Opium (poppy tears, with the scientific name: Lachryma papaveris) is
the dried latex obtained from the opium poppy (scientific name:
Papaver somniferum). Approximately 12 percent of the opium latex is
made up of the analgesic alkaloid morphine, which is processed
chemically to produce heroin and other synthetic opioids for medicinal
use and for illegal drug trade. The latex also contains the closely
related opiates codeine and thebaine, and non-analgesic alkaloids such
as papaverine and noscapine. The traditional, labor-intensive method
of obtaining the latex is to scratch ("score") the immature seed pods
(fruits) by hand; the latex leaks out and dries to a sticky yellowish
residue that is later scraped off and dehydrated. The word "meconium"
(derived from the Greek for "opium-like", but now used to refer to
infant stools) historically referred to related, weaker preparations
made from other parts of the opium poppy or different species of
The production methods have not changed since ancient times. Through
selective breeding of the
Papaver somniferum plant, the content of the
phenanthrene alkaloids morphine, codeine, and to a lesser extent
thebaine has been greatly increased. In modern times, much of the
thebaine, which often serves as the raw material for the synthesis for
hydrocodone, hydromorphone, and other semisynthetic opiates,
originates from extracting
Papaver orientale or Papaver bracteatum.
For the illegal drug trade, the morphine is extracted from the opium
latex, reducing the bulk weight by 88%. It is then converted to heroin
which is two to four times as potent, and increases the value by a
similar factor. The reduced weight and bulk make it easier to
1.1 Ancient use (pre-500 CE)
1.2 Islamic societies (500–1500 CE)
1.3 Reintroduction to Western medicine
1.4 Recreational use in Europe, the Middle East and the US (11th to
1.6 Recreational use in China
1.7 Chinese diaspora
1.8 Prohibition and conflict in China
1.9 Prohibition outside China
1.10 Regulation in Britain and the United States
1.11 20th century historical use
2 Modern production and use
2.1 Papaver somniferum
2.2 Harvesting and processing
2.3 Illegal production
2.4 Legal production
2.5 Cultivation in the UK
3 Chemical and physiological properties
4 Slang terms
5 See also
7 Further reading
8 External links
Apothecary vessel for storage of opium as a pharmaceutical, Germany,
18th or 19th century
The Mediterranean region contains the earliest archeological evidence
of human use; the oldest known seeds date back to more than 5000 BCE
Neolithic age with purposes such as food, anaesthetics, and
ritual. Evidence from ancient Greece indicates that opium was consumed
in several ways, including inhalation of vapors, suppositories,
medical poultices, and as a combination with hemlock for suicide.
The Sumerian, Assyrian, Egyptian, Indian, Minoan, Greek, Roman,
Persian and Arab Empires all made widespread use of opium, which was
the most potent form of pain relief then available, allowing ancient
surgeons to perform prolonged surgical procedures.
Opium is mentioned in the most important medical texts of the ancient
world, including the
Ebers Papyrus and the writings of Dioscorides,
Galen, and Avicenna. Widespread medical use of unprocessed opium
continued through the
American Civil War
American Civil War before giving way to morphine
and its successors, which could be injected at a precisely controlled
Ancient use (pre-500 CE)
Poppy crop from the
Papaver somniferum var.
Opium has been actively collected since prehistoric times, though
western scholars typically estimate this to be around 1500 BCE. Indian
scholars maintain that the verses and the history contained in them
have been orally transmitted thousands of years before. A common name
for males in
Afghanistan is "Redey", which in Pashto means
"poppy". This term may be derived from the Sanskrit words rddhi
and hrdya, which mean "magical", "a type of medicinal plant", and
"heart-pleasing", respectively.[ambiguous] The upper Asian belt of
Afghanistan, Pakistan, northern India, and
Burma still account for the
world's largest supply of opium.
At least 17 finds of
Papaver somniferum from
have been reported throughout Switzerland, Germany, and Spain,
including the placement of large numbers of poppy seed capsules at a
burial site (the Cueva de los Murciélagos, or "Bat Cave", in Spain),
which have been carbon-14 dated to 4200 BCE. Numerous finds of P.
somniferum or P. setigerum from
Bronze Age and
Iron Age settlements
have also been reported. The first known cultivation of opium
poppies was in Mesopotamia, approximately 3400 BCE, by Sumerians, who
called the plant hul gil, the "joy plant". Tablets found at
Nippur, a Sumerian spiritual center south of Baghdad, described the
collection of poppy juice in the morning and its use in production of
opium. Cultivation continued in the Middle East by the Assyrians,
who also collected poppy juice in the morning after scoring the pods
with an iron scoop; they called the juice aratpa-pal, possibly the
root of Papaver.
Opium production continued under the
Opium was used with poison hemlock to put people quickly and
painlessly to death, but it was also used in medicine. The Ebers
Papyrus, c. 1500 BCE, describes a way to "stop a crying child" using
grains of the poppy plant strained to a pulp.[clarification needed]
Spongia somnifera, sponges soaked in opium, were used during
Egyptians cultivated opium thebaicum in famous poppy
fields around 1300 BCE.
Opium was traded from Egypt by the Phoenicians
and Minoans to destinations around the Mediterranean Sea, including
Greece, Carthage, and Europe. By 1100 BCE, opium was cultivated on
Cyprus, where surgical-quality knives were used to score the poppy
pods, and opium was cultivated, traded, and smoked.
Opium was also
mentioned after the Persian conquest of
Assyria and Babylonian lands
in the 6th century BCE.
From the earliest finds, opium has appeared to have ritual
significance, and anthropologists have speculated ancient priests may
have used the drug as a proof of healing power. In Egypt, the use
of opium was generally restricted to priests, magicians, and warriors,
its invention is credited to Thoth, and it was said to have been given
Isis to Ra as treatment for a headache. A figure of the Minoan
"goddess of the narcotics", wearing a crown of three opium poppies,
c. 1300 BCE, was recovered from the Sanctuary of Gazi, Crete,
together with a simple smoking apparatus. The Greek gods
Nyx (Night), and
Thanatos (Death) were depicted
wreathed in poppies or holding them. Poppies also frequently adorned
statues of Apollo, Asklepios, Pluto, Demeter, Aphrodite,
Isis, symbolizing nocturnal oblivion.
Islamic societies (500–1500 CE)
Opium users in
Java during the Dutch colonial period c. 1870
As the power of the
Roman Empire declined, the lands to the south, and
east of the
Mediterranean Sea became incorporated into the Islamic
Empires. Some Muslims believe hadiths, such as in Sahih Bukhari,
prohibits every intoxicating substance, though the use of intoxicants
in medicine has been widely permitted by scholars. Dioscorides'
five-volume De Materia Medica, the precursor of pharmacopoeias,
remained in use (with some improvements in Arabic versions) from
the 1st to 16th centuries, and described opium and the wide range of
its uses prevalent in the ancient world.
Between 400 and 1200 CE, Arab traders introduced opium to China, and
India by 700. The Persian physician Muhammad ibn
Zakariya al-Razi ("Rhazes", 845–930 CE) maintained a laboratory and
school in Baghdad, and was a student and critic of Galen; he made use
of opium in anesthesia and recommended its use for the treatment of
melancholy in Fi ma-la-yahdara al-tabib, "In the Absence of a
Physician", a home medical manual directed toward ordinary citizens
for self-treatment if a doctor was not available.
The renowned Andalusian ophthalmologic surgeon Abu al-Qasim al-Zahrawi
("Abulcasis", 936–1013 CE) relied on opium and mandrake as surgical
anaesthetics and wrote a treatise, al-Tasrif, that influenced medical
thought well into the 16th century.
The Persian physician Abū ‘Alī al-Husayn ibn Sina ("Avicenna")
described opium as the most powerful of the stupefacients, in
comparison to mandrake and other highly effective herbs, in The Canon
of Medicine. The text lists medicinal effects of opium, such as
analgesia, hypnosis, antitussive effects, gastrointestinal effects,
cognitive effects, respiratory depression, neuromuscular disturbances,
and sexual dysfunction. It also refers to opium's potential as a
Avicenna describes several methods of delivery and
recommendations for doses of the drug. This classic text was
translated into Latin in 1175 and later into many other languages and
remained authoritative until the 19th century. Şerafeddin
Sabuncuoğlu used opium in the 14th-century Ottoman Empire to treat
migraine headaches, sciatica, and other painful ailments.
Reintroduction to Western medicine
Latin translation of Avicenna's Canon of Medicine, 1483
Manuscripts of Pseudo-Apuleius's 5th-century work from the 10th and
11th centuries refer to the use of wild poppy Papaver agreste or
Papaver rhoeas (identified as P. silvaticum) instead of P. somniferum
for inducing sleep and relieving pain.
The use of Paracelsus' laudanum was introduced to Western medicine in
1527, when Philippus Aureolus
Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim,
better known by the name Paracelsus, returned from his wanderings in
Arabia with a famous sword, within the pommel of which he kept "Stones
of Immortality" compounded from opium thebaicum, citrus juice, and
"quintessence of gold". The name "Paracelsus" was a
pseudonym signifying him the equal or better of Aulus Cornelius
Celsus, whose text, which described the use of opium or a similar
preparation, had recently been translated and reintroduced to medieval
Europe. The Canon of Medicine, the standard medical textbook
Paracelsus burned in a public bonfire three weeks after being
appointed professor at the University of Basel, also described the use
of opium, though many Latin translations were of poor quality.
Laudanum ("worthy of praise") was originally the 16th-century term for
a medicine associated with a particular physician that was widely
well-regarded, but became standardized as "tincture of opium", a
solution of opium in ethanol, which
Paracelsus has been credited with
developing. During his lifetime,
Paracelsus was viewed as an
adventurer who challenged the theories and mercenary motives of
contemporary medicine with dangerous chemical therapies, but his
therapies marked a turning point in Western medicine. In the 1660s,
laudanum was recommended for pain, sleeplessness, and diarrhea by
Thomas Sydenham, the renowned "father of English medicine" or
"English Hippocrates", to whom is attributed the quote, "Among the
remedies which it has pleased Almighty God to give to man to relieve
his sufferings, none is so universal and so efficacious as opium."
Use of opium as a cure-all was reflected in the formulation of
mithridatium described in the 1728 Chambers Cyclopedia, which included
true opium in the mixture. Subsequently, laudanum became the basis of
many popular patent medicines of the 19th century.
Compared to other chemicals available to 18th century regular
physicians, opium was a benign alternative to the arsenics, mercuries,
or emetics, and it was remarkably successful in alleviating a wide
range of ailments. Due to the constipation often produced by the
consumption of opium, it was one of the most effective treatments for
cholera, dysentery, and diarrhea. As a cough suppressant, opium was
used to treat bronchitis, tuberculosis, and other respiratory
Opium was additionally prescribed for rheumatism and
insomnia. Medical textbooks even recommended its use by people in
good health, to "optimize the internal equilibrium of the human
During the 18th century, opium was found to be a good remedy for
nervous disorders. Due to its sedative and tranquilizing properties,
it was used to quiet the minds of those with psychosis, help with
people who were considered insane, and also to help treat patients
with insomnia. However, despite its medicinal values in these
cases, it was noted that in cases of psychosis, it could cause anger
or depression, and due to the drug's euphoric effects, it could cause
depressed patients to become more depressed after the effects wore off
because they would get used to being high.
The standard medical use of opium persisted well into the 19th
century. US president
William Henry Harrison
William Henry Harrison was treated with opium in
1841, and in the American Civil War, the Union Army used 79,000
kilograms (2.8×10^6 oz) of opium tincture and powder and about
500,000 opium pills. During this time of popularity, users called
opium "God's Own Medicine".
One reason for the increase in opiate consumption in the United States
during the 19th century was the prescribing and dispensing of legal
opiates by physicians and pharmacists to women with "female
complaints" (mostly to relieve menstrual pain and hysteria).
Because opiates were viewed as more humane than punishment or
restraint, they were often used to treat the mentally ill. Between
150,000 and 200,000 opiate addicts lived in the
United States in the
late 19th century and between two-thirds and three-quarters of these
addicts were women.
Opium addiction in the later 19th century received a hereditary
definition. Dr. George Beard in 1869 proposed his theory of
neurasthenia, a hereditary nervous system deficiency that could
predispose an individual to addiction.
Neurasthenia was increasingly
tied in medical rhetoric to the "nervous exhaustion" suffered by many
a white-collar worker in the increasingly hectic and industrialized
U.S. life—the most likely potential clients of physicians.
Recreational use in Europe, the Middle East and the US (11th to 19th
An artist's view of an Ottoman opium seller
Soldiers returning home from the
Crusades in the eleventh century
brought opium with them.
Opium is said to have been used for
recreational purposes from the 14th century onwards in Muslim
societies. Ottoman and European testimonies confirm that from the 16th
to the 19th centuries Anatolian opium was eaten in Constantinople as
much as it was exported to Europe. In 1573, for
instance, a Venetian visitor to the Ottoman Empire observed many of
the Turkish natives of Constantinople regularly drank a "certain black
water made with opium" that makes them feel good, but to which they
become so addicted, if they try to go without, they will "quickly
die". From drinking it, dervishes claimed the drugs bestowed them
with visionary glimpses of future happiness. Indeed, Turkey
supplied the West with opium long before China and India.
Thomas de Quincey's
Confessions of an English Opium-Eater
Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1822), one
of the first and most famous literary accounts of opium addiction
written from the point of view of an addict, details the pleasures and
dangers of the drug. In the book, it is not Ottoman, nor Chinese,
addicts about whom he writes, but English opium users: "I question
whether any Turk, of all that ever entered the paradise of
opium-eaters, can have had half the pleasure I had." De Quincey
writes about the great English Romantic poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge
(1772–1834), whose "Kubla Khan" is also widely considered to be a
poem of the opium experience. Coleridge began using opium in 1791
after developing jaundice and rheumatic fever, and became a full
addict after a severe attack of the disease in 1801, requiring
80–100 drops of laudanum daily.
Extensive textual and pictorial sources also show that poppy
cultivation and opium consumption were widespread in
and Mughal India.
In China, recreational use began in the 15th century,
but was limited by its rarity and expense.
Opium trade became more
regular by the 17th century, when it was mixed with tobacco for
smoking, and addiction was first recognized. Prior to the arrival of
the tobacco pipe, opium was only taken orally; when smoked, the drug
has a far more potent effect, and its addictive effect is greatly
Opium prohibition in China began in 1729,
yet was followed by nearly two centuries of increasing opium use.
China had a positive balance sheet in trading with the British, which
led to a decrease of the British silver stocks. Therefore, the British
tried to encourage Chinese opium use to enhance their balance, and
they delivered it from Indian provinces under British control. In
India, its cultivation, as well as the manufacture and traffic to
China, were subject to the British East
India Company (BEIC), as a
strict monopoly of the British government. Indian farmers were
forced by the British East
India company to grow poppy against their
wishes, often using a combination of strong arm tactics and debt.
There was an extensive and complicated system of BEIC agencies
involved in the supervision and management of opium production and
distribution in India. A massive destruction of opium by an emissary
of the Chinese
Daoguang Emperor in an attempt to stop opium imports
led to the
First Opium War
First Opium War (1839–1842), in which Britain defeated
China. After 1860, opium use continued to increase with widespread
domestic production in China. By 1905, an estimated 25 percent of the
male population were regular consumers of the drug. Recreational use
of opium elsewhere in the world remained rare into late in the 19th
century, as indicated by ambivalent reports of opium usage.
Global regulation of opium began with the
stigmatization of Chinese immigrants and opium dens in San Francisco,
California. This led rapidly to town ordinances in the 1870s and the
formation of the
International Opium Commission
International Opium Commission in 1909. During this
period, the portrayal of opium in literature became squalid and
violent. British opium trade was largely supplanted
by domestic Chinese production. Purified morphine and heroin became
widely available for injection and patent medicines containing opiates
reached a peak in recreational use.
Opium was prohibited in many
countries during the early 20th century, leading to the modern pattern
of opium production as a precursor for illegal recreational drugs or
tightly regulated legal prescription drugs. Illicit opium production,
now dominated by Afghanistan, was decimated in 2000, when production
was banned by the Taliban, but has increased steadily since the fall
Taliban and western occupation in 2001 and over the course of
the war in Afghanistan. Worldwide production in 2006 was 6610
metric tons—about one-fifth the level of production in 1906.
Recreational use in China
History of opium in China
History of opium in China and
An opium den in 18th-century China through the eyes of a Western
The earliest clear description of the use of opium as a recreational
drug in China came from Xu Boling, who wrote in 1483 that opium was
"mainly used to aid masculinity, strengthen sperm and regain vigor",
and that it "enhances the art of alchemists, sex and court ladies". He
also described an expedition sent by the
Ming dynasty Chenghua Emperor
in 1483 to procure opium for a price "equal to that of gold" in
Hainan, Fujian, Zhejiang, Sichuan and Shaanxi, where it is close to
the western lands of Xiyu. A century later,
Li Shizhen listed standard
medical uses of opium in his renowned Compendium of Materia Medica
(1578), but also wrote that "lay people use it for the art of sex," in
particular the ability to "arrest seminal emission". This association
of opium with sex continued in China until the end of the 19th
Opium smoking began as a privilege of the elite and remained a great
luxury into the early 19th century. However, by 1861, Wang Tao wrote
that opium was used even by rich peasants, and even a small village
without a rice store would have a shop where opium was sold.
A Chinese opium house, photograph 1902
Smoking of opium came on the heels of tobacco smoking and may have
been encouraged by a brief ban on the smoking of tobacco by the Ming
emperor. The prohibition ended in 1644 with the coming of the Qing
dynasty, which encouraged smokers to mix in increasing amounts of
opium. In 1705,
Wang Shizhen wrote, "nowadays, from nobility and
gentlemen down to slaves and women, all are addicted to tobacco."
Tobacco in that time was frequently mixed with other herbs (this
continues with clove cigarettes to the modern day), and opium was one
component in the mixture. Tobacco mixed with opium was called madak
(or madat) and became popular throughout China and its seafaring trade
partners (such as Taiwan, Java, and the Philippines) in the 17th
century. In 1712,
Engelbert Kaempfer described addiction to madak:
"No commodity throughout the Indies is retailed with greater profit by
the Batavians than opium, which [its] users cannot do without, nor can
they come by it except it be brought by the ships of the Batavians
Bengal and Coromandel."
Fueled in part by the 1729 ban on madak, which at first effectively
exempted pure opium as a potentially medicinal product, the smoking of
pure opium became more popular in the 18th century. In 1736, the
smoking of pure opium was described by Huang Shujing, involving a pipe
made from bamboo rimmed with silver, stuffed with palm slices and
hair, fed by a clay bowl in which a globule of molten opium was held
over the flame of an oil lamp. This elaborate procedure, requiring the
maintenance of pots of opium at just the right temperature for a
globule to be scooped up with a needle-like skewer for smoking, formed
the basis of a craft of "paste-scooping" by which servant girls could
become prostitutes as the opportunity arose.
Chinese Diaspora (1800s to 1949) first began during the
19th-century due to famine and political upheaval, as well as rumors
of wealth to be had outside of Southeast Asia. Chinese emigrants to
cities such as San Francisco, London, and New York brought with them
the Chinese manner of opium smoking, and the social traditions of the
opium den. The Indian Diaspora distributed opium-eaters in the
same way, and both social groups survived as "lascars" (seamen) and
"coolies" (manual laborers). French sailors provided another major
group of opium smokers, having gotten the habit while in French
Indochina, where the drug was promoted and monopolized by the colonial
government as a source of revenue. Among white Europeans,
opium was more frequently consumed as laudanum or in patent medicines.
Opium Act of 1878 formalized ethnic restrictions
on the use of opium, limiting recreational opium sales to registered
Indian opium-eaters and Chinese opium-smokers only and prohibiting its
sale to workers from Burma. Likewise, American law sought to
contain addiction to immigrants by prohibiting Chinese from smoking
opium in the presence of a white man.
Because of the low social status of immigrant workers, contemporary
writers and media had little trouble portraying opium dens as seats of
vice, white slavery, gambling, knife- and revolver-fights, and a
source for drugs causing deadly overdoses, with the potential to
addict and corrupt the white population. By 1919, anti-Chinese riots
attacked Limehouse, the Chinatown of London. Chinese men were deported
for playing keno and sentenced to hard labor for opium possession. Due
to this, both the immigrant population and the social use of opium
fell into decline. Yet despite lurid literary accounts to the
contrary, 19th-century London was not a hotbed of opium smoking. The
total lack of photographic evidence of opium smoking in Britain, as
opposed to the relative abundance of historical photos depicting opium
smoking in North America and France, indicates the infamous Limehouse
opium-smoking scene was little more than fantasy on the part of
British writers of the day, who were intent on scandalizing their
readers while drumming up the threat of the "yellow peril".
Prohibition and conflict in China
Opium Wars and History of opium in China
See also: Japanese opium policy in Taiwan (1895–1945)
Destruction of opium at Humen, June 1839
Opium prohibition began in 1729, when the Qing Yongzheng Emperor,
disturbed by madak smoking at court and carrying out the government's
role of upholding
Confucian virtues, officially prohibited the sale of
opium, except for a small amount for medicinal purposes. The ban
punished sellers and opium den keepers, but not users of the drug.
Opium was banned completely in 1799, and this prohibition continued
British opium ships
During the Qing dynasty, China opened itself to foreign trade under
Canton System through the port of
Guangzhou (Canton), with traders
from the East
India Company visiting the port by the 1690s. Due to the
growing British demand for Chinese tea and the Chinese Emperor's lack
of interest in British commodities other than silver, British traders
resorted to trade in opium as a high-value commodity for which China
was not self-sufficient. The English traders had been purchasing small
amounts of opium from
India for trade since
Ralph Fitch first visited
in the mid-16th century. Trade in opium was standardized, with
production of balls of raw opium, 1.1–1.6 kg
(2.4–3.5 lb), 30% water content, wrapped in poppy leaves and
petals, and shipped in chests of 60–65 kg (132–143 lb)
(one picul). Chests of opium were sold in auctions in Calcutta
with the understanding that the independent purchasers would then
smuggle it into China.
After the 1757
Battle of Plassey
Battle of Plassey and 1764 Battle of Buxar, the British
India Company gained the power to act as diwan of Bengal, Bihar,
Odisha (See company rule in India). This allowed the company to
exercise a monopoly over opium production and export in India, to
encourage ryots to cultivate the cash crops of indigo and opium with
cash advances, and to prohibit the "hoarding" of rice. This strategy
led to the increase of the land tax to 50 percent of the value of
crops and to the doubling of East
India Company profits by 1777. It is
also claimed to have contributed to the starvation of 10 million
people in the
Bengal famine of 1770. Beginning in 1773, the British
government began enacting oversight of the company's operations, and
in response to the Indian Rebellion of 1857, this policy culminated in
the establishment of direct rule over the presidencies and provinces
of British India.
Bengal opium was highly prized, commanding twice the
price of the domestic Chinese product, which was regarded as inferior
British assault on Canton during the First
Opium War, May 1841
Some competition came from the newly independent United States, which
began to compete in Guangzhou, selling Turkish opium in the 1820s.
Portuguese traders also brought opium from the independent Malwa
states of western India, although by 1820, the British were able to
restrict this trade by charging "pass duty" on the opium when it was
forced to pass through Bombay to reach an entrepot. Despite
drastic penalties and continued prohibition of opium until 1860, opium
importation rose steadily from 200 chests per year under the Yongzheng
Emperor to 1,000 under the Qianlong Emperor, 4,000 under the Jiaqing
Emperor, and 30,000 under the Daoguang Emperor. The illegal sale
of opium became one of the world's most valuable single commodity
trades and has been called "the most long continued and systematic
international crime of modern times".
Opium smuggling provided 15
to 20 percent of the British Empire's revenue and simultaneously
caused scarcity of silver in China.
In response to the ever-growing number of Chinese people becoming
addicted to opium, the Qing
Daoguang Emperor took strong action to
halt the import of opium, including the seizure of cargo. In 1838, the
Lin Zexu destroyed 20,000 chests of opium in
Guangzhou. Given that a chest of opium was worth nearly US$1,000
in 1800, this was a substantial economic loss. The British queen
Victoria, not willing to replace the cheap opium with costly silver,
First Opium War
First Opium War in 1840, the British winning Hong Kong and
trade concessions in the first of a series of Unequal Treaties.
The opium trade incurred intense enmity from the later British Prime
Minister William Ewart Gladstone. As a member of Parliament,
Gladstone called it "most infamous and atrocious" referring to the
opium trade between China and British
India in particular.
Gladstone was fiercely against both of the
Opium Wars Britain waged in
China in the
First Opium War
First Opium War initiated in 1840 and the Second Opium
War initiated in 1857, denounced British violence against Chinese, and
was ardently opposed to the British trade in opium to China.
Gladstone lambasted it as "Palmerston's
Opium War" and said that he
felt "in dread of the judgments of God upon England for our national
iniquity towards China" in May 1840. A famous speech was made by
Gladstone in Parliament against the First
Opium War. Gladstone
criticized it as "a war more unjust in its origin, a war more
calculated in its progress to cover this country with permanent
disgrace". His hostility to opium stemmed from the effects of
opium brought upon his sister Helen. Due to the First
brought on by Palmerston, there was initial reluctance to join the
government of Peel on part of Gladstone before 1841.
Storage of opium at a British East
India Company warehouse, c. 1850
Following China's defeat in the
Second Opium War
Second Opium War in 1858, China was
forced to legalize opium and began massive domestic production.
Importation of opium peaked in 1879 at 6,700 tons, and by 1906, China
was producing 85 percent of the world's opium, some 35,000 tons, and
27 percent of its adult male population regularly used
opium—13.5 million people consuming 39,000 tons of opium
yearly. From 1880 to the beginning of the Communist era, the
British attempted to discourage the use of opium in China, but this
effectively promoted the use of morphine, heroin, and cocaine, further
exacerbating the problem of addiction.
Scientific evidence of the pernicious nature of opium use was largely
undocumented in the 1890s, when Protestant missionaries in China
decided to strengthen their opposition to the trade by compiling data
which would demonstrate the harm the drug did. Faced with the problem
that many Chinese associated Christianity with opium, partly due to
the arrival of early Protestant missionaries on opium clippers, at the
1890 Shanghai Missionary Conference, they agreed to establish the
Permanent Committee for the Promotion of Anti-
Opium Societies in an
attempt to overcome this problem and to arouse public opinion against
the opium trade. The members of the committee were John Glasgow Kerr,
MD, American Presbyterian Mission in Canton; B.C. Atterbury, MD,
American Presbyterian Mission in Peking; Archdeacon Arthur E. Moule,
Church Missionary Society in Shanghai; Henry Whitney, MD, American
Board of Commissioners for foreign Missions in Foochow; the Rev.
China Inland Mission
China Inland Mission in Kweiyang; the Rev. Arthur
Gostick Shorrock, English Baptist Mission in Taiyuan; and the Rev.
Griffith John, London Mission Society in Hankow. These
missionaries were generally outraged over the British government's
Royal Commission on Opium visiting
India but not China. Accordingly,
the missionaries first organized the Anti-
Opium League in China among
their colleagues in every mission station in China. American
Hampden Coit DuBose
Hampden Coit DuBose acted as first president. This
organization, which had elected national officers and held an annual
national meeting, was instrumental in gathering data from every
Western-trained medical doctor in China, which was then published as
William Hector Park compiled Opinions of Over 100 Physicians on the
Opium in China (Shanghai: American Presbyterian Mission Press,
1899). The vast majority of these medical doctors were missionaries;
the survey also included doctors who were in private practices,
particularly in Shanghai and Hong Kong, as well as Chinese who had
been trained in medical schools in Western countries. In England, the
home director of the China Inland Mission, Benjamin Broomhall, was an
active opponent of the opium trade, writing two books to promote the
banning of opium smoking: The Truth about
Opium Smoking and The
Opium Smoker. In 1888, Broomhall formed and became secretary
of the Christian Union for the Severance of the
British Empire with
Opium Traffic and editor of its periodical, National
Righteousness. He lobbied the
British Parliament to stop the opium
trade. He and
James Laidlaw Maxwell
James Laidlaw Maxwell appealed to the London Missionary
Conference of 1888 and the Edinburgh Missionary Conference of 1910 to
condemn the continuation of the trade. When Broomhall was dying, his
son Marshall read to him from
The Times the welcome news that an
agreement had been signed ensuring the end of the opium trade within
Map showing the amount of opium produced in China in 1908: The quote
"We English, by the policy we have pursued, are morally responsible
for every acre of land in China which is withdrawn from the
cultivation of grain and devoted to that of the poppy; so that the
fact of the growth of the drug in China ought only to increase our
sense of responsibility." is by Lord Justice Fry.
Official Chinese resistance to opium was renewed on September 20,
1906, with an antiopium initiative intended to eliminate the drug
problem within 10 years. The program relied on the turning of public
sentiment against opium, with mass meetings at which opium
paraphernalia were publicly burned, as well as coercive legal action
and the granting of police powers to organizations such as the Fujian
Opium Society. Smokers were required to register for licenses for
gradually reducing rations of the drug. Action against opium farmers
centred upon a highly repressive incarnation of law enforcement in
which rural populations had their property destroyed, their land
confiscated and/or were publicly tortured, humiliated and
executed. Addicts sometimes turned to missionaries for treatment
for their addiction, though many associated these foreigners with the
drug trade. The program was counted as a substantial success, with a
cessation of direct British opium exports to China (but not Hong
Kong) and most provinces declared free of opium production.
Nonetheless, the success of the program was only temporary, with opium
use rapidly increasing during the disorder following the death of Yuan
Shikai in 1916.
Opium farming also increased, peaking in 1930 when
League of Nations
League of Nations singled China out as the primary source of
illicit opium in East and Southeast Asia. Many local powerholders
facilitated the trade during this period to finance conflicts over
territory and political campaigns. In some areas food crops were
eradicated to make way for opium, contributing to famines in Kweichow
and Shensi Provinces between 1921 and 1923, and food deficits in other
Beginning in 1915, Chinese nationalist groups came to describe the
period of military losses and
Unequal Treaties as the "Century of
National Humiliation", later defined to end with the conclusion of the
Chinese Civil War
Chinese Civil War in 1949.
In the northern provinces of
Suiyuan in China, Chinese
Ma Fuxiang both prohibited and engaged in the opium
trade. It was hoped that
Ma Fuxiang would have improved the situation,
since Chinese Muslims were well known for opposition to smoking
Ma Fuxiang officially prohibited opium and made it illegal
in Ningxia, but the
Guominjun reversed his policy; by 1933, people
from every level of society were abusing the drug, and
left in destitution. In 1923, an officer of the
Bank of China
Bank of China from
Baotou found out that
Ma Fuxiang was assisting the drug trade in opium
which helped finance his military expenses. He earned
US$2 million from taxing those sales in 1923. General Ma had been
using the bank, a branch of the Government of China's exchequer, to
arrange for silver currency to be transported to
Baotou to use it to
sponsor the trade.
The opium trade under the
Chinese Communist Party
Chinese Communist Party was important to its
finances in the 1940s. Peter Vladimirov's diary provided a first
hand account. Chen Yung-Fa provided a detailed historical account
of how the opium trade was essential to the economy of Yan'an during
Mitsui were involved in the opium
trade during the Japanese occupation of China.
Mao Zedong government is generally credited with eradicating both
consumption and production of opium during the 1950s using
unrestrained repression and social reform. Ten
million addicts were forced into compulsory treatment, dealers were
executed, and opium-producing regions were planted with new crops.
Remaining opium production shifted south of the Chinese border into
the Golden Triangle region. The remnant opium trade primarily
served Southeast Asia, but spread to American soldiers during the
Vietnam War, with 20 percent of soldiers regarding themselves as
addicted during the peak of the epidemic in 1971. In 2003, China was
estimated to have four million regular drug users and one million
registered drug addicts.
Prohibition outside China
There were no legal restrictions on the importation or use of opium in
United States until the San Francisco
Opium Den Ordinance, which
banned dens for public smoking of opium in 1875, a measure fueled by
anti-Chinese sentiment and the perception that whites were starting to
frequent the dens. This was followed by an 1891 California law
requiring that narcotics carry warning labels and that their sales be
recorded in a registry; amendments to the California Pharmacy and
Poison Act in 1907 made it a crime to sell opiates without a
prescription, and bans on possession of opium or opium pipes in 1909
At the US federal level, the legal actions taken reflected
constitutional restrictions under the enumerated powers doctrine prior
to reinterpretation of the commerce clause, which did not allow the
federal government to enact arbitrary prohibitions, but did permit
arbitrary taxation. Beginning in 1883, opium importation was taxed
at US$6 to US$300 per pound, until the
Opium Exclusion Act of 1909
prohibited the importation of opium altogether. In a similar manner,
Harrison Narcotics Tax Act
Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914, passed in fulfillment of the
International Opium Convention of 1912, nominally placed a tax on the
distribution of opiates, but served as a de facto prohibition of the
drugs. Today, opium is regulated by the Drug Enforcement
Administration under the Controlled Substances Act.
Following passage of a Colonial Australian law in 1895, Queensland's
Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of
Opium Act 1897
addressed opium addiction among Aboriginal people, though it soon
became a general vehicle for depriving them of basic rights by
administrative regulation. By 1905 all Australian states and
territories had passed similar laws making prohibitions to
Smoking and possession was prohibited in 1908.
Hardening of Canadian attitudes toward Chinese opium users and fear of
a spread of the drug into the white population led to the effective
criminalization of opium for nonmedical use in Canada between 1908 and
In 1909, the
International Opium Commission
International Opium Commission was founded, and by 1914,
34 nations had agreed that the production and importation of opium
should be diminished. In 1924, 62 nations participated in a meeting of
the Commission. Subsequently, this role passed to the League of
Nations, and all signatory nations agreed to prohibit the import,
sale, distribution, export, and use of all narcotic drugs, except for
medical and scientific purposes. This role was later taken up by the
International Narcotics Control Board of the United Nations under
Article 23 of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and
subsequently under the Convention on Psychotropic Substances.
Opium-producing nations are required to designate a government agency
to take physical possession of licit opium crops as soon as possible
after harvest and conduct all wholesaling and exporting through that
Regulation in Britain and the United States
Before the 1920s, regulation in Britain was controlled by the
pharmacists. Pharmacists that were found to have prescribed opium for
illegitimate causes and anyone found to have sold opium without proper
qualifications would be prosecuted. Due to the passing of the
Rolleston Act in Britain in 1926, doctors could prescribe opiates such
as morphine and heroin on their own accord if they felt their patients
demonstrated a medical need. Because addiction was viewed as a medical
problem rather than an indulgence, doctors were permitted to allow
patients to wean themselves off opiates rather than cutting off any
opiate use altogether. The passing of the Rolleston Act put the
control of opium use in the hands of medical doctors instead of
pharmacists. Later in the 20th century, the addiction to opiates,
especially heroin in young people, continued to rise and so the sale
and prescription of opiates was limited to doctors in treatment
centers. If these doctors were found to be prescribing opiates without
just cause, then they could lose their license to practice or
prescribe drugs. The abuse of opium in the
United States began in
the late 19th century and was largely stigmatized with Chinese
immigrants. During this time the use of opium had little negative
connotation and was used freely until 1882 when a law was passed to
confine opium smoking to specific dens. Until the full ban on
opium based products came into effect just after the turn of the
century, physicians in the US considered opium a miracle drug that
could help with many ailments. Therefore, the ban on said products was
more a result of negative connotations towards its use and
distribution by Chinese immigrants who were heavily persecuted during
this particular period in history. As the 19th century progressed
however, there was a doctor by the name of
Hamilton Wright that worked
to decrease the use of opium in the US by submitting the Harrison Act
to congress. This act put taxes and restrictions on the sale and
prescription of opium, as well as trying to stigmatize the opium poppy
and its derivatives as "demon drugs", to try and scare people away
from them. This act and the stigma of a demon drug on opium, led
to the criminalization of people that used opium-based products. It
made the use and possession of opium and any of its derivatives
illegal. The restrictions were recently redefined by the Federal
Controlled Substances Act
Controlled Substances Act of 1970.
20th century historical use
During the Communist era in Eastern Europe, poppy stalks sold in
bundles by farmers were processed by users with household chemicals to
make kompot ("Polish heroin"), and poppy seeds were used to produce
koknar, an opiate.
Bayer heroin bottle
Globally, opium has gradually been superseded by a variety of
purified, semi-synthetic, and synthetic opioids with progressively
stronger effects, and by other general anesthetics. This process began
in 1804, when Friedrich Wilhelm Adam Sertürner first isolated
morphine from the opium poppy. The process continued until
1817, when Sertürner published the isolation of pure morphine from
opium after at least thirteen years of research and a nearly
disastrous trial on himself and three boys. The great advantage
of purified morphine was that a patient could be treated with a known
dose—whereas with raw plant material, as
Gabriel Fallopius once
lamented, "if soporifics are weak they do not help; if they are strong
they are exceedingly dangerous."
Morphine was the first pharmaceutical
isolated from a natural product, and this success encouraged the
isolation of other alkaloids: by 1820, isolations of noscapine,
strychnine, veratrine, colchicine, caffeine, and quinine were
Morphine sales began in 1827, by
Heinrich Emanuel Merck
Heinrich Emanuel Merck of
Darmstadt, and helped him expand his family pharmacy into the Merck
KGaA pharmaceutical company.
Codeine was isolated in 1832 by Pierre Jean Robiquet.
The use of diethyl ether and chloroform for general anesthesia began
in 1846–1847, and rapidly displaced the use of opiates and tropane
Solanaceae due to their relative safety.
Heroin, the first semi-synthetic opioid, was first synthesized in
1874, but was not pursued until its rediscovery in 1897 by Felix
Hoffmann at the
Bayer pharmaceutical company in Elberfeld, Germany.
From 1898 to 1910 heroin was marketed as a non-addictive morphine
substitute and cough medicine for children. Because the lethal dose of
heroin was viewed as a hundred times greater than its effective dose,
heroin was advertised as a safer alternative to other opioids. By
1902, sales made up 5 percent of the company's profits, and
"heroinism" had attracted media attention. Oxycodone, a thebaine
derivative similar to codeine, was introduced by
Bayer in 1916 and
promoted as a less-addictive analgesic. Preparations of the drug such
as oxycodone with paracetamol and extended release oxycodone remain
popular to this day.
A range of synthetic opioids such as methadone (1937), pethidine
(1939), fentanyl (late 1950s), and derivatives thereof have been
introduced, and each is preferred for certain specialized
applications. Nonetheless, morphine remains the drug of choice for
American combat medics, who carry packs of syrettes containing 16
milligrams each for use on severely wounded soldiers. No drug has
been found that can match the painkilling effect of opioids without
also duplicating much of their addictive potential.
Modern production and use
Main article: Papaver somniferum
Opium poppies are popular and attractive garden plants, whose flowers
vary greatly in color, size and form. A modest amount of domestic
cultivation in private gardens is not usually subject to legal
controls. In part, this tolerance reflects variation in addictive
potency. A cultivar for opium production,
Papaver somniferum L. elite,
contains 91.2 percent morphine, codeine, and thebaine in its latex
alkaloids, whereas in the latex of the condiment cultivar "Marianne",
these three alkaloids total only 14.0 percent. The remaining alkaloids
in the latter cultivar are primarily narcotoline and noscapine.
Seed capsules can be dried and used for decorations, but they also
contain morphine, codeine, and other alkaloids. These pods can be
boiled in water to produce a bitter tea that induces a long-lasting
intoxication (See Poppy tea). If allowed to mature, poppy pods (poppy
straw) can be crushed and used to produce lower quantities of
morphinans. In poppies subjected to mutagenesis and selection on a
mass scale, researchers have been able to use poppy straw to obtain
large quantities of oripavine, a precursor to opioids and antagonists
such as naltrexone. Although millennia older, the production of
poppy head decoctions can be seen as a quick-and-dirty variant of the
Kábáy poppy straw process, which since its publication in 1930 has
become the major method of obtaining licit opium alkaloids worldwide,
as discussed in Morphine.
Poppy seeds are a common and flavorsome topping for breads and cakes.
One gram of poppy seeds contains up to 33 micrograms of morphine and
14 micrograms of codeine, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health
Services Administration in the
United States formerly mandated that
all drug screening laboratories use a standard cutoff of 300 nanograms
per milliliter in urine samples. A single poppy seed roll
(0.76 grams of seeds) usually did not produce a positive drug
test, but a positive result was observed from eating two rolls. A
slice of poppy seed cake containing nearly five grams of seeds per
slice produced positive results for 24 hours. Such results are viewed
as false positive indications of drug use and were the basis of a
legal defense. On November 30, 1998, the standard cutoff was
increased to 2000 nanograms (two micrograms) per milliliter.
Confirmation by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry will distinguish
amongst opium and variants including poppy seeds, heroin, and morphine
and codeine pharmaceuticals by measuring the morphine:codeine ratio
and looking for the presence of noscapine and acetylcodeine, the
latter of which is only found in illicitly produced heroin, and heroin
metabolites such as 6-monoacetylmorphine.
Harvesting and processing
When grown for opium production, the skin of the ripening pods of
these poppies is scored by a sharp blade at a time carefully chosen so
that rain, wind, and dew cannot spoil the exudation of white, milky
latex, usually in the afternoon. Incisions are made while the pods are
still raw, with no more than a slight yellow tint, and must be shallow
to avoid penetrating hollow inner chambers or loculi while cutting
into the lactiferous vessels. In Indian Subcontinent, Afghanistan,
Central Asia and Iran, the special tool used to make the incisions is
called a nushtar or "nishtar" (from Persian, meaning a lancet) and
carries three or four blades three millimeters apart, which are scored
upward along the pod. Incisions are made three or four times at
intervals of two to three days, and each time the "poppy tears", which
dry to a sticky brown resin, are collected the following morning. One
acre harvested in this way can produce three to five kilograms of raw
opium. In the Soviet Union, pods were typically scored
horizontally, and opium was collected three times, or else one or two
collections were followed by isolation of opiates from the ripe
capsules. Oil poppies, an alternative strain of P. somniferum, were
also used for production of opiates from their capsules and
stems. A traditional Chinese method of harvesting opium latex
involved cutting off the heads and piercing them with a coarse needle
then collecting the dried opium 24 to 48 hours later.
Raw opium may be sold to a merchant or broker on the black market, but
it usually does not travel far from the field before it is refined
into morphine base, because pungent, jelly-like raw opium is bulkier
and harder to smuggle. Crude laboratories in the field are capable of
refining opium into morphine base by a simple acid-base extraction. A
sticky, brown paste, morphine base is pressed into bricks and
sun-dried, and can either be smoked, prepared into other forms or
processed into heroin.
Other methods of preparation (besides smoking), include processing
into regular opium tincture (tinctura opii), laudanum, paregoric
(tinctura opii camphorata), herbal wine (e.g., vinum opii), opium
powder (pulvis opii), opium sirup (sirupus opii) and opium extract
(extractum opii). Vinum opii is made by combining sugar, white
wine, cinnamon, and cloves.
Opium syrup is made by combining 97.5 part
sugar syrup with 2.5 parts opium extract.
Opium extract (extractum
opii) finally can be made by macerating raw opium with water. To make
opium extract, 20 parts water are combined with 1 part raw opium which
has been boiled for 5 minutes (the latter to ease mixing).
Heroin is widely preferred because of increased potency. One study in
postaddicts found heroin to be approximately 2.2 times more potent
than morphine by weight with a similar duration; at these relative
quantities, they could distinguish the drugs subjectively but had no
Heroin was also found to be twice as potent as
morphine in surgical anesthesia.
Morphine is converted into
heroin by a simple chemical reaction with acetic anhydride, followed
by a varying degree of purification. Especially in Mexican
production, opium may be converted directly to "black tar heroin" in a
simplified procedure. This form predominates in the U.S. west of the
Mississippi. Relative to other preparations of heroin, it has been
associated with a dramatically decreased rate of HIV transmission
among intravenous drug users (4 percent in Los Angeles vs. 40 percent
in New York) due to technical requirements of injection, although it
is also associated with greater risk of venous sclerosis and
Opium production in
Afghanistan and Illegal drug trade
International drug routes
Afghanistan, Helmand province. A Marine greets local children working
in the field of opium poppies near the base.
Opium production has fallen since 1906, when 41,000 tons were
produced, but because 39,000 tons of that year's opium were consumed
in China, overall usage in the rest of the world was much lower.
These figures from 1906 have been criticized as overestimates. In
1980, 2,000 tons of opium supplied all legal and illegal uses.
Recently, opium production has increased considerably, surpassing
5,000 tons in 2002 and reaching 8,600 tons in
Afghanistan and 840 tons
in the Golden Triangle in 2014. Production is expected to increase in
2015 as new, improved seeds have been brought into
World Health Organization
World Health Organization has estimated
that current production of opium would need to increase fivefold to
account for total global medical need.
In 2002, the price for one kilogram of opium was US$300 for the
farmer, US$800 for purchasers in Afghanistan, and US$16,000 on the
streets of Europe before conversion into heroin.
Afghanistan is currently the primary producer of the drug. After
regularly producing 70 percent of the world's opium, Afghanistan
decreased production to 74 tons per year under a ban by the
2000, a move which cut production by 94 percent. A year later, after
American and British troops invaded Afghanistan, removed the Taliban
and installed the interim government, the land under cultivation leapt
back to 285 square miles (740 km2), with
Burma to become the world's largest opium producer once more. Opium
production in that country has increased rapidly since, reaching an
all-time high in 2006. According to DEA statistics, Afghanistan's
production of oven-dried opium increased to 1,278 tons in 2002, more
than doubled by 2003, and nearly doubled again during 2004. In late
2004, the U.S. government estimated that 206,000 hectares were under
poppy cultivation, 4.5 percent of the country's total cropland, and
produced 4,200 metric tons of opium, 76 percent of the world's supply,
yielding 60 percent of Afghanistan's gross domestic product. In
UN Office on Drugs and Crime
UN Office on Drugs and Crime estimated production to have
risen 59 percent to 165,000 hectares (407,000 acres) in cultivation,
yielding 6,100 tons of opium, 82 percent of the world's supply.
The value of the resulting heroin was estimated at
US$3.5 billion, of which Afghan farmers were estimated to have
received US$700 million in revenue. For farmers, the crop can be
up to ten times more profitable than wheat. The price of opium is
around US$138 per kilo.
Opium production has led to rising tensions in
Afghan villages. Though direct conflict has yet to occur, the opinions
of the new class of young, rich men involved in the opium trade are at
odds with those of the traditional village leaders.
An increasingly large fraction of opium is processed into morphine
base and heroin in drug labs in Afghanistan. Despite an international
set of chemical controls designed to restrict availability of acetic
anhydride, it enters the country, perhaps through its Central Asian
neighbors which do not participate. A counternarcotics law passed in
December 2005 requires
Afghanistan to develop registries or
regulations for tracking, storing, and owning acetic anhydride.
Besides Afghanistan, smaller quantities of opium are produced in
Pakistan, the Golden Triangle region of Southeast Asia (particularly
Burma), Colombia, Guatemala, and Mexico.
200 g (7.1 oz) Spanish opium ball
Chinese production mainly trades with and profits from North America.
In 2002, they were seeking to expand through eastern United States. In
the post 9/11 era, trading between borders became difficult and
because new international laws were set into place, the opium trade
became more diffused. Power shifted from remote to high-end smugglers
and opium traders. Outsourcing became a huge factor for survival for
many smugglers and opium farmers.
In South American countries, opium poppies are technically illegal,
but nonetheless appear in some nurseries as ornamentals.[citation
Legal opium production is allowed under the United Nations Single
Convention on Narcotic Drugs and other international drug treaties,
subject to strict supervision by the law enforcement agencies of
individual countries. The leading legal production method is the
Gregory process, whereby the entire poppy, excluding roots and leaves,
is mashed and stewed in dilute acid solutions. The alkaloids are then
recovered via acid-base extraction and purified. This process was
developed in the UK during World War II, when wartime shortages of
many essential drugs encouraged innovation in pharmaceutical
Legal opium production in
India is much more traditional. As of 2008,
opium was collected by farmers who were licensed to grow 0.1 hectares
(0.25 acres) of opium poppies, who to maintain their licences needed
to sell 56 kilograms of unadulterated raw opium paste. The price of
opium paste is fixed by the government according to the quality and
quantity tendered. The average is around 1500 rupees (US$29) per
kilogram. Some additional money is made by drying the poppy heads
and collecting poppy seeds, and a small fraction of opium beyond the
quota may be consumed locally or diverted to the black market. The
opium paste is dried and processed into government opium and alkaloid
factories before it is packed into cases of 60 kilograms for export.
Purification of chemical constituents is done in
India for domestic
production, but typically done abroad by foreign importers.
Legal opium importation from
Turkey is conducted by
Mallinckrodt, Noramco, Abbott Laboratories, Purdue Pharma, and Cody
Laboratories Inc. in the United States, and legal opium production is
conducted by GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Johnson Matthey,
and Mayne in Tasmania, Australia;
Sanofi Aventis in France; Shionogi
Pharmaceutical in Japan; and
MacFarlan Smith in the United
Kingdom. The UN treaty requires that every country submit annual
reports to the International Narcotics Control Board, stating that
year's actual consumption of many classes of controlled drugs as well
as opioids and projecting required quantities for the next
year. This is to allow trends in consumption to be
monitored and production quotas allotted.
A recent[when?] proposal from the European
Senlis Council hopes to
solve the problems caused by the large quantity of opium produced
illegally in Afghanistan, most of which is converted to heroin and
smuggled for sale in Europe and the United States.
This proposal is to license Afghan farmers to produce opium for the
world pharmaceutical market, and thereby solve another problem, that
of chronic underuse of potent analgesics where required within
developing nations. Part of the proposal is to overcome the "80–20
rule" that requires the U.S. to purchase 80 percent of its legal opium
Turkey to include Afghanistan, by establishing a
second-tier system of supply control that complements the current INCB
regulated supply and demand system by providing poppy-based medicines
to countries who cannot meet their demand under the current
regulations. Senlis arranged a conference in Kabul that brought drug
policy experts from around the world to meet with Afghan government
officials to discuss internal security, corruption issues, and legal
issues within Afghanistan. In June 2007, the Council launched a
"Poppy for Medicines" project that provides a technical blueprint for
the implementation of an integrated control system within Afghan
village-based poppy for medicine projects: the idea promotes the
economic diversification by redirecting proceeds from the legal
cultivation of poppy and production of poppy-based medicines (See
Senlis Council). There has been criticism of the Senlis report
findings by Macfarlan Smith, who argue that though they produce
morphine in Europe, they were never asked to contribute to the
Cultivation in the UK
In late 2006, the British government permitted the pharmaceutical
MacFarlan Smith (a
Johnson Matthey company) to cultivate opium
poppies in England for medicinal reasons, after Macfarlan Smith's
primary source, India, decided to increase the price of export opium
latex. This move is well received by British farmers, with a major
opium poppy field located in Didcot, England. The British government
has contradicted the Home Office's suggestion that opium cultivation
can be legalized in
Afghanistan for exports to the United Kingdom,
helping lower poverty and internal fighting while helping the NHS to
meet the high demand for morphine and heroin.
Opium poppy cultivation
in the United Kingdom does not need a licence, but a licence is
required for those wishing to extract opium for medicinal
An Akha man smokes a pipe containing opium mixed with tobacco
In the industrialized world, the
United States is the world's biggest
consumer of prescription opioids, with Italy one of the lowest because
of tighter regulations on prescribing narcotics for pain relief.
Most opium imported into the
United States is broken down into its
alkaloid constituents, and whether legal or illegal, most current drug
use occurs with processed derivatives such as heroin rather than with
Intravenous injection of opiates is most used: by comparison with
injection, "dragon chasing" (heating of heroin with barbital on a
piece of foil), and madak and "ack ack" (smoking of cigarettes
containing tobacco mixed with heroin powder) are only 40 percent and
20 percent efficient, respectively. One study of British heroin
addicts found a 12-fold excess mortality ratio (1.8 percent of the
group dying per year). Most heroin deaths result not from
overdose per se, but combination with other depressant drugs such as
alcohol or benzodiazepines.
The smoking of opium does not involve the burning of the material as
might be imagined. Rather, the prepared opium is indirectly heated to
temperatures at which the active alkaloids, chiefly morphine, are
vaporized. In the past, smokers would use a specially designed opium
pipe which had a removable knob-like pipe-bowl of fired earthenware
attached by a metal fitting to a long, cylindrical stem. A small
"pill" of opium about the size of a pea would be placed on the
pipe-bowl, which was then heated by holding it over an opium lamp, a
special oil lamp with a distinct funnel-like chimney to channel heat
into a small area. The smoker would lie on his or her side in order to
guide the pipe-bowl and the tiny pill of opium over the stream of heat
rising from the chimney of the oil lamp and inhale the vaporized opium
fumes as needed. Several pills of opium were smoked at a single
session depending on the smoker's tolerance to the drug. The effects
could last up to twelve hours.
In Eastern culture, opium is more commonly used in the form of
paregoric to treat diarrhea. This is a weaker solution than laudanum,
an alcoholic tincture which was prevalently used as a pain medication
and sleeping aid.
Tincture of opium has been prescribed for, among
other things, severe diarrhea. Taken thirty minutes prior to
meals, it significantly slows intestinal motility, giving the
intestines greater time to absorb fluid in the stool.
Despite the historically negative view of opium as a cause of
addiction, the use of morphine and other derivatives isolated from
opium in the treatment of chronic pain has been reestablished. If
given in controlled doses, modern opiates can be an effective
treatment for neuropathic pain and other forms of chronic pain.
Chemical and physiological properties
See also: Opioid, Opiate, and Morphinan
Morphine is the primary biologically active chemical constituent of
Codeine is another biologically active chemical constituent of opium
Opium contains two main groups of alkaloids. Phenanthrenes such as
morphine, codeine, and thebaine are the main psychoactive
Isoquinolines such as papaverine and noscapine have
no significant central nervous system effects.
Morphine is the most
prevalent and important alkaloid in opium, consisting of 10–16
percent of the total, and is responsible for most of its harmful
effects such as lung edema, respiratory difficulties, coma, or cardiac
or respiratory collapse.
Morphine binds to and activates mu opioid
receptor in the brain, spinal cord, stomach and intestine. Regular use
can lead to drug tolerance or physical dependence. Chronic opium
addicts in 1906 China or modern-day Iran consume an average
of eight grams of opium daily.
Both analgesia and drug addiction are functions of the mu opioid
receptor, the class of opioid receptor first identified as responsive
to morphine. Tolerance is associated with the superactivation of the
receptor, which may be affected by the degree of endocytosis caused by
the opioid administered, and leads to a superactivation of cyclic AMP
signaling. Long-term use of morphine in palliative care and the
management of chronic pain always entails a risk that the patient
develops tolerance or physical dependence. There are many kinds of
rehabilitation treatment, including pharmacologically based treatments
with naltrexone, methadone, or ibogaine.
Some slang terms for opium include: "Big O", "Shanghai Sally", "dope",
"hop", "midnight oil", "O.P.", and "tar". "Dope" and "tar" can also
refer to heroin. The traditional opium pipe is known as a "dream
stick". The term dope entered the English language in the early
nineteenth century, originally referring to viscous liquids,
particularly sauces or gravy. It has been used to refer to
opiates since at least 1888, and this usage arose because opium, when
prepared for smoking, is viscous.
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opium curse; a personal investigation, during an extended tour, of the
present conditions of the opium trade in China and its effects upon
Morewood, Samuel (1838). "A philosophical and statistical history of
the inventions and customs of ancient and modern nations in the
manufacture and use of inebriating liquors; with the present practice
of distillation in all its varieties: together with an extensive
illustration of the consumption and effects of opium, and other
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Peters, Gretchen. Seeds of Terror: How
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Thelwall, A. S. (1839). "The iniquities of the opium trade with
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Find more aboutOpiumat's sister projects
Definitions from Wiktionary
Media from Wikimedia Commons
News from Wikinews
Quotations from Wikiquote
Texts from Wikisource
Textbooks from Wikibooks
Learning resources from Wikiversity
Data from Wikidata
A fleet of opium clippers on the River Ganges
Confessions of a Poppy Tea addict
DEA drug information: Opium, morphine, and heroin
From Flowers to Heroin, CIA publication
Opium in India
Opium Made Easy by Michael Pollan (originally appeared in Harper's.)
Opium paraphernalia and historical photos of opium
BLTC Research: Speculations on the future of opioids
Thailex photo: Traditional method of using opium in Thailand
Tsur Shezaf, Witer, The
Opium Growers of Sinai
UNODC – United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime – Afghan Opium
Plants / animals
Atropa belladonna (belladonna)
Datura innoxia (thorn-apple)
Datura metel (devil's trumpet)
Hyoscyamus niger (henbane)
Mandragora officinarum (mandrake)
Opioid receptor modulators
Agonists (abridged; see here for a full list): 3-HO-PCP
Papaver somniferum (opium)
Dynorphin B (rimorphin)
Leumorphin (dynorphin B-29)
Salvinorin A (salvia)
Salvinorin B ethoxymethyl ether
Salvinorin B methoxymethyl ether
Tricyclic antidepressants (e.g., amitriptyline, desipramine,
Nociceptin (orphanin FQ)
Enkephalinase inhibitors: Amastatin
Propeptides: β-Lipotropin (proendorphin)
Kyotorphin (met-enkephalin releaser/degradation stabilizer)
See also: Receptor/signaling modulators • Signaling peptide/protein