What is Opium?
Opium is a naturally occuring latex produced biochemically within the seed pod walls of the opium poppy; a flower which is known by its botanical name papaver somniferum. Opium occurs throughout most of the plant, but is most highly concentrated within the walls of the seed pod, reaching peak levels shortly after the flower petals have dried and fallen from the plant. Opium has a long history of use dating back to ancient times, long before the pharmacological advances which facilitated the extraction of its derivatives. It has has been historically used therapeutically and casually for its analgesic, anxiolytic, antidepressive, and soothing euphoric properties.
Morphine is the primary constituent of opium and was the first pscyhoactive alkaloid ever extracted from a plant source. It generally occurs in concentrations up to 12 percent; however many plants have been bio-engineered by the pharmaceutical industry to produce morphine at concentrations as high as 20 percent or more. Aside from morphine, opium contains modest concentrations of codeine and thebaine. Thebaine produces no narcotic effects and is not directly used in medicine, but its molecular structure makes it useful as a precursor for the production of many semi-synthetic narcotics, some of which are analogues to morphine and codeine.
Opium & Opiate Production
The opium poppy can grow in any area with a reasonable climate, and is cultivated in Europe, North America, and elsewhere as strictly a garden flower or as an opium source for personal use.
Opium for the pharma-industry is mass produced mainly in countries throughout the Mid-East, Far-East, and the South Pacific, where peasant poppy farms produce opium clandestinely for the illicit market, or authorized farms operate under contract with pharmaceutical and chemical firms (these include the American companies Mallinckrodt and Johnson & Johnson).
Opium is the crude starting source for many opiates both licit and illicit. The term "narcotic" is classicaly used to refer to the natural, synthetic, and semi synthetic compounds with opium-like properties. The broad term "opioid" may be used interchangeably with the term narcotic. All natural or semi synthetic morphine-codeine analogues rely on the opium poppy for production; more specifically, crude opium latex, or concentrated poppy straw. Initially, morphine and thebaine are extracted from the latex or plant material, and then either refined as is, or further processed to produce semi synthetic narcotics. More on this below.
Harvest and Manufacture...
Following extraction of the harvest, peasants can make use of the remaining straw in a number of ways; the seeds are removed from the pods and contracted for culinary use, or sewn for the next harvest. The dried stalks and pod material (i.e. poppy straw) are often sold to small business or licensed chemists; who extract residual alkaloid content for use in their own products; generally mild opiate based tinctures, elixirs, or pills.
A more modern production method is used in Tasmania, and technically does not require "opium", per se. This method involves mowing and grinding the entire plant and processing the straw into an alkaloid rich concentrate of poppy straw (or CPS). CPS is then shipped to drug manufacturing facilities where morphine and thebaine are isolated and extracted; the morphine may be used in morphine medications, or may be further processed (as with thebaine) into other opiates including codeine. This process may be applied to the traditional opium poppy, or the patented 'thebaine only' poppy - In either case, the alkaloids are extracted directly from the straw, and further processed to pure opiate compounds. Below is a simple outline of how the alkaloids of opium and poppy straw are processed...
Morphine is Processed To: Morphine Medications, Codeine, Heroin, Hydromorphone, NicomorphineThebaine is Processed To: Hydrocodone, Oxycodone, Oxymorphone, Oripavine, Etorphine, Buprenorphine, DihydroetorphineCodeine: Occurs in such small amounts that it is not regularly used. Most pharmaceutical codeine is produced from morphine; Codeine is a methylated version of morphine (Also known as Methylmorphine)
An in depth look at licit Indian opium production can be found here .
An overview of the more modern method of opiate production in Tasmania can be found here .
Opium Use and Its Effects
The effects of pure opium are primarily the result of morphine and codeine content. One gram of raw opium may commonly contain 60 to 120 milligrams of morphine; with the lethal dose range being 120 to 250 milligrams. Typical opioid effects are experienced; Sedation, somnolence, itching, flushing, anxiolysis and analgesia, euphoria and increase in mood, miosis (pin pupils), supression of cough reflex, constipation and decrease in sexual function. Opium may be either swallowed in raw-solid or liquid form, or smoked. Smoking the substance allows it to rapidly reach the brain within seconds, however, much of the substance is destroyed by heat and secondhand smoke.
Poppy Tea - A Practical Alternative
For peasant farmers in Asia or elsewhere, there is another possible use for the aforementioned plant material, which could be quite lucrative. Dried poppy staw (referred to by many simply as "pods") have become a popular opiate source for american and european narcotic users, typically in the form of a tea.
The dried material (stems included) is chopped and ground into powder, also known by some as "Doda". The powdered straw is then steeped in hot water and (often slightly acidified with lemon or lime), extracting the alkaloids. The solution is strained and then ready for use. It may be prepared with sugar or honey to mask the taste, which users report as very bitter and earthy. Poppy tea is usually light brown to off-white or yellow in color. Poppy tea contains a full spectrum of alkaloids. The desired effects are similar to that of raw opium, and are produced mainly by morphine and codeine. Poppy tea takes effect within 30 to 60 minutes and generally last 6 to 8 hours, though some commonly report effects which linger well into the next day. Effects include the usual anxiolysis, relaxation, positive mood & euphoria, somnolence, body high, itching, flushing, miosis, nausea or vomiting, constipation, and respiratory depression.
Many of the poppy seeds used in culinary and baking originate from pharmaceutical crops. The seeds themselves contain trace amounts of morphine and codeine on their surface, which may be present in very small to very significant quantities, depending on how well the seeds were cleaned. In addition to the seeds themselves, the product generally contains alkaloid ridden, unsifted plant matter especially when sold in bulk. Poppy seeds can be obtained in bulk quantities of one or several kilograms; and using the same process used with poppy pod tea, the alkaloids can be leeched from the seeds. The finished product is a tea similar to that of pod tea, with the very same type of effect. Seed extract tea may be just as potent as pod extract tea when large quantities of dirty seeds are used.