The relationship of pharmacokinetics to pharmacological activity: morphine, methadone and naloxone

Clin Pharmacokinet. 1976;1(3):219-30. doi: 10.2165/00003088-197601030-00004.


This review illustrates current approaches to the study of the disposition in man of the strong analagesics morphine and methadone and the narcotic antagonist naloxone. Morphine administered orally is rapidly absorbed but equally rapidly metabolised to morphine glucuronide. This contributes to the diminished oral efficacy of morphine. Following intramuscular administration morphine is very rapidly absorbed. After intravenous injection, the serum levels of morphine during the first 10 minutes are higher and more variable in older patients. The half-life of morphine between 20 minutes and 6 hours is 2 to 3 hours and this value does not appear to be influenced by the age of the patient. Similar half-lives for morphine have been reported to normal volunteers and in anaethetised patients who received morphine. Thus, surgical anaesthesia may not markedly influence morphine half-life and disposition. Based on urinary excretion data in man, accelerated morphine metabolism and excretion do not contribute to morphine tolerance. Methadone is now widely used in the treatment of narcotic abuse. The half-life of methadone averages 25 hours. The prolonged retention of methadone in the plasma may be related to its extensive binding to plasma proteins. With chronic dosing, studies in both animals and man indicate an increase in the metabolism of methadone. Unlike morphine, the urinary excretion of methadone increases with acidification of the urine. Women may metabolise methadone to a greater extent than do men. With the exception of pupillary effects, the plasma levels of methadone correlate poorly with its pharmacological activity. There is a marked variation in methadone plasma levels between patients and within the same patient. Naloxone rapidly disappears from the serum in man and the initial distribution phase has a half-life of 4 minutes. The half-life of naloxone in serum following distribution is 64 minutes. Based on animal studies, the rapid onset of the narcotic antagonist action of naloxone can be related to its rapid entry into the brain, whereas its potency stems in part from its high lipid solubility which allows a high brain concentration to be achieved. The short duration of action of naloxone may result from its rapid egress from the brain.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Absorption
  • Aging
  • Aspirin / pharmacology
  • Blood Proteins / metabolism
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drug Interactions
  • Female
  • Half-Life
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Kinetics
  • Male
  • Methadone / administration & dosage
  • Methadone / metabolism*
  • Methadone / pharmacology
  • Morphine / metabolism*
  • Morphine / pharmacology
  • Morphine Dependence / metabolism
  • Naloxone / metabolism*
  • Naloxone / pharmacology
  • Propranolol / pharmacology
  • Protein Binding
  • Sex Factors
  • Substance-Related Disorders / metabolism


  • Blood Proteins
  • Naloxone
  • Morphine
  • Propranolol
  • Aspirin
  • Methadone