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How Long Do Opium Effects Last?

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As far as pain-relieving drugs go, no other class of drugs offers the type of relief afforded by opium and opium-type medications. Opium has become the standard ingredient in most every type of prescription pain relief medication, some of which include:

  • Morphine
  • OxyContin
  • Hydromorphone
  • Dilaudid
  • Percocet

With so many varieties of drugs on the market, opium effects can last anywhere from a couple hours to 12 hours at a time depending on the type of drug. The duration of opium effects can also vary depending on how long and how often a person takes a drug.

Opium’s ability to infiltrate the brain’s chemical processes leave users open to any number of drug effects. Over time, opium effects take an increasingly larger toll on the brain’s ability to restore a natural chemical balance. Ultimately, a person’s pattern of drug use most influences how long opium effects will last.

Opium Drugs

opiate abuse dangers

The opium high does not last too long, but the repercussions of opium abuse do.

Opium drugs originate from ingredients found in the opium poppy seed plant, some of which include:

  • Opium
  • Morphine
  • Codeine
  • Thebaine
  • Oripavine

While some opium-type drugs contain natural ingredients, most prescription pain medications use synthetic compounds formulated to produce the same effects as the natural substances. By using synthetic compounds, manufacturers can increase or decrease any one drug’s potency level.

When ingested, the brain interacts with both natural and synthetic opium drugs in the same way. When abused, opium effects carry a high potential for abuse and addiction, according to Palomar College. Even in cases where a person takes one of these drugs for medicinal purposes, the potential for abuse remains. Not surprisingly, the more potent opium drugs pose the greatest risk of abuse and addiction.

Opium Effects

Opium’s physical characteristics allow it easy access within the brain’s chemical system. As a pain relief agent, opium carries many of the same chemical properties as the brain’s own pain-relieving chemicals, namely dopamine and serotonin. This similarity accounts for opium’s ability to integrate seamlessly within the brain’s chemical processes.

In effect, opium stimulates certain brain cells to secrete large amounts of dopamine and serotonin chemicals. Normal brain and body function relies on a certain balance of brain chemicals at all times. The ongoing use of opium gradually offsets this delicate balance over time.

Opium’s ability to stimulate chemical production eventually takes a toll on brain cells. Ultimately, the duration of opium effects for any one person depends on the degree of damage caused to brain cell structures.

Factors Affecting Duration of Opium Effects

Factors affecting how long the effects of opium last include –

  • Drug potency
  • Frequency of use
  • Medicinal versus recreational use
  • Method of use (snorting, injecting, smoking or orally in pill form)

While the potency of the drug goes a long way toward influencing how long its effects last, the method of use can greatly influence duration times. In general the more intense the “high” or drug effect, the shorter the duration time.

Likewise, frequency of use determines the rate of damage that takes place in the brain. In most cases, people taking opium drugs for medicinal purposes (as prescribed) stand to see longer duration times than recreational users.

Rising Tolerance Levels

Rising brain tolerance levels play a pivotal role in determining how long opium effects last. As brain cells deteriorate, the brain’s tolerance for opium rises. When this happens, cells require increasingly larger doses to produce the desired drug effects.

In the case of someone taking an opium-type drug for medicinal purposes, pain symptoms will start to resurface as brain tolerance levels rise. For recreational users, the drug’s “high” effects will become less intense and wear off more quickly.

While all this takes place, chemical imbalances start to take shape throughout the brain as a result of the sporadic surges in chemical secretions brought on by opium effects. These developments also contribute to diminishing duration times as growing chemical imbalances further impair normal brain cell secretion rates.

Opium Effects When Physically Dependent

Over time, brain cell functions come to depend on opium effects to work at all, at which point physical dependency has taken hold. Once a person becomes physically dependent on opium, the duration of the drug’s effects gradually decrease the longer he or she keeps taking the drug.

Once the body becomes physically dependent, opium effects take the form of withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms can vary from person to person, though those most commonly experienced include –

  • Insomnia
  • Random aches and pains
  • Irritability
  • Tension
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Feelings of sadness

Over time, withdrawal symptoms start to appear more often, which means opium effects are growing shorter in duration. Someone taking an opium drug for medicinal purposes may start to increase dosage amounts or frequency of use in order to ward off pain symptoms, while recreational users will likely experience more pronounced effects as physical dependency increases.

Opium Effects When Addicted

Addiction develops once the brain’s cognitive functions become dependent on opium effects. At this point, a person is psychologically dependent on the effects of the drug. A psychological dependency takes shape once chemical imbalances have altered how the brain’s reward center works.

The brain’s reward center regulates learning functions. In essence, the reward centers learns to associate opium effects with survival in much the same way it considers food and water as necessary for survival.

This form of dependency gives the drug’s effects a whole new twist in terms of creating a psychological “need” for the drug. Consequently, the cravings that result from a psychological dependency shorten the duration of opium effects to the point where all a person thinks about is getting and using the drug.


The close relationship between the duration of opium effects and the brain’s increasing tolerance levels accounts for why this drug carries such a high addiction potential. Likewise, someone who goes through detox and drug treatment faces a high risk of relapse and ongoing drug use.

According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, when a person relapses after drug treatment, the effects of opium on the brain and body can be overwhelming to the point where overdose occurs. In this instance, the duration of opium effects can be indefinite as death can easily result.

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