• Dr Kendra Clifford ND

Let's talk a bit about narcotics...

The term narcotic comes from the Greek word for 'stupor'. While this originally applied to any medication that caused the senses to be dulled and provided pain relief. Today the term narcotics only applies to opium, opium derivatives, and semi-synthetic substitutes.


Opium and it's derivatives include:

  • Morphine

  • Codeine

  • Thebaine


Semi-synthetic opiates are those that are made in a lab from natural opiates including:

  • Hydromorphone

  • Hydrocodone

  • Oxycodone

  • Heroin

Synthetic opiates are completely man made in the lab to mimic the effects of natural opiates. These include:

  • Fentanyl

  • Pethidine

  • Levorphanol

  • Methadone

  • Tramadol

  • Dextropropoxyphene


All natural opiates are derived from the opium poppy (or breadfeed poppy) Papaver somniferum. They provide pain relief by binding to receptors in the body. Research has shown that there are three different types of opiate receptors in the body - m, d, and k. Endorphins produce a natural 'high' by binding to the m type opiate receptors.


Knowing which receptor opiates bind to can help us produce more effective medication, while allowing us to target treatments for overdose. For example, naloxone binds to all three opiate receptors, but has a preference for the m type receptor.


Unfortunately, opiate medications have a high risk of tolerance and dependance.

  • Tolerance: the need for increasing amounts of pain medication to relieve pain.

  • Dependance: marked by a withdrawal response upon stopping the medication.

While these two effects can occur simultaneously, they are two distinct phenomena. Always take your pain medication as prescribed to decrease the risk for tolerance, dependance, and addiction. If you suspect you have an problem with narcotic medication there are resources available to help you including:

  • CONNEX Ontario: helpline to help you find treatment service information for gambling, drugs, addiction, or mental health. (1-866-531-2600)

  • RAAM Clinics: Rapid Access Addiction Medicine Clinics do not require a referral to be seen. They can help you be stabilized, and returned to your primary care physician. They can help with prescriptions for medications to help with your withdrawal symptoms.

For more information regarding the help available in Ontario please visit: https://www.ontario.ca/page/mental-health-services


Naturopathic Medicine is uniquely positioned to help you lessen, or cease your need for narcotic pain medication. It can also help with any withdrawal symptoms you might be experiencing.


This post is intended for informational purposes only and should not be substituted for medical advice.


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