Opium Effects: What Happens to the Body and Mind?

Last Updated: December 18, 2019

Opium effects and side effects include short term pleasure and long term pain. The cycle of tolerance and withdrawal is a brutal side effect

Opium is the Judas of drugs; it kisses and then betrays.

William Rosser Cobbe used this quote by Virgil to describe his 9-year addiction to opium in 1895. This description still applies today.

Short-Term Effects of Opium

In the beginning, opium floods the brain in a way that produces a slow wave of pleasure. Eventually, bodily functions slow down. A person feels sleepy, dreamy, relaxed, and nothing is bothersome. Pain, anxiety, and worry do not penetrate the opium fog. As such, a person feels confusion, moves slowly, and may become so relaxed they fall asleep. Too much opium can cause breathing to stop.

When opium wears off, the brain overcompensates for its loss and a person can feel a rebound effect of opposite symptoms. Euphoria and pleasure become depression and feeling lousy. Relaxation and dreaminess become restlessness and inability to sleep. The absence of pain, anxiety, and worry become a pronounced pain, anxiety, and worry. More opium is the only relief.

Long-Term Effects of Opium

As the body develops a tolerance to opium, it needs more of the drug to achieve the feeling of pleasure. So, a person will neglect other areas of life to get higher quantities of opium. When taking more, uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms can occur as soon as a dose wears off. Only taking more relieves the symptoms of feeling sick and lousy, becoming a priority.
Long-term use of opium results in:

  • Physical and psychological dependence
  • Risk of switching to stronger opiate drugs
  • Risk of changing the form of ingestion to feel the effects more quickly
  • Increased anxiety, pain, and worry which may lead to paranoia
  • Increased anger, irritability when withdrawal starts
  • Chronic constipation
  • Low blood oxygen too often leads to health problems
  • Weakening of the immune system, meaning that users get sick more
  • Chronic skin flushing and itching
  • Mental fog stays around even when not using the drug

How Long Do Opiates Stay In The System?

Opiates tend to leave the body quite quickly and have a short half-life. However, the effects can last several hours. However, this is also dependent on whether the drug is prescribed or not, how it is taken and a few of the other following factors:

  • Metabolism
  • BMI
  • Body Fat Content
  • Age
  • Health
  • Hydration Level
  • How regularly opiates are used and in what quantity
  • Type of Opiate

Opium Withdrawal Can Happen Quickly

Withdrawal is not life-threatening, but it is miserable. Sadly, a person can begin experiencing withdrawal after using opium for only a brief time. If the opium dose is high enough, symptoms can come on as soon as a dose wears off. Some effects are watery eyes, runny nose, sweating, and yawning. Over time, the withdrawal progresses to flu-like symptoms with restlessness and irritability.
Severe withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Abdominal cramping
  • Muscle pain
  • Severe pain in the joints
  • Increased sensitivity to pain
  • Shivering
  • Excessive sweating
  • Diarrhea
  • Dysphoria, or an all-encompassing bad feeling

Opium effects and side effects include the quick development of tolerance following feelings of pleasure. The relaxed, pain-free, worry-free high replaced by the opposite creates a dependence on the drug to get rid of withdrawal symptoms. The more opium used, the faster withdrawal symptoms start.

How Opiates Work

Opiates, or heroin bind receptors to the brain. This creates feelings of euphoria and bliss. They do this by mimicking the form of a natural neurotransmitter and essentially taking over the brain’s communications, therefore, changing the way the brain sends and receives information. This similarity in structure allows the opiates to go undetected and take over the brain’s operations.

The Importance Of Detox From Opiates

As with all drugs, detox is important. This is the case, even more so, with opiates. Due to the strength of opiates as a drug, it is strongly discouraged that a user quits alone or that they attempt to quit cold turkey.
Even after one small dose of opium, one may begin to experience withdrawal symptoms so understanding how to detox is essential. The more one takes opium, the more dangerous and extreme withdrawal symptoms will become. This reinforces the importance of an early detox. Those undergoing opium detox will be given naloxone and suboxone to help ease the withdrawal symptoms and to prevent opium from binding to receptors.
After undergoing the detox, patients will be required to attend regular sessions of therapy, individually and in groups. This is to monitor progress and help gradually re-introduce people to everyday life.
There is also an option for rapid detox, where a patient is put under anesthesia for 1-2 hours to avoid the effects of withdrawal. During this time, the opium is removed from the brain and spine. This helps to remove physical dependence on opium. However, rapid detox patients will still have to undergo psychological therapy and counseling for the more mental aspects of their addiction.

Page Sources

  1. Kuhn, C., Swartzwelder, S., & Wilson, W. (2014). Buzzed: The straight facts about the most used and abused drugs from alcohol to ecstasy. 4th edition. W.W. Norton & Company: New York

Published on: May 3rd, 2017

Updated on: December 18th, 2019

About Author

Peter J. Grinspoon, MD

Dr. Peter Grinspoon is an experienced physician with long-term clinical practice experience. As a former analgesic addict, Dr. Grinspoon knows precisely how important it is to provide patients with effective treatment and support. Medical writing for him is the way to communicate with people and inform them about their health.


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