Many people have trouble determining whether Tramadol is an opiate or a narcotic. Before we answer this questions, we first need to know a couple of important things, such as the differences between opiates and narcotics, how drugs are categorized, and the importance of knowing what category a drug belongs to.

Opiates Vs Narcotics


First and foremost, the term narcotics refer to a group of drugs that have psychoactive properties and sleep inducing properties. The general public, however, has commonly used the term in the streets as a description of illegal and dangerous drugs. However, the medical community maintained the generic definition of the term without the negative connotations. Two of the most common drugs under narcotics are morphine and heroin. (1)


Narcotics is the main branch of several other types of drugs. Opiates are one of the many sub categories under narcotics. Also, opiates are naturally occurring alkaloid substances. Manufacturers harvest them from the opium poppy plant Papaver somniferum. These substances work by binding their molecules to our brain’s opioid receptors. (2)

People often use opiates for recreation due to its ability to block pain stimuli from entering our brains. This gives the user a sense of high and euphoria. Hence, it has become one of the most popular kinds of illegal drugs due to its availability. (3)

Medical jargon initially described opioids as the synthetic version of opiates. However, as time went by, medical experts have adopted the term opioid to refer to both synthetic and natural opiates. Hence, most medical personnel consider opiates as a subcategory of opioids.

How Drugs Are Categorized

There are hundreds of psychoactive drugs available in the market. However, the most famous of which are morphine, heroin, opiates, caffeine and more. Drugs are often categorized based on the manner in which they affect the brain of the user.

The four most common classifications of controlled drugs are: (4)

  • Narcotics: psychoactive drugs with sleep-inducing properties which works as a pain reliever
  • Depressants: suppresses the brain’s activity resulting to a calming or sedating effect
  • Stimulants: accelerates the brain’s activity to induce alertness or focus
  • Hallucinogens: alters the user’s perception of reality, time and space.

Importance Of Drug Categorization

It is important to know which category a certain drug belongs to because each category describes how a drug can affect a person. Furthermore, categorization can determine whether the drug would be safe to prescribe it and the amount at which it should be prescribed to each type of person.

For example, depressants cannot be prescribed to people with depression, while narcotics cannot be consumed by a person whose job description requires them to stay awake (i.e., operators of public transports, or heavy machinery).


Tramadol works by affecting the brain’s molecules to reduce the pain felt by a person. Thus one can categorize it as a narcotic. However, scientists have further categorized tramadol under opioid because of its pain relieving properties. Note that not all opioid are opiates since opiates require that a drug came from natural sources to be categorized as such. Being a synthetic drug, Tramadol is not an opiate.


“Opiate – Definitions from”. Retrieved 2017-07-25.

Julien, Robert M. A Primer of Drug Action. 11th edition. Claire D. Advokat, Joseph E. Comaty, eds. New York: Worth Publishers: 2008. page 537.

NIDA. (2016, August 1). Misuse of Prescription Drugs. Retrieved from on 2017, July 25

Balhara, Y. P. (n.d.). Drug Classifications. Retrieved July 25, 2017, from Rehabs: