Clinical data
AHFS/ International Drug Names
  • Contraindicated
ATC code R05DA07 (WHO)
Legal status
Legal status
  • ℞ (Prescription only)
Pharmacokinetic data
Bioavailability ~30%
Biological half-life 1.5 to 4h (mean 2.5)
Synonyms Narcotine
CAS Number 128-62-1 YesY
PubChem (CID) 275196
ChemSpider 242139 YesY
KEGG D01036 YesY
ECHA InfoCard 100.004.455
Chemical and physical data
Formula C22H23NO7
Molar mass 413.421
3D model (Jmol) Interactive image
 NYesY (what is this?)  (verify)

Noscapine (also known as Narcotine, Nectodon, Nospen, Anarcotine and (archaic) Opiane) is a benzylisoquinoline alkaloid from plants of the poppy family, without painkilling properties. This agent is primarily used for its antitussive (cough-suppressing) effects.

Medical uses

Noscapine is often used as an antitussive medication.[1] A 2012 Dutch guideline, however, does not recommend its use for coughing.[2]

Side effects


Noscapine can increase the effects of centrally sedating substances such as alcohol and hypnotics.[3]

The drug should not be taken with any MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors), as unknown and potentially fatal effects may occur.

Noscapine should not be taken in conjunction with warfarin as the anticoagulant effects of warfarin may be increased.[4]

Mechanism of action

Noscapine's antitussive effects appear to be primarily mediated by its σ–receptor agonist activity. Evidence for this mechanism is suggested by experimental evidence in rats. Pretreatment with rimcazole, a σ-specific antagonist, causes a dose-dependent reduction in antitussive activity of noscapine.[5] Noscapine, and its synthetic derivatives called noscapinoids, are known to interact with microtubules and inhibit cancer cell proliferation [6]

Structure analysis

The lactone ring is unstable and opens in basic media. The opposite reaction is presented in acidic media. The bond C1−C3′ is also unstable. This is the bond connecting the two optically active carbon atoms. In aqueous solution of sulfuric acid and heating it dissociates into cotarnine (4-methoxy-6-methyl-5,6,7,8-tetrahydro-[1,3]dioxolo[4,5-g]isoquinoline) and opic acid (6-formyl-2,3-dimethoxybenzoic acid). When noscapine is reduced with zinc/HCl, the bond C1−C3′ saturates and the molecule dissociates into hydrocotarnine (2-hydroxycotarnine) and meconine (6,7-dimethoxyisobenzofuran-1(3H)-one).


Noscapine was first isolated and characterized in chemical breakdown and properties in 1817 under the denomination of "Narcotine"[7] by Pierre Robiquet, a French chemist in Paris. Robiquet conducted over 20 years between 1815 and 1835 a series of studies in the enhancement of methods for the isolation of morphine, and also isolated in 1832 another very important component of raw opium, that he called codeine, currently a widely used opium-derived compound.

Society and culture

Recreational use

There are anecdotal reports of the recreational use of over-the-counter drugs in several countries, being readily available from local pharmacies without a prescription. The effects, beginning around 45 to 120 minutes after consumption, are similar to dextromethorphan and alcohol intoxication. Unlike dextromethorphan, noscapine is not an NMDA receptor antagonist.[8]

Noscapine in heroin

Noscapine can survive the manufacturing processes of heroin and can be found in street heroin. This is useful for law enforcement agencies, as the amounts of contaminants can identify the source of seized drugs. In 2005 in Liège, Belgium, the average noscapine concentration was around 8%.[9]

Noscapine has also been used to identify drug users who are taking street heroin at the same time as prescribed diamorphine.[10] Since the diamorphine in street heroin is the same as the pharmaceutical diamorphine, examination of the contaminants is the only way to test whether street heroin has been used. Other contaminants used in urine samples alongside noscapine include papaverine and acetylcodeine. Noscapine is metabolised by the body, and is itself rarely found in urine, instead being present as the primary metabolites, cotarnine and meconine. Detection is performed by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry or liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LCMS) but can also use a variety of other analytical techniques.


Noscapine is currently being investigated as an antitumor agent in animal models of several human cancers. At very high doses it may cause polyploidy in animal cells by interfering with the spindles; at low doses - those relevant to medical use there seems to be a cut off and so it would be safe as used.[11]

See also


  1. Singh, H; Singh, P; Kumari, K; Chandra, A; Dass, SK; Chandra, R (March 2013). "A review on noscapine, and its impact on heme metabolism.". Current drug metabolism. 14 (3): 351–60. doi:10.2174/1389200211314030010. PMID 22935070.
  2. Verlee, L; Verheij, TJ; Hopstaken, RM; Prins, JM; Salomé, PL; Bindels, PJ (2012). "[Summary of NHG practice guideline 'Acute cough'].". Nederlands tijdschrift voor geneeskunde. 156 (0): A4188. PMID 22917039.
  3. Jasek, W, ed. (2007). Austria-Codex (in German) (2007/2008 ed.). Vienna: Österreichischer Apothekerverlag. ISBN 978-3-85200-181-4.
  4. Ohlsson, S.; Holm, L.; Myrberg, O.; Sundström, A.; Yue, Q. Y. (2008). "Noscapine may increase the effect of warfarin". British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. 65 (2): 277–278. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2125.2007.03018.x. PMC 2291222Freely accessible. PMID 17875192.
  5. Kamei J (1996). "Role of opioidergic and serotonergic mechanisms in cough and antitussives". Pulmonary pharmacology. 9 (5–6): 349–356. doi:10.1006/pulp.1996.0046. PMID 9232674.
  6. Lopus, M; Naik, PK (2015). "Taking aim at a dynamic target: Noscapinoids as microtubule-targeted cancer therapeutics". Pharmacol Rep. 67: 56–62. doi:10.1016/j.pharep.2014.09.003. PMID 25560576.
  7. Observations sur le mémoire de M. Sertuerner relatif à l’analyse de l’opium, Robiquet, Annales de Chimie et de Physique, volume 5 (1817), p. 275–278
  8. Church J, Jones MG, Davies SN, Lodge D (June 1989). "Antitussive agents as N-methylaspartate antagonists: further studies". Can. J. Physiol. Pharmacol. 67 (6): 561–7. doi:10.1139/y89-090. PMID 2673498.
  9. Denooz R, Dubois N, Charlier C (2005). "[Analysis of two year heroin seizures in the Liege area]". Revue médicale de Liège (in French). 60 (9): 724–8. PMID 16265967.
  10. Paterson S, Lintzeris N, Mitchell TB, Cordero R, Nestor L, Strang J (2005). "Validation of techniques to detect illicit heroin use in patients prescribed pharmaceutical heroin for the management of opioid dependence". Addiction. 100 (12): 1832–1839. doi:10.1111/j.1360-0443.2005.01225.x. PMID 16367984.
  11. Mitchell ID, Carlton JB, Chan MY, Robinson A, Sunderland J (1991). "Noscapine-induced polyploidy in vitro.". Mutagenesis Weekly. 6 (12): 1832–1839. PMID 1800895.
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