75 years of opioid research: the exciting but vain quest for the Holy Grail

Br J Pharmacol. 2006 Jan;147 Suppl 1(Suppl 1):S153-62. doi: 10.1038/sj.bjp.0706435.


Over the 75-year lifetime of the British Pharmacological Society there has been an enormous expansion in our understanding of how opioid drugs act on the nervous system, with much of this effort aimed at developing powerful analgesic drugs devoid of the side effects associated with morphine--the Holy Grail of opioid research. At the molecular and cellular level multiple opioid receptors have been cloned and characterised, their potential for oligomerisation determined, a large family of endogenous opioid agonists has been discovered, multiple second messengers identified and our understanding of the adaptive changes to prolonged exposure to opioid drugs (tolerance and physical dependence) enhanced. In addition, we now have greater understanding of the processes by which opioids produce the euphoria that gives rise to the intense craving for these drugs in opioid addicts. In this article, we review the historical pathway of opioid research that has led to our current state of knowledge.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Portrait

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid / history
  • Animals
  • Drug Tolerance
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / history
  • Receptors, Opioid / history*
  • Societies, Scientific / history
  • United Kingdom


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Receptors, Opioid