Technische Universität München

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Narcotics are considered as substances and drugs which are able to change psychic and physical status of an organism in a wide range from sleep and total immobilization up to euphoria and excitation. This popular understanding of the word narcotic is, therefore, more related to the symptoms observed than to the specific action of narcotic substances. In science and medicine, the narcotic effects of different substances are defined more precisely based on their chemical structure and biological mechanisms exerting changes in human organism.

A narcotic is an addictive drug that reduces pain, induces sleep and may alter mood or behaviour. In medicine, an analgesic narcotic means opioid, which refers to all natural, semi-synthetic and synthetic substances that act pharmacologically like morphine, the primary constituent of natural opium. The opioids are classified on the WADA List of prohibited substances and methods as narcotics. In some countries, the name narcotics also refers to cocaine, which chemically is not a narcotic. The other group of substances, inappropriately named as narcotics, are sympathomimetics. These are generally the drugs activating the central nervous system by catecholamine (adrenaline and noradrenaline) actions and are classified on the WADA List as  stimulants. The third group consists of substances able to elicit psychic changes like those manifested in the course of psychosis. These substances are called psychotomimetics, or psychedelics, or hallucinogens. Among the psychotomimetics only the cannabinoids were located on the WADA List as a separated group of substances.

Morphine and codeine are natural phenantrene alkaloids present in opium and are derived out of 20 other remaining alkaloids from a premature poppy capsule (Papaver somniferum). The content of opium in the poppy capsule is about 10% for morphine, 0.2%  for codeine, 10% for noscapine (narcotine) and about 5% for papaverine. Noscapine and papaverine are isocholine alkaloids. In general, phenantrene derivatives of opium exhibit analgesic properties while the isochinoline derivatives exhibit spasmolytic properties.

Opioids act by opiate receptors located in both the central nervous system and the periphery. However, the predominant effect of opioids is the modification of the activity of the central nervous system. The peripheral action of analgesic narcotics is partly related to the effects of histamine release following narcotics application.