Moderate to moderately severe pain can often be relieved be taking tramadol. This prescription medication works in a similar manner as morphine by affecting the central nervous system; it also affects certain brain chemicals. While most states do not classify this drug as a controlled substance, it does have significant potential for abuse. There are no off-label uses for tramadol at this time.
Originally, tramadol was marketed as a medication with weak narcotic effects and little potential for abuse. As a result, many healthcare providers came to view tramadol as a relatively safe medication for use in people at risk for drug abuse, such as people with previous problems with drug or alcohol abuse. However, research has since demonstrated that tramadol works primarily through morphine-like activity, and numerous cases of abuse and dependence have been reported (see Tramadol Abuse).
As of July 2014, tramadol is considered a Schedule IV controlled substance. This means there are certain rules that regulate the prescribing and use of this medication, put in place to avoid abuse.
How Does Tramadol Work?
Tramadol is classified as a "centrally acting opioid analgesic." This means that it works in the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord), acts much like morphine in the body, and relieves pain. Much like morphine, tramadol binds to certain opioid receptors in the body known as μ ("mu") receptors.
Tramadol also works in a similar manner as some antidepressant medications by inhibiting the reuptake of certain brain chemicals (serotonin and norepinephrine). These are two of several chemicals used to send messages from one nerve cell to another. As a message travels down a nerve, it causes the end of the cell to release serotonin or norepinephrine. The serotonin or norepinephrine enters the gap between the first nerve cell and the one next to it. When enough serotonin or norepinephrine reaches the second nerve cell, it activates receptors on the cell and the message continues on its way. The first cell then quickly absorbs any serotonin or norepinephrine that remains in the gap between cells. This is called "reuptake."
U.S. Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration, Office of Diversion Control. Drugs and chemicals of concern: tramadol (9/2008). DEA Web site. Available at: http://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drugs_concern/tramadol.htm. Accessed December 16, 2008.
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Schedules of controlled substances: placement of tramadol into Schedule IV (July 2, 2014). DEA Web site. Available at: http://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/fed_regs/rules/2014/fr0702.htm. Accessed September 21, 2014.
eMedTV serves only as an informational resource. This site does not dispense medical advice or advice of any kind.
Site users seeking medical advice about their specific situation should consult with their own physician. Click