What are narcotics?

Narcotics are drugs from the opiate family, drugs that are derived naturally from the seedpods of the opium poppy (papaver somniferum), or are produced synthetically and have opiate like effects. Narcotics reduce pain and create a state of well-being. Upon use, narcotics have an immediate effect on the body.

The body creates its own natural opiate: endorphins. Endorphins are the body’s natural painkillers. When the body is in pain, it releases neurotransmitters, a stimuli or message to the body that it has pain. The brain then creates endorphins to block the pain messages from the brain/body. The word endorphins comes from the term endogenous, meaning morphine-like substances “produced in the body.”

Narcotics are highly addictive because they change the chemistry of the brain: they decrease the perception of pain and alter the body’s reaction to pain. When taken, the body creates less endorphins because the effects of narcotics are so much more intense than those of endorphins.

If you stop taking narcotics, your body goes through the effects of withdrawal. This occurs because your body cannot produce enough endorphins quickly enough to make you feel good, the way narcotics do. There are not enough endorphins to block the pain and your body becomes physically addicted to narcotics. This is where the habituation to the drug starts as the user must replace the missing endorphins with narcotics in order to feel good and to avoid the painful effects of narcotic withdrawal. This leads to the dependance of the drug.

Why do people take narcotics?

Narcotics are taken for their ability to relieve pain, create relaxation and for their immediate euphoric affect.

Types of narcotics

  • Natural opiates
    • Codeine >> Doriden, Empirin, Tylenole with Codeine
    • Opium
    • Morphine
    • Thebaine
  • Opiate Derivatives - Semi Synthetic
    • Buprenorphine >> Buprenex
    • Dextromethorphan
    • Heroin >> Diacetylmorphine, Diamorphine
    • Hydrocodone >> Anexsia, Hycodan, Hycomine, Lorcet, Lortab, Tussionex, Tylox, Vicodin, and Vicoprofen.
    • Hydromorphone >> Dilaudid
    • Naloxone >> Narcan
    • Oxycodone >> OxyContin, Percocet, Percodan, Roxicet, Roxicodone, Tylox, Superdol
    • Oxymorphone >> Numorphan
  • Synthetic
    • Butorphanol >> Stadol
    • Dextropropoxyphene or Propoxyphene >> Darvon
    • Fentanyl >> Alfenta, Duragesic, Innovar, Sublimaze, Sufenta)
    • Levo-Alpha-Acetyl-Methadol - LAAM
    • Meperedine >> Demerol, Mepergan, MPTP (a fatal Meperedine-analog contaminant)
    • Methadone >> Dolophine
    • Pentazocine >> Talwin
  • Other
    • Cocaine, Crack, Crack Cocaine
      Both crack and cocaine share many of the same properties as stimulants but are classified as a narcotic under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) (United States). Go to the stimulants page for if you want further information on the effects of cocaine and crack cocaine.

Narcotics are also known as

Brown sugar, Chasing the dragon, China White, Crank, Dope, DXM, Eightball, H, Horse, Junk, Skag, Smack, Speedball, Whitehorse, more

How are narcotics taken?

Narcotics can be taken orally, inhaled, smoked, injected, by suppository or patches.

What are the possible effects of narcotics use?

  • Euphoria, rush, hallucinations
  • Restlessness
  • Loss of appetite, upset stomach, nausea, vomiting
  • Dry mouth
  • Lethargy, drowsiness, nodding, difficulty being roused
  • Unsteadiness, confusion
  • Suppression of pain
  • Constricted (pinpoint) pupils
  • Scars (tracks) caused by injections
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Constipation
  • Sweating
  • Difficulty breathing

Chronic / long term use of narcotics may cause

  • Develop tolerance
  • Decreased heart rate
  • Slowness of movement (bradykinesia) and decreased/loss of coordination (ataxia)
  • Delayed Encephalopathy (brain disorders)
  • The brain may stop producing the bodies natural painkillers (endorphins)
  • Infections of the skin
  • Collapsed veins
  • Loss of menstrual cycle
  • Infectious diseases HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis B and C
  • Speech abnormalities
  • Arthritis and other rheumatologic problems
  • Infection of the heart valves
  • Fluid in the lungs, pneumonia
  • Intestinal slowdown, liver dysfunction
  • Seizures

What are the risks associated with pregnancy and narcotics use?

Babies may be born addicted and experience neonatal withdrawal. Withdrawal can result in fatality. Heroin and other opiates, including methadone, can cause significant withdrawal in the baby, with some symptoms lasting as long as 4 to 6 months. Other risks include:

  • Seizures
  • Spontaneous abortion
  • Premature and growth-retarded infants
  • Intestinal abnormalities
  • Hyperactivity, trembling, and significant learning problems.

Symptoms of narcotic overdose

  • Slow, shallow breathing
  • Clammy skin
  • Heavy perspiration
  • Hallucinogens
  • Convulsions
  • Coma, possible death

Withdrawal symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms start 8 hrs after the last use. Symptoms can last as long as 30 days.


  • Early withdrawal symptoms
    • Drug craving
    • Irritability/anxiety
    • Increased respiratory rate
    • Sweating
    • Watery eyes, tearing or crying (lacrimation)
    • Yawning
    • Runny nose
    • Goosebumps
    • Restlessness
    • Dilated pupils
    • Loss of appetite, anorexia
  • Advanced withdrawal symptoms
    • Insomnia or extended restless sleep
    • Abdominal cramps, diarrhea
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Weakness
    • Chills
    • Tachycardia (abnormally fast heartbeat)
    • Hypertension
    • Muscle spasms, tremors
    • Panic
    • Generalized pain / muscle and bone pain
    • Cravings stop


    Brecher, Edward M. and the Editors of Consumer Reports Magazine “Effects of opium, morphine and heroin on addicts” Chapter 4. The Consumers Union Report - Licit and Illicit Drugs [May 25, 2003]

    Medina, James L., MD, and Mark Zwanger, MD, MBA. “Narcotics Abuse” Nov. 30, 2002. eMedicine [May 7, 2003]

    U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information (NCADI).  “NCADI: Drugs of Abuse”.  Inventory # RP0926.  NCADI: SAMHSA’s The National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information - PREVLINE  [March 01, 2003]

    U.S. Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration “Narcotics” February 2003 Drugs of Abuse [May 25, 2003]

    Withdrawal Management Association of Ontario. “What is Withdrawal Management?” [March 01, 2003]