. How Can Prescription Drug Addiction Be Treated? (June 2020) National Institute on Drug Abuse.
  5. Morphine. (April 2020). Department of Justice/Drug Enforcement Administration.
  6. The Mechanisms Involved in Morphine Addiction: An Overview. (July 2019). International Journal of Molecular Sciences.
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