What is the Difference Between an Opiate and an Opioid?

What is the difference between an opioid and an opiate? Although these terms are often used interchangeably, they are not technically the same. An opiate is a substance occurring in nature. Examples would be kratom, morphine and codeine. Each of these occurs naturally in plants. Opiates are not necessarily chemically related. Obviously, the opium poppy and the kratom tree, a member of the coffee family, are not related. However, all interact with the brain’s opioid receptors in similar, although not identical, ways.

In contrast, an opioid is either partly or totally synthetic. Again, opioids are not necessarily chemically related, although many of them are. Opioids derived from the opium poppy, such as oxycodone, buprenorphine and hydrocodone all share what is called the morphinan skeleton. If you look at a diagram of their chemical structures, you can see the similarities. It should also be noted that natural opiates like morphine and codeine also share this morphinan structure.

Some opioids are totally synthetic. Examples would be methadone, fentanyl and propoxyphene. Sold under the brand name Darvon for many years, propoxyphene was eventually discontinued in the United States due to too many problems with overdose. Although related chemically to the super-strong methadone, propoxyphene isn’t a very good painkiller. As a result, people would take more of the drug to get relief. Although it didn’t kill pain very well, it was very good at causing serious overdoses at a time when no specific opioid antidote existed.

The distinction between opiates and opioids really isn’t a significant one. Both act in similar ways in the brain and produce similar effects. However, it may be useful to understand the technical difference.

What is Kratom?

This controversial south Asian tree produces leaves as big as a man’s hand that yield two important opioids: mitragynine and 7-hydroxy mitragynine. Related to the coffee plant, kratom is a popular remedy for both pain and the treatment of opioid withdrawal symptoms. It’s been used by native peoples for centuries with no ill effects.

It’s attracted a great deal of unwelcome attention from certain government entities like the FDA. Some agencies have even called it herbal heroin, which is ridiculous. Kratom is nothing like heroin! Several states have banned it outright, such as Alabama and Arkansas. Some jurisdictions have banned it, too. Although legal in California, it’s still illegal within the city limits of San Diego.

Kratom leaves are harvested, dried, and then processed into either a powder or an extract or tincture. The powder is sold as is or loaded into clear gelatin capsules. The taste and smell of the substance is vile, absolutely ghastly. Some people report being able to get off opioids altogether with the help of kratom. Others use it for pain.

Is Kratom Addictive?

When used to excess and for long periods of time, probably it is. However, it’s not addictive in the same way as oxycodone or fentanyl. Kratom’s effect on the brain’s mu opioid receptor appears to be limited. Kratom does not appear to recruit a protein called beta arrestin, which is associated with the suppression of the breathing reflex in the brain. This is how opioids kill. When too much is taken, the excess enters the brainstem and shuts down the cells responsible for breathing.

If the government has its way and kratom is banned, we will never know what kind of benefits it may have for the treatment of pain and opioid addiction. It seems foolish to be so short-sighted. Or maybe Big Pharma isn’t interested in kratom because they cannot patent it, and they don’t like the competition.

So, now you understand the subtle difference between an opioid and an opiate and that opioids don’t all necessarily come from the opium poppy.

For More Information

For more about opioids, opiates and addiction to these substances, call us anytime at . We’d be happy to assist you with any questions you have and refer you to help available in your area if necessary. We’re here to help. Call us at 302-842-2390.