Normal metabolism of morphine in cirrhosis

Gastroenterology. 1981 Dec;81(6):1006-11.


Morphine disposition and elimination was studied in 6 healthy male subject s and 6 male patients with cirrhosis, to assess the role of differences, if any, on the reported intolerance of morphine in cirrhosis. In addition the elimination of indocyanine green was studied in the same subjects on a separate occasion. The elimination half-life of indocyanine green was increased and its plasma clearance was markedly reduced in patients with cirrhosis as compared with controls (p less than 0.05). In contrast the disposition and elimination of morphine were unaffected by moderate to severe cirrhosis. Furthermore, while marked sedation was observed in normal subjects, the cirrhotics demonstrated mild sedation with no clinical evidence of hepatic coma. The normal elimination of morphine in cirrhosis is in contrast to the decreased elimination of high clearance drugs metabolized by oxidation, such as lidocaine and meperidine. Morphine is also normally a high clearance drug that is detoxified by conjugation with glucuronic acid. Since intra- or extrahepatic shunting, or both, in cirrhosis do not significantly impair morphine clearance, we postulate that significant extrahepatic morphine conjugation may occur in both normal subjects and in patients with cirrhosis. Furthermore, the reported morphine intolerance to the central effects of morphine cannot be explained by impaired drug elimination and increased availability of morphine to cerebral receptors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Glucuronates / metabolism
  • Half-Life
  • Humans
  • Indocyanine Green / blood
  • Kinetics
  • Liver Cirrhosis / metabolism*
  • Liver Cirrhosis, Alcoholic / metabolism
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Morphine / metabolism*


  • Glucuronates
  • Morphine
  • Indocyanine Green