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Systematic (IUPAC) name
7,8-didehydro- 4,5α-epoxy- 17-methyl- 3- [2- (morpholin- 4- yl) ethoxy] morphinan- 6α-ol
Clinical data
  • AU: A
Routes of
Legal status
Legal status
Pharmacokinetic data
Bioavailability Maximum plasma conc. attained 4-8 hours after oral dose.
Protein binding 23.5%
Metabolism Hepatic
Biological half-life 32-43 hours; volume of distribution is 36-49L/kg.
Excretion Renal
CAS Number 509-67-1
ATC code R05DA08 (WHO)
PubChem CID ?
DrugBank ?
Chemical data
Formula C23H30N2O4
Molar mass 398.55 g/mol[[Script error: No such module "String".]]
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Pholcodine is a drug which is an opioid cough suppressant (antitussive). It helps suppress unproductive coughs and also acts as an antifungal agent.[citation needed] It also has a mild sedative effect, but has little or no analgesic effects. It is also known as morpholinylethylmorphine.

Pholcodine is found in certain cough lozenges. [1] However, in the UK, the preparation is almost exclusively an oral solution, typically 5 mg / 5 ml. Adult dosage is 5-10ml up to 3-4 times daily[1]. Pholcodine now largely replaces the previously more common codeine linctus, as it has a much lower potential for dependence.

Pholcodine is a Schedule I drug in the US.

Mechanism of action

Pholcodine is readily absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract and freely crosses the blood-brain barrier. It acts primarily on the central nervous system (CNS), causing depression of the cough reflex, partly by a direct effect on the cough centre in the medulla. It is metabolized in the liver and its action may be prolonged in individuals with hepatic insufficiency (i.e. liver problems). Its use is therefore contraindicated in patients with liver disease, while care is advised in patients with hepatic impairement.

Metabolism and excretion

Pholcodine is slowly biotransformed in the body via oxidation and conjugation to a series of metabolites that are eliminated primarily in the urine. With an average half-life of approximately 2.3 days, steady-state in someone taking the drug chronically would not be reached for nearly 2 weeks. Nearly one-half of a single dose is eventually excreted as free or conjugated parent drug. The most important urinary metabolite is conjugated morphine, which may be detectable for days or weeks after the last dose. This could trigger a positive result for opiates in a urine drug testing program.[2][3]

Side effects

Side effects are rare and may include dizziness and gastrointestinal disturbances such as nausea or vomiting.

Adverse effects such as constipation, drowsiness, excitation, ataxia and respiratory depression have been reported occasionally or after large doses.

A Norwegian cough-syrup containing pholcodine "Tuxi" has been withdrawn from the market because it caused increased levels of IgE-antibodies, regardless of an actual allergy to the drug. This is believed to increase the risk of anaphylaxis to neuromuscular blocking agents used during anaesthesia.

See also


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External links



  1. BNF (2007). British National Formulary 54. BMJ Publishing Group Ltd., RPS Publishing, London. Page 175.
  2. Maurer HH, Fritz CF. Toxicological detection of pholcodine and its metabolites in urine and hair using radio immunoassay, fluorescence polarisation immunoassay, enzyme immunoassay, and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. Int. J. Legal Med. 104: 43-46, 1990.
  3. R. Baselt, Disposition of Toxic Drugs and Chemicals in Man, 8th edition, Biomedical Publications, Foster City, CA, 2008, pp. 1258-1260.