Morphine, Nicotine, and Caffeine

Morphine Nicotine Caffeine

            Morphine, nicotine, and caffeine are 3 molecules that have greatly impacted history, namely the Opium Wars, and are now commonly found and widely used drugs.

            China had recently been introduced to tobacco around 1496 and it became popular very quickly. China was among the civilizations that had previously used opium for medicinal purposes; however, many of the Chinese started to smoke opium because tobacco had been banned, and by the eighteenth century, China had become a opium reliant country. Then, in 1729 it had become illegal to trade or sell opium in China. But that didn’t stop the people, they were soon willing to trade their tea for opium from the Britains, rather than the silver they usually demanded. The Chinese government tried to end the illegal trading, which eventually led to the First Opium War, which China lost and were forced to open 5 of their ports to British trade . After also losing a Second Opium War, more ports were opened, and the opium trade was legalized.


            There is evidence that shows the opium poppy may have been harvested and used since prehistoric times. In fact, before the eighteenth century, many civilizations used the opium herb for medicine. However, after the eighteenth and into the nineteenth century, many people in the United States and Europe- mostly writers and artists- used it to help their creativity flow. Many were drawn to opium as it was a cheap intoxicant that caused you to fall into a dreamlike state. Eventually opium became so popular, and people so negligent of what affects it may have on their health, that it was used as soothing medicine on young, teething babies!

            Morphine is the most abundant alkaloid in opium, and the first pure sample was extracted from a poppy flower pod by Fredrich Serturner in 1803. It took 122 years to figure out  the chemical structure of morphine. The essential parts of the morphine rule is comprised of a β-phenylethylamine unit (aromatic ring), quaternary carbon atom (a carbon atom directly attached to four others), two CH₂ groups directly attached to a tertiary N atom (a Nitrogen atom directly attached to three other carbon atoms). This combination is thought to be the reason behind morphine having narcotic effects, despite being a hallucinogen.


            Nicotine is one of the major alkaloids in tobacco and was brought over into Europe after Christopher Columbus went to the New World and witnessed men and women smoking rolls of tobacco leaves. Soon after it was introduced tobacco used swept the continent, and it was soon Europeans grew their own tobacco. The process of growing tobacco was very demanding and hard, not to mention that they were always lacking in supply what was demanded by the people, and was work left to slaves in the New World who began to grow tobacco for the Spanish and English to export to other countries. The Chinese eventually are willing to trade the English tea for tobacco, and eventually opium when tobacco becomes prohibited.

            Nicotine is able to act as a stimulant and depressant because it is able to act similarly to a neurotransmitter. It would at first increase your neurological impulses, but as the site of these transmissions become restricted, muscle activity, namely at the heart, slow down and causes poor circulation of oxygen to your blood, which results in a sedative state.


Caffeine can be found in tea, cacao (used in chocolate), and coffee. The actual origin of tea is unclear, but it has been a part of Asian countries’ cultures. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to set up trade with China for their tea, but it was the Dutch who brought the first bundle of tea to Europe. Tea was at first very expensive, but eventually as more tea was imported, the prices fell, and tea was on its way to becoming England’s new national drink. Tea was also essential to the events leading to the opium wars. It was tea (the caffeine in it really) that the British wanted in return for opium, rather than the English having to pay for the tea.

            Caffeine has three CH₃ groups attached to its rings. This allows it to bloc adenosine in the brain. Adenosine causes us to become sleepy, so although we may think caffeine wakes us up, it is actually just blocking the molecule which would make us sleepy. Caffeine is used in many different medicines and can be used to treat an array of symptoms such as migraines. And thankfully, we have yet to link the overuse of caffeine to any detrimental effects.

 So morphine is a narcotic which causes you to not feel pain by numbing your senses, and it also makes you sleepy; nicotine is a stimulant for your heart in small doses, but in larger doses act as a depressant and even a poison; and caffeine is a psychoactive drug and powerful central nervous stimulant. I think the authors were definitely right to have chosen to write about these three molecules and what they have achieved throughout history. I only think of morphine being used in a hospital setting nowadays, but it is still very important and used often to help ease the pains of certain patients when undergoing certain things such as a surgery. However, the use of morphine also lead to the production of heroin which many people sadly, abuse now. When hearing nicotine, my mind always also thinks of cigarettes. I am strongly against smoking, and hate that people are so dependent on tobacco and the nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes, as they are not only harmful to those who smoke, but are equally- if not more- harmful to those around you breathing in the second hand smoke. Contrarily, it seems as if nobody has any problems with caffeine. It can be found in just about every carbonated drink, tea, and coffee, and most people consume one of the three daily. Some people do not realize that it IS addictive, and it is in fact a drug. And so many Americans are dependent on it,  you hear countless adults claim they cannot start their day without coffee. Although right now it seems there are no downfalls to caffeine, it still is a concern to me. This is why I am actually now grateful to my parents for not allowing me to have caffeinated drinks as a child, as I do not want to have a dependency on such things.

Categories: Uncategorized | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Morphine, Nicotine, and Caffeine

  1. laurelap17

    Esther, I very much appreciate the way you organized your blog. Especially considering the information in your chapter. I also thought it was nice that you related the topic to your own personal life.

  2. madisonstephens15

    That was great, Esther! I enjoyed the personal spin on it and I thought you hit the major points!

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