Updated on April 1, 2020. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
Though it seems like opioids should always be strictly-regulated substances, you can find them in several everyday medications. Certain painkillers and cough syrups contain codeine, an opioid that can become addictive under certain circumstances.
Codeine doesn’t have any alternate brand names associated with it on its own, but it does come in branded and generic medications in combination with other drugs. Common branded medicine containing codeine includes:
Plenty of generic medications also contain codeine. Talk to your doctor or read the medicine label carefully to determine if your prescription has it as an ingredient.
You can only get codeine-based medicine with a prescription. Doctors tend to prescribe them on a short-term basis for chronic pain and coughs.
Codeine is incredibly harmful to children under 18 due to its risk of dependency and breathing issues. In fact, the FDA began strongly discouraging codeine prescriptions for minors as of January 2018. While adults can receive codeine prescriptions, they usually get them for short-term use. If an adult is prescribed a long-term codeine treatment, they must closely monitor their side effects. Doctors may also encourage them to keep the overdose-reducing medicine naloxone on-hand.
Any type of codeine regimen can cause side effects like stomach pain, difficulty urinating or a headache. Severe side effects that require medical attention include:
It’s smart to research the side effects of taking codeine so you know when it’s time to get in touch with a doctor.
In many cases, an addiction to codeine begins with normal usage of the drug. Someone may get a painkiller or cough syrup prescription to treat a temporary ailment, but then misuse or abuse it. Even when you take codeine as directed, you can build up a tolerance to it, making it feel like you need to take more. In certain cases, the user enjoys effects like relaxation and euphoria too much to stop taking it.
Codeine also appears in “purple drank,” a combination of codeine cough syrup and soda created for recreational use. In the innocent form of a sweet beverage found at parties, the user may think it doesn’t cause addiction, but it’s just as dangerous.
Around 33 million people use codeine every year in the United States, and it can act as a “gateway drug” to other kinds of opioids, including heroin and morphine.
Research and anecdotal evidence demonstrate that cannabis medicine can relieve pain typically treated with codeine. In fact, it works in multiple ways to soothe pain, while codeine only impacts one part of your body. Codeine changes how your brain and nervous system interpret pain. Meanwhile, medicinal cannabis lowers pain levels by interacting with receptors all over the body, reducing inflammation, nerve pain and spasms.
Medical marijuana can also be used to treat addiction to opiates like codeine, although research examining codeine addiction specifically does not yet exist. Studies tend to focus on “harder” opioids such as oxycodone, for which codeine can act as a gateway drug. However, the data we do have on cannabinoids and opioid addiction shows marijuana medicine could reduce withdrawal symptoms and help to lower patients’ opioid dosage.
To discover more information about cannabis medicine and opioids, read our guide on medical marijuana and opiate dependence. Medicinal cannabis is on the front lines of the fight against opioid addiction, so follow our social media and blog to get the latest news.
Check out our resources on specific opiates and medical marijuana: