The history of opium goes as far back as 3400 B.C., when people first began using opium. In fact, Sumarians even called it by one of its current street names, “joy plant.” Eventually, use of opium spread throughout Asia and Eastern Europe, and opium wars broke out due to trading issues between nations. Due to their highly addictive nature, opiates are closely regulated today and controlled within both the medical and legal systems.
What is Opium?
Within the seed pods of opium poppies lies a potent sap. Eventually, ripening seed pods split open, and the sap will drip out and dry around the outer surfaces of the seed pods. Once it’s dried, it’s possible to scrape the dried sap off of the seed pods to use it medicinally to relieve pain. When ingested, injected, or smoked, opiates produce a feeling of euphoria, which is then followed by a calm sense of comfort. Regardless of the method of administration, opiates are very addictive. Users develop tolerance to the narcotic, which means they require more opiates to produce the desired effects.
- The Pernicious Opium Poppy: The opium poppy has been both a medical advantage and a curse due to misuse and abuse.
- Opiates in the Brain: Opium comes from the opium poppy, a plant that produces a large flower. Opium produces a relaxed effect in the brain, and it decreases pain.
- Neuroscience for Kids: Heroin: After extracting opium from the opium poppy, it can be made into heroin, one of many opiate drugs.
- Opium Poppy, Papaver somniferum: The opium poppy needs a specific habitat in which to grow, and Eastern Europe and Western Asia are ideal growing locations for this plant.
History of Opium
People in ancient Egypt and Rome used opium as a surgical anesthetic and as a pain reliever. It wasn’t until the Chinese became involved with opiate use in the 17th century that opium moved from being a medicinal drug to a recreational drug, however. Britain’s dominance in the trade industry at that time led it to introduce opium to the Chinese in an attempt to balance trade between the two nations. During the 19th century, a Chinese emperor confiscated large amounts of opium to end opium deliveries to China. These actions led to opium wars, which were extensive trade wars between nations.
- The opium poppy originated during ancient civilizations, with Egyptians and Persians using it initially.
- Opium, Cocaine, and Marijuana in American History: In ancient times, people ingested opium by eating the poppy plants or dissolving plant parts in alcohol.
- Cannabis, Coca, and Poppy: Nature’s Addictive Plants: The Drug Enforcement Administration Museum offers enlightening information about addictive plants, including the opium poppy.
- Opium Throughout History: Explore a timeline of opium from ancient eras through the late 1990s to see how opium has evolved throughout history.
- A Brief History of Opium: This timeline of opium history extends to 2014, with recent information about heroin abuse and addiction as well as information about kappa opioid antagonists and receptors.
- A History of Opiate Laws in the United States: Municipalities within the United States at the state and federal levels have enforced opiate laws since approximately 1875 to control the possession and use of the drug.
Dangers and Risks
The euphoric feeling produced by opium makes these narcotics very addictive. The addiction typically leads to increasing tolerance of the drugs as well as obsession and even criminal activities to support the drug habit. Because addicts need an ever-increasing amount of opium to produce the desired effects, overdose is a significant risk. Opium slows breathing and depresses the central nervous system. In high amounts, opium can cause death. If users combine opiates with other drugs such as barbiturates or alcohol, the effects of the drugs can be even more pronounced and dangerous. Withdrawal from opiates is unpleasant, but it is not life-threatening. Withdrawal symptoms typically include excessive sweating, muscle pain, abdominal cramping, and anxiety.
- Opiates (Narcotics): Addiction, Withdrawal, and Recovery: Common opiates include codeine, hydrocodone, morphine, oxycodone, hydromorphone, and fentanyl. Opiates can be effective for relieving pain and discomfort, but they are very addictive.
- Drug Guide: Opium: Street names for opium include “big-O,” “dopium,” “joy plant,” “midnight oil,” and “skee.” Users can inject opium, smoke it, or take it in pill form.
- Opium Information: The Palo Alto Medical Foundation offers an overview of opium, including street names, physical effects, and dangers associated with these drugs.
- Heroin: What is it? Even during the 19th century, opium addiction was a prevalent problem in the United States. Attempts to resolve opium addiction led to the widespread use of morphine and then heroin.
- Opioid Abuse, Dependence, and Addiction in Pregnancy: Use of opium during pregnancy can lead to preterm labor and fetal demise, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.