Opium Characteristics and Effects

The sole source of opium is the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum). The psychological and healing effects of opium have been known for around 4,000 years.

By incising the head of the opium poppy, farmers can extract its sticky brown sap from the egg shaped bulb. The raw opium sap contains 7-15 per cent morphine, which easily can be precipitated from the poppy sap after simple boiling. Raw opium has a characteristic odour which is strong and pungent.

Opiate receptors in the brain induce high physiological addiction and lasting psychological dependence. Regular use results in increased tolerance and the need for greater quantities of the drug.

Use of opium in Western countries has decreased substantially but it is still widely used among highland ethnic minorities in China, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam both for recreational and medical purposes.

Can produce intense euphoria, a heightened state of wellbeing, enhanced imagination and speech. Soon after, respiration slows down, imagination diminishes and the thinking process becomes confused. Lethargy, relaxation and deep sleep usually follow.

Administration is usually by smoking but it can also be chewed and cooked with food for digestion. Particularly in countries of origin, it can be drunk as an infusion.

An opium pipe has a long thick stem with a bowl at one end. The opium ‘pellet’ is placed into the bowl , heated and the smoke is inhaled.

Sediment or the ‘dross’ left in smoking implements can contain up to 8 per cent morphine, is often used again and is known as blackwater opium. This form of opium still remains popular in particular Asian countries i.e. Vietnam, Cambodia.

Smoking puts more of the active ingredients of opium into the blood stream faster, by the way of the lungs, so the drug begins to reach the brain in about 7 seconds.

Long term use results in decreased mental and physical capacities with loss of appetite and body wasting.

Withdrawal symptoms, similar to those of morphine, include agitation, irritability, anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, and abdominal and muscle pain.

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