Opiates are a group of synthetic drugs derived from opium, and doctors typically only prescribe them to treat pain for short periods of time, like following a surgical procedure, because they are so addictive. Through chronic use of opiates, the body builds up a tolerance for them and eventually a physical dependence on them, which can lead to addiction.
According to the results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 1.9 million Americans had a substance use disorder that involved prescription pain relievers during that same year. When an individual takes a drug in some way other than as recommended or prescribed by a doctor in order to enhance its effects, it is considered substance abuse.
Individuals typically start abusing opiates once they realize they have built up a tolerance to them. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, tolerance occurs when a higher dose is needed to achieve the same initial response. Individuals who have built up a tolerance to opiates must find ways to get the effects they crave, whether through taking higher doses, trying new delivery methods, or potentiating the drug with grapefruit juice.
Why Grapefruit Juice?
According to The Wall Street Journal, various researchers have determined that the intestines and liver contain an enzyme called CYP3A4, which breaks down opiates that people have taken orally before the drugs can enter the bloodstream. Individuals who have high levels of this particular enzyme receive much smaller amounts of the drug in their systems than those who have low levels of it, which partially explains why the same amount of a substance affects people differently.
Grapefruit juice contains powerful chemical compounds called furanocoumarins, which obliterate CYP3A4 in the digestive tract. That means if people ingest grapefruit juice before taking opiates orally, they could increase the effects of the drug dramatically because much more of it will enter their bloodstream. In the simplest terms, grapefruit juice increases the absorption of opiates into the bloodstream and thus their potency as well. Not only will drugs enter an individual’s system much faster, but they will also do so with more power, which can be dangerous. Other foods that contain furanocoumarins include Seville oranges, limes, and pomelos.