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opiumpoppiespicOpium is Schedule II in the United States. This means it is illegal to sell without a DEA license and illegal to buy or possess without a license or prescription.

Addictive Potential: Medium

Emergency Room Visits Yearly: Unknown

Mandatory Minimum Sentence: Not more than 20 years in prison

Mechanism of Action: Opioid Receptor Agonist – Increases Endorphin Levels


Opium is a resinous narcotic formed from the latex released by wounding the immature seed pods of opium poppies (Papaver somniferum). It contains up to 16% morphine, an opiate alkaloid, which is most frequently processed chemically to produce heroin for the black market. The resin also includes non-narcotic alkaloids, such as papaverine and noscapine.

Cultivation of opium poppies for food, anaesthesia, and ritual purposes dates back at least to Neolithic Europe. The Sumerian, Assyrian, Egyptian, Minoan, Greek, Roman, and Arabic Empires each made widespread use of opium, which was the most potent form of pain relief, 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.

Recreational use of the drug began in a sexual context in China in the fifteenth century, but was limited by its rarity and expense. Opium trade became more regular by the seventeenth century, when it was mixed with tobacco for smoking, and addiction was first recognized. Opium prohibition in China began in 1729, and was followed by a century of exponentially increasing opium use. British smugglers favored opium as a product cheaply obtained from Indian provinces under British exploitation, which was highly valued and in demand in China. A massive confiscation of opium by the Chinese led to two Opium Wars in 1838 and 1860. Britain won the right to trade opium to every part of China, until more than a quarter of the male population was addicted by 1905. Recreational or addictive opium use in other nations remained rare into the late nineteenth century, recorded by an ambivalent literature that often praised the drug.

Global regulation of opium began with the stigmatization of Chinese and Indian immigrants and opium dens, leading rapidly from town ordinances in the 1870s to the formation of the 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 of popularity. Opium was prohibited in many countries during the early twentieth 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, has increased steadily in recent years to over 6600 tons yearly, nearly one-fifth the level of production in 1906. Opium for illegal use is generally converted into heroin, which doubles its potency, and taken by intravenous injection, which more than doubles the quantity of drug entering the body.

Opium contains two main groups of alkaloids. Phenanthrenes include morphine, codeine, and thebaine, and they are the main narcotic constituents. Isoquinolines such as papaverine have no significant central nervous system effects and are not regulated under the Controlled Substances Act.

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 signalling.

Many techniques of drug treatment exist, including pharmacologically based treatments with naltrexone, methadone, or ibogaine.

Substance Identification:

     Mandelin Reagent          Marquis Reagent     Mecke Reagent   
Opium Dark brown Dark grayish reddish brown Olive black

(Info provided by DOJ, 2014)

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