Fentanyl vs Morphine

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Though both substances carry the title of opioid, there is a vast difference between the naturally occurring morphine and its potent synthetic counterpart, fentanyl. As the opioid crisis continues to be at the forefront of news headlines, each of these substances have made an appearance for both their positive medical benefits as well as their potentially lethal side effects. As often as they are spoken of, many remain unaware of the similarities and differences between these substances and just why they continue to be the frequent topic of discussion.

If you or someone you know finds themself struggling with addictive patterns resulting from overusing each of these powerful opioids, there is good news. Guardian Recovery is here to help. With years of experience addressing opioid use disorders, Guardian Recovery is at the forefront of providing the highest quality of substance use treatment to those who are struggling. Reach out today and speak with one of our admissions professionals to begin your journey to freedom.

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Fentanyl, Morphine & The Poppy Plant

Fentanyl and morphine are both classified as an opioid (1), but their origin and makeup are vastly different. Opioids carry three distinct classifications. They are either naturally occurring, semi-synthetic, or fully synthetic.

Naturally occurring opioids are named this way because of their ability to be found in nature without the addition of additional unnatural chemicals. Semi-synthetic opioids have varying amounts of both naturally occurring substances as well as chemical additives. Fully synthetic opioids, however, are entirely made up of chemicals that are not naturally occurring but are designed to mimic the effects of these naturally occurring substances often with increased potency. Morphine is a naturally occurring byproduct of the poppy plant, while fentanyl is fully synthetic designed to mimic the effects of morphine with highly increased efficacy.

How Are Fentanyl & Morphine Produced?

Morphine (2) is a naturally occurring opioid. The unripened seed pods of the poppy plant are cut and secrete a milky white substance. This substance is morphine. As it thickens, it is harvested, dried out, and has the ability to be used right away in its current form.

Fentanyl (3) is a fully synthetic opioid, meaning that it is entirely made up of chemical compounds that do not occur naturally. It is made in a laboratory setting by highly skilled professionals trained in combining these potentially harmful chemical ingredients.

Potency of Fentanyl Compared to Morphine

As potent as morphine can be on its own, it is estimated that fentanyl is approximately 100 times more potent than its naturally occurring predecessor. When used in a medical setting, a typical starting dose of morphine (4) is 2.5 milligrams. There are 1000 milligrams in 1 gram and a teaspoon of sugar is roughly 4 grams. This means that to get the same effect as this dose of morphine, .000025 grams of fentanyl would be administered. This is equal to .025 milligrams or 25 micrograms, the standard unit of measurement for fentanyl.

Fentanyl & Morphine’s Effect on the Brain

One of the factors that classify both morphine and fentanyl as opioids is the way that they interact with the brain. Both substances interact powerfully with the brain’s reward center releasing high amounts of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. These chemicals are responsible for producing a euphoric effect while at the same time reinforcing the behavior that caused them.

Pharmaceutical & Medical Uses of Fentanyl & Morphine

Both fentanyl and morphine are used medically for their powerful pain relieving and anesthetic properties. With fentanyl’s extremely high potency, it is often used for patients that have either developed a tolerance to morphine or patients who do not have the desired response when morphine is administered.

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In What Forms Are Fentanyl & Morphine Available?

Morphine, in a medical setting, is administered almost exclusively intravenously as a liquid solution. It is, however, available as a capsule, tablet, or oral solution. Each of these administrations vary in efficacy and depend on the specific situation for each patient.

Fentanyl is available in topical patches, intravenous liquid solutions, vapor used for nasal inhalation, or cough drop type lozenges intended for sucking. Each of these administrations are determined by the doctor with intravenous and topical administrations being the most frequently used.

Methods of Use & Administration

Intravenous administrations of each of these compounds are used specifically in medically supervised settings like a hospital or ambulance Usually this application is for preparation or immediately following surgical procedures. Capsule or topical patches can be prescribed to patients to use in their homes for the treatment of pain.

Is Fentanyl or Morphine More Addictive?

Both fentanyl and morphine are highly addictive carrying the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classification (5) as a Schedule II controlled substance. This means that they both carry the highest level of addiction potential while also maintaining use for medical purposes. Though the effects from fentanyl overdose are often more dramatic due to its extremely high potency, both substances should be considered highly addictive.

Risks of Overdose From Use

Though both substances carry the possibility of overdose, fentanyl overdose is much more frequent due to the small amount required for an overdose. A potentially lethal dose of fentanyl is only 2 milligrams, meaning that it would take 200 milligrams of morphine to produce the same result.

Are Drugs Often Laced With Morphine in Comparison?

Other drugs being laced with fentanyl is an increasingly prevalent problem leading to many of the accidental overdoses seen today. 42% of illegally manufactured pills (6) confiscated by the DEA tested positive for potentially lethal doses of fentanyl. Though it would be possible to lace a substance with morphine, the amount required would be much higher and could be potentially noticed by the user so this practice is rare if ever used.

Which Opioid Contributes More to Addiction & Overdose Rates?

Due to its extremely high potency and increasing availability, fentanyl is the leading cause in U.S. overdoses (7) by far. With 106,000 overdoses reported in the United States in 2021, over 70,000 if them were attributed to fentanyl.

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Addiction Treatment Methods for Fentanyl VS Morphine

Treatment methods for both substances depend on the many factors including the amount used, the length of use, and the willingness of the person using it to engage in treatment. Treatment methods typically begin with a detox process monitored by a trained medical staff. After the detox process, combinations of medication and counseling are utilized to address the underlying factors contributing to addiction.

If you or someone you know is in need of treatment for a substance use disorder, hope is closer than you may think. One call to Guardian Recovery is all it takes to begin your journey of freedom. Our admissions professionals can provide you with a free, no obligation, insurance check over the phone to ensure that the highest quality of treatment is provided to you or your loved one. Call Guardian Recovery today.


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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

  1. https://nida.nih.gov/research-topics/opioids
  2. https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2020-06/Morphine-2020.pdf
  3. https://www.cdc.gov/opioids/basics/fentanyl.html
  4. https://www.palliativedrugs.com/download/COMPLETEMORPHINEVARIABLEDOSECHART2.pdf
  5. https://www.dea.gov/drug-information/drug-scheduling
  6. https://www.dea.gov/resources/facts-about-fentanyl
  7. https://nida.nih.gov/research-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates#:~:text=Overall%2C%20drug%20overdose%20deaths%20rose,overdose%20deaths%20reported%20in%202021

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave


Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

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Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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