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Is Tramadol an Opiate?


Released to the public in 1995, Tramadol quickly became widely prescribed by doctors to give their patients relief from acute and chronic pain. Clinical trials showed increased effectiveness for pain with fewer cases of dependency—a winning combination that was approved by the FDA and sanctioned by physicians.

However, while the trials administered the drug by injection, when taken in pill form, Tramadol proved more addictive and prone to abuse than originally thought. Consequentially, in 2014 the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration listed Tramadol as a schedule IV controlled substance.

What is Tramadol?

Tramadol is a synthetic opioid analgesic medication that belongs to the class of drugs known as opiate agonists. Brand names include ConZip, FusePaq Synapryn, Rybix, Ryzolt, and Ultram. Tramadol works much like Morphine but has only a fraction of its potency. By binding to the brain’s opioid receptors, Tramadol changes the body’s perception of pain, providing several hours of relief in as little as 30-60 minutes.

What it isn’t

Because of its initial reputation as a non-addictive pain reliever, Tramadol is often mistakenly identified as a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), like Ibuprofen or Aspirin. But as an opiate agonist, Tramadol not only works differently than NSAIDs, but it also carries different side effects and has an increased potential for dependency.

Forms of Tramadol

Tramadol may be prescribed in the form of an immediate-release 50 mg tablet, or as an extended-release 100, 200, or 300 mg tablet. A 50 mg dose can be taken every 4-6 hours to manage moderate to severe pain, while extended-release tablets are taken more infrequently and are used by patients with chronic pain that requires continuous, long-term treatment.

Common Side Effects

Minor side effects of Tramadol are generally temporary and include:

  • sleepiness
  • difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • headache
  • nervousness
  • uncontrollable shaking of a part of the body
  • muscle tightness
  • changes in mood
  • heartburn or indigestion
  • dry mouth

Serious Side Effects

More sever and potentially life-threatening side effects of taking Tramadol should always be reported to the patient’s physician and may include:

  • seizures
  • hives
  • rash
  • blisters
  • difficulty swallowing or breathing
  • swelling of the eyes, face, throat, tongue, lips, hands, feet, ankles, or lower legs
  • hoarseness
  • agitation, hallucinations (seeing things or hearing voices that do not exist)
  • fever, sweating, confusion, fast heartbeat, shivering, severe muscle stiffness or twitching, loss of coordination, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • loss of appetite, weakness, or dizziness
  • inability to get or keep an erection
  • irregular menstruation
  • decreased sexual desire
  • changes in heartbeat
  • loss of consciousness

Signs of Overdose

Although generally safe when taken as directed, Tramadol can be habit-forming, and accidental overdose is a possibility. Symptoms of overdose include:

  • decreased size of the pupil (the black circle in the center of the eye)
  • difficulty breathing
  • extreme drowsiness
  • unconsciousness
  • coma (loss of consciousness for a period of time)
  • slowed heartbeat
  • muscle weakness
  • cold, clammy skin

Contact your doctor if you or someone you know experience any of these symptoms, and don’t hesitate to seek treatment for help in overcoming a dependency or addiction to Tramadol.

Related: Hydrocodone vs. Oxycodone: What is the Difference