What is the Difference Between Opiate and Opioid?

What is the difference between opiates and opioids? These terms are often used interchangeably, but this is not technically correct. This article will discuss both terms, give examples and explain the scientific difference between an opioid and an opiate.

Opiates: the Definition

An opiate is a substance occurring
naturally in the opium poppy plant. Examples in common use and include:

  • Morphine
  • Codeine
  • Opium
  • Thebaine

You may notice that heroin or diacetylmorphine is not included in this list. This is because heroin is technically an opioid not occurring naturally in the opium poppy. Heroin is a semi-synthetic opioid morphine analog. This means it’s prepared from the opiate morphine but is not itself an opiate.

This technical line is further blurred when discussing the opiate codeine. Although it occurs in small percentage amounts under about 4 percent in the opium poppy, codeine may also be synthesized from the opiate morphine. In fact, another name for codeine is methylmorphine.

There is not sufficient naturally-occurring codeine in the opium poppy to supply the world’s legitimate codeine requirements for medical use of this drug. Most of the world’s codeine supply is thus made from morphine.


Thebaine is a very strange opiate. It has no narcotic or sedative properties of its own, but its chemical structure is still very close to that of oxycodone and other opioids. In fact, oxycodone drug manufacturers often make this drug from thebaine because it’s the simplest method.

Both oxycodone and hydrocodone can be made from codeine but compared to starting with thebaine, the process is much more complex and therefore more costly.

Drug manufacturers own and maintain high-yield thebaine opium poppy fields in places like Morocco, India, and Holland. These poppies are genetically manipulated and engineered to produce very high levels of thebaine and typically low ones of morphine. This makes their fields unattractive to opium thieves who sneak into their properties to steal opium poppy pods for sale on the black market. At the same time, these special genetically-engineered opium poppy blends are an important asset to their pharma drug company owners.

Thebaine is a peculiar substance producing disturbing hallucinations, feelings of anxiety and rapid heartbeat. Other than conversion into useful opioids, thebaine has no known or accepted medical use.

Opioids: the Definition

In its simplest definition, an opioid is a substance that produces opioid-like effects. Opioids may or not be derived from opiates or the opium poppy but many are.

Many are not. Regardless of its source, a substance activating the brain’s opioid receptors and producing opioid-like effects is a de facto opioid.

Semi-Synthetic and Totally Synthetic Opioids and Natural Opioids

Some opioids are totally synthetic and do not occur in nature. Examples include fentanyl, meperidine and methadone.

Others begin with a natural opiate but end up as semi-synthetic opioids. Examples include oxycodone, hydrocodone, heroin bc and buprenorphine, the narcotic in Suboxone.


Kratom is a good example of an opioid not associated with the opium poppy.

Kratom is a tree in the coffee family native to the Southeast Asia region. The tree produces leaves as large as a man’s hand with leaf veins in either white, green or red.

The leaves yield a compound called mitragynine and in much smaller proportions, 7-hydroxymitrogynine. The latter is far more powerful,but both can activate the brain’s mu receptor and may relieve pain, anxiety and insomnia especially in single doses of 5 grams and over.

In lower doses, kratom tends to act similarly to caffeine and may produce feelings of energized focus.

Because the FDA has declared kratom to be an opioid, the DEA has placed it in its “drug of concern” category.

Although kratom remains legal in most states, there are a handful that have banned the substance outright.

Be careful when traveling with kratom, especially overseas. It may not be legal in your foreign location or even a domestic one.

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