Opiates Versus Opioids–What is the Difference?

February 14, 2023

What is the difference between opiates and opioids? Although the two words are frequently used interchangeably, there is actually a difference. The suffix “oid” means like, or similar. An opiate is a natural drug such as morphine or heroin, made from the opium poppy, while opioids are synthetic (human-made) drugs similar—such as fentanyl and methadone. Both work in much the same way.

Opiates and opioids work by reaching parts of nerve cells called opioid receptors, from which they enter the nerve cell. They are used as drugs to reduce pain and in some cases are abused to cause euphoria and a “high”. 

Opiates and Opioids may be used very short-term for extreme pain control, but are dangerous if used long-term because of its addiction potential. Other side effects of opiates and opioids are: 

  • Constipation
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Slowed breathing

Another category are endogenous opioids, endorphins and enkephalins which are made in the human brain and act at the same nerve cell receptors. The difference is that they do not enter the cell from the receptor, and do not cause the side effects seen with opiates and opioid drugs. Runners report a feeling of wellbeing when endorphins are released from their brains during training.

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