Morphine was isolated in 1805 by the young German chemist Friedrich Serturner. For Serturnera, morphine was the purest essence of a poppy plant. He gave him a name derived from the name of the Greek god of dreams, Morpheus. This success in isolating the essence of opium poppy and inspired chemists to attempt to isolate pure compounds from other tried and tested pharmacology products. Means to relieve heart disease were obtained from digitalis. Quinine was extracted from quinine wood and, purified, used in colonies to fight malaria. And from the leaves of a single South American shrub, a new and promising local anesthetic, cocaine, was extracted.
Morphine consumption was limited and sporadic until the middle of the 19th century. At first, outside of medicine, it was used mainly by suicides, but this period was short and morphine soon established itself as a new and very unusual kind of drug. In 1853, Alexander Wood invented a hypodermic needle. Before his invention, doctors used hollow stalks of lilac to inject substances into the body. The syringe appeared just in time – to be used to introduce morphine to soldiers wounded in the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War. This created a certain pattern, with the manifestation of which we will meet again in the history of opiates – war as a factor in addiction.
By 1890, the use of morphine on the battlefield led to a significant increase in the number of drug addicts in Europe and the USA. Among the veterans of the Civil War who returned home, there were so many morphineists unwillingly that the yellow press began to talk about morphine addiction as a “soldier’s illness”.