Dose-response pharmacology of intrathecal morphine in human volunteers

Anesthesiology. 1993 Jul;79(1):49-59; discussion 25A. doi: 10.1097/00000542-199307000-00010.


Background: Intrathecal morphine sulfate (ITMS) administration was introduced into clinical practice in 1979. Inadequate information exists delineating ITMS respiratory effects in the dosage range most frequently employed today. This study evaluated 0.2, 0.4, and 0.6 mg ITMS in male volunteers.

Methods: Twenty healthy, young, adult male volunteers received 0.0, 0.2, 0.4, or 0.6 mg preservative-free ITMS in an isobaric solution administered at the L3-L4 interspace in a double-blind randomized fashion. Respiratory function was assessed by finger pulse oximetry (SpO2), respiratory rate, and arterial blood gas analysis via an indwelling arterial catheter and the slope of the ventilatory response to carbon dioxide (VE/CO2). Analgesia was assessed by the effect of ITMS on moderate pain produced by pressure algometry at the tibia. The need for supplemental oxygen, 2 L/min via nasal cannulae, was determined by the failure of verbal and tactile prompts to maintain subjects' SpO2 > or = 85% on more than two occasions. Heart rate, arterial blood pressure, sedation level, pupil size, and the incidence of adverse effects also were documented. All the above measurements were made before and 30 min after ITMS, hourly for 11 h, and then every 2 h for 12 more h.

Results: ITMS produced significant dose-related decreases in SpO2. Mild desaturations (SpO2 > or = 85 and < 90%) occurred in 2 of 5, 3 of 5, and 4 of 5 subjects receiving 0.2, 0.4, and 0.6 mg ITMS, respectively. Moderate to severe desaturations (SpO2 < 85%) occurred in 0 of 5, 2 of 5, and 4 of 5 subjects receiving 0.2, 0.4, and 0.6 mg ITMS, respectively. The need for supplemental oxygen also was significantly related to ITMS dose, with 0 of 5, 1 of 5, and 4 of 5 subjects requiring oxygen after 0.2, 0.4, and 0.6 mg ITMS, respectively. Nasal oxygen administration consistently alleviated hypoxemia. Increases in arterial carbon dioxide tension (PaCO2) and decreases in pH were significantly related to ITMS dose. Peak mean PaCO2s were 42.4, 44.9, and 50.7 mmHg in the 0.2-, 0.4-, and 0.6-mg groups, respectively. These peaks occurred 6.5-7.5 h after ITMS injection. ITMS produced significant dose-related depression of VE/CO2. Maximum mean depressions of VE/CO2 were to 61%, 63%, and 32% of baseline in the 0.2-, 0.4-, and 0.6-mg groups, respectively. These nadirs occurred 3.5-7.5 h after ITMS injection. Some subjects receiving 0.6 mg ITMS experienced profound (< 20% of baseline) and prolonged (< 50% of baseline for up to 20 h) VE/CO2 depression. Magnitude and duration of analgesia after ITMS were dose-related. Changes in heart rate, systolic blood pressure, and respiratory rate were not significantly related to ITMS dose. Hypoxemia was not related to respiratory rate. Although ITMS produced statistically significant dose-related increases in sedation and decreases in pupil size, these changes were small and did not coincide with hypoxemia. ITMS caused dose-related increases in emesis, but the severity of pruritus and urinary retention was unrelated to dose.

Conclusion: ITMS produced dose-related analgesia and respiratory depression in nonsurgical healthy, young, adult male volunteers. Respiratory depression was significant after 0.2 or 0.4 mg and profound and prolonged after 0.6 mg. No clinical signs or symptoms, including respiratory rate, reliably indicated hypoxemia. Pulse oximetry reliably detected hypoxemia after ITMS, and supplemental nasal oxygen (2 L/min) effectively corrected this hypoxemia.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analgesia
  • Conscious Sedation
  • Depression, Chemical
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Humans
  • Injections, Spinal
  • Male
  • Morphine / administration & dosage
  • Morphine / pharmacokinetics
  • Morphine / pharmacology*
  • Oxygen / physiology
  • Pain Measurement / drug effects
  • Respiration / drug effects
  • Respiration / physiology


  • Morphine
  • Oxygen