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Clinical data
Trade namesPavabid, others
  • AU: A
Routes of
Oral, intravenous, intramuscular, rectal, intracavernosal
ATC code
Legal status
Legal status
Pharmacokinetic data
Protein binding~90%
Elimination half-life1.5–2 hours
  • 1-[(3,4-dimethoxyphenyl)methyl]-6,7-dimethoxyisoquinoline
CAS Number
PubChem CID
CompTox Dashboard (EPA)
ECHA InfoCard100.000.361 Edit this at Wikidata
Chemical and physical data
Molar mass339.391 g·mol−1
3D model (JSmol)
  • COc1ccc(cc1OC)Cc2c3cc(c(cc3ccn2)OC)OC
  • InChI=1S/C20H21NO4/c1-22-17-6-5-13(10-18(17)23-2)9-16-15-12-20(25-4)19(24-3)11-14(15)7-8-21-16/h5-8,10-12H,9H2,1-4H3 checkY
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Papaverine (Latin papaver, "poppy") is an opium alkaloid antispasmodic drug, used primarily in the treatment of visceral spasms and vasospasms (especially those involving the intestines, heart, or brain), occasionally in the treatment of erectile dysfunction and acute mesenteric ischemia. While it is found in the opium poppy, papaverine differs in both structure and pharmacological action from the analgesic morphine and its derivatives (such as codeine).

In addition to opium, papaverine is purported to be present in high concentrations in star gooseberry.[1]


Capsule of Papaver somniferum showing latex (opium) exuding from incision. Papaverine occurs naturally in opium.

Papaverine was discovered in 1848 by Georg Merck (1825–1873).[2] Merck was a student of the German chemists Justus von Liebig and August Hofmann, and he was the son of Emanuel Merck (1794–1855), founder of the Merck corporation, a major German chemical and pharmaceutical company.[3]


Papaverine is approved to treat spasms of the gastrointestinal tract, bile ducts and ureter and for use as a cerebral and coronary vasodilator in subarachnoid hemorrhage (combined with balloon angioplasty)[4] and coronary artery bypass surgery.[5] Papaverine may also be used as a smooth muscle relaxant in microsurgery where it is applied directly to blood vessels.

Papaverine is used as an erectile dysfunction drug, alone or sometimes in combination.[6][7] Papaverine, when injected in penile tissue, causes direct smooth muscle relaxation and consequent filling of the corpus cavernosum with blood resulting in erection. A topical gel is also available for ED treatment.[8]

It is also commonly used in cryopreservation of blood vessels along with the other glycosaminoglycans and protein suspensions.[9][10] Functions as a vasodilator during cryopreservation when used in conjunction with verapamil, phentolamine, nifedipine, tolazoline or nitroprusside.[11][12]

Papaverine is also being investigated as a topical growth factor in tissue expansion with some success.[13]

Papaverine is used as an off-label prophylaxis (preventative) of migraine headaches.[14][15][16] It is not a first line drug such as a few beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, tricyclic antidepressants, and some anticonvulsants such as divalproex, but rather when these first line drugs and secondary drugs such as SSRIs, angiotensin II receptor antagonists, etc. fail in the prophylaxis of migraines, have intolerable side effects or are contraindicated.

Papaverine is also present in combinations of opium alkaloid salts such as papaveretum (Omnopon, Pantopon) and others, along with morphine, codeine, and in some cases noscapine and others in a percentage similar to that in opium, or modified for a given application.

Papaverine is found as a contaminant in some heroin[17] and can be used by forensic laboratories in heroin profiling to identify its source.[18] The metabolites can also be found in the urine of heroin users, allowing street heroin to be distinguished from pharmaceutical diacetylmorphine.[19]


The in vivo mechanism of action is not entirely clear, but an inhibition of the enzyme phosphodiesterase causing elevation of cyclic AMP and cyclic GMP[clarification needed] levels is significant. It may also alter mitochondrial respiration.

Papaverine has also been demonstrated to be a selective phosphodiesterase inhibitor for the PDE10A subtype found mainly in the striatum of the brain. When administered chronically to mice, it produced motor and cognitive deficits and increased anxiety, but conversely may produce an antipsychotic effect,[20][21] although not all studies support this view.[22]

Side effects[edit]

Frequent side effects of papaverine treatment include polymorphic ventricular tachycardia, constipation, interference with sulphobromophthalein[citation needed] retention test (used to determine hepatic function), increased transaminase levels, increased alkaline phosphatase levels, somnolence, and vertigo.

Rare side effects include flushing of the face, hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating), cutaneous eruption, arterial hypotension, tachycardia, loss of appetite, jaundice, eosinophilia, thrombopenia, mixed hepatitis, headache, allergic reaction, chronic active hepatitis, and paradoxical aggravation of cerebral vasospasm.[23]

Papaverine in the plant Sauropus androgynus is linked to bronchiolitis obliterans.[24]

Formulations and trade names[edit]

Papaverine is available in its salt form as the hydrochloride, codecarboxylate, adenylate, and teprosylate. It was also once available as a salt of hydrobromide, camsylate, cromesilate, nicotinate, and phenylglycolate. The hydrochloride salt is available for intramuscular, intravenous, rectal and oral administration. The teprosylate is available in intravenous, intramuscular, and orally administered formulations. The codecarboxylate is available in oral form, only, as is the adenylate.

The codecarboxylate is sold under the name Albatran,[citation needed] the adenylate as Dicertan,[citation needed] and the hydrochloride salt is sold variously as Artegodan (Germany), Cardioverina (countries outside Europe and the United States), Dispamil (countries outside Europe and the United States), Opdensit (Germany), Panergon (Germany), Paverina Houde (Italy, Belgium), Pavacap (United States), Pavadyl (United States), Papaverine (Israel), Papaverin-Hamelin (Germany), Paveron (Germany), Spasmo-Nit (Germany), Cardiospan, Papaversan, Cepaverin, Cerespan, Drapavel, Forpaven, Papalease, Pavatest, Paverolan, Therapav (Canada[25]), Vasospan, Cerebid, Delapav, Dilaves, Durapav, Dynovas, Optenyl, Pameion, Papacon, Pavabid, Pavacen, Pavakey, Pavased, Pavnell, Alapav, Myobid, Vasal, Pamelon, Pavadel, Pavagen, Ro-Papav, Vaso-Pav, Papanerin-hcl, Qua bid, Papital T.R., Paptial T.R., Pap-Kaps-150.[citation needed] In Hungary, papaverine and homatropine methylbromide are used in mild drugs that help "flush" the bile.[26]


  1. ^ Kao CH; Ho YJ; Wu CL; ChangLai SP (1999). "Using 99mTc-DTPA Radioaerosol Inhalation Lung Scintigraphies to Detect the Lung Injury Induced by Consuming Sauropus androgynus Vegetable and Comparison with Conventional Pulmonary Function Tests". Respiration. 66 (1). Karger AG: 46–51. doi:10.1159/000029336. PMID 9973690. S2CID 38378580.
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  3. ^ Brock WH (2002-06-20). Justus Von Liebig: The Chemical Gatekeeper. Cambridge University Press. p. 120. ISBN 978-0-521-52473-5.
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  9. ^ Müller-Schweinitzer E, Ellis P (May 1992). "Sucrose promotes the functional activity of blood vessels after cryopreservation in DMSO-containing fetal calf serum". Naunyn-Schmiedeberg's Archives of Pharmacology. 345 (5): 594–597. doi:10.1007/bf00168954. PMID 1528275. S2CID 10441842.
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  13. ^ Tang Y, Luan J, Zhang X (October 2004). "Accelerating tissue expansion by application of topical papaverine cream". Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. 114 (5): 1166–1169. doi:10.1097/01.PRS.0000135854.48570.76. PMID 15457029.
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  16. ^ Poser CM (June 1974). "Letter: Papaverine in prophylactic treatment of migraine". Lancet. 1 (7869): 1290. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(74)90045-2. PMID 4134173.
  17. ^ Paterson S, Cordero R (May 2006). "Comparison of the various opiate alkaloid contaminants and their metabolites found in illicit heroin with 6-monoacetyl morphine as indicators of heroin ingestion". Journal of Analytical Toxicology. 30 (4): 267–273. doi:10.1093/jat/30.4.267. PMID 16803666. In addition to morphine, street heroin contains various alkaloids extracted from the opium poppy, Papaversomniferum, including codeine, thebaine, noscapine, and papaverine
  18. ^ Seetohul LN, Maskell PD, De Paoli G, Pounder DJ (March 2013). "Biomarkers for illicit heroin: a previously unrecognized origin of papaverine". Journal of Analytical Toxicology. 37 (2): 133. doi:10.1093/jat/bks099. PMID 23316026.
  19. ^ Strang J, Metrebian N, Lintzeris N, Potts L, Carnwath T, Mayet S, et al. (May 2010). "Supervised injectable heroin or injectable methadone versus optimised oral methadone as treatment for chronic heroin addicts in England after persistent failure in orthodox treatment (RIOTT): a randomised trial". Lancet. 375 (9729): 1885–1895. doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(10)60349-2. PMID 20511018. S2CID 205958031.
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  26. ^ "Országos Gyógyszerészeti és Élelmezés-egészségügyi Intézet". www.ogyi.hu. Archived from the original on 2015-01-23. Retrieved 2008-10-14.