Tramadol is a medication from the opioid analgesic class of drugs. It has been found to effectively treat pain for a variety of medical conditions. It is more effective than eliminating pain than non-opioid medications such as ibuprofen, but less effective than opiates such as morphine. Because of this it is often prescribed when over the counter pain relievers are not effectively relieving symptoms of pain for the patient. Though it is from the opioid class of drugs tramadol is not technically considered an opiate. Since it is not considered an opiate it is less controlled and more easily prescribed than opiate drugs. It is also not considered a narcotic is not commonly tested for in drug tests.
Similarity to narcotics
Even though tramadol is not considered a narcotic it has many similar effects to narcotics. Tramadol's action upon the μ-opioid receptor is what is responsible for these effects. This is the same receptor that many more potent opiate drugs and other narcotics target. Tramadol effects on the μ-opioid receptor are less pronounced than these medications however. Tramadol itself has very weak action upon the μ-opioid receptor. However, after ingestion it is transformed into O-desmethyltramadol which is a much stronger agonist of the μ-opioid receptor resulting in the majority of tramadol's effects.
The biggest factor which distinguishes tramadol from other narcotics and opiates is it selectivity of action at the μ-opioid receptor site. More powerful opioids belonging to the opiate class of drugs are much less selective when agonizing the μ-opioid receptor site resulting in more pronounced effects. Tramadol's effects of sedation and euphoria are one of the largest reasons it is compared to Narcotic drugs. For this reason care should be taken not to drive on tramadol as its effects can be just as impairing as Narcotic drugs. Tramadol can also produce a mental fog in some patients making it difficult to concentrate on day to day tasks.
Narcotic like dependence
Tramadol exhibits the narcotic like possibility of addiction and physical dependence. Unfortunately, this fact is often overlooked or not entirely explained to those who it is prescribed to. Just like narcotics long term use or abuse of tramadol can lead to addiction and physical dependency. After physical dependency sets in an abrupt stop of taking the medication will result in a nasty withdrawal. The withdrawal can last for up to seven days and exhibits many of the symptoms that withdrawal from narcotics do. These include nausea, diarrhea, insomnia, shakiness, and many more unpleasant side effects.
Even though tramadol is not a narcotic it should be treated with just as much caution as medications which are narcotics as the consequences of abusing tramadol are just as unpleasant as those which result from narcotic abuse. If tramadol dependence sets in you should tell your medical provider immediately. Under medical supervision the effects of withdrawal from tramadol can be greatly diminished by carefully tapering the doses taken. Tramadol dependence is not always a sign or result of abuse but abusing tramadol will result in a greater possibility of dependence and eventual withdrawal.