Archive for category Opium'

The Opium Alliance

The opium route — beginning in the poppy fields of Asia and ending thousands of miles away in hundreds of American and European cities — was built and operated by an illicit and sometimes violent opium alliance. America’s opium addicts are the final link in a chain of secret criminal transactions that begin in the fields, pass through clandestine processing and packaging laboratories, and enter the United States through a maze of international smuggling routes. This highly coordinated, complex opium alliance is the world’s most profitable criminal enterprise, involving millions of peasant farmers, thousands of corrupt government officials, disciplined criminal cartels, and organized American crime syndicates. Most of those involved in the opium route will never meet. This underground industry is largely controlled by cartels. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) estimates that 90 percent of the opium sold around the world is done so under the direction of about thirty cartels, which are well-organized and well-financed family-run businesses that control opium’s production, distribution, and prices. All nations involved in the opium trade repudiate the drug, yet the business flourishes. The success of Read more […]

Opium: A Strange and Mysterious Flower

Long ago, opium’s strange and mysterious flower was enjoyed and celebrated by ancient civilizations. The plant was not perceived as having any medical, curative powers or deadly addictive properties. Instead, people believed that opium had mystical powers capable of inducing temporary happiness and a welcomed, trancelike slumber. The earliest people to cultivate the opium poppy were the Sumerians, who occupied Mesopotamia in what is present-day Iraq. Five thousand years ago they referred to opium poppies as hul gil, meaning the “joy plant.” Anthropologists believe that they probably discovered the plant’s mysterious properties by observing the intoxicated behavior of cattle that had eaten the sap-filled pods. Out of curiosity, some Sumerians chewed the pods and experienced a calming bliss. Over time, the Sumerians gave away seeds and passed along claims about the plant’s comforting effects to the Babylonians, who in turn passed it on to the Egyptians, who passed it on to the Greeks and Romans. The Discovery of Drowsy Dreams Opium and Europeans Developing a vast network of contacts throughout Europe and the Middle East, Arab merchants traded in everything of value, from diamonds, ivory, silk, and coral to spices, Read more […]

The Discovery of Drowsy Dreams

Some of the earliest references to opium’s sleeplike trance come from clay tablets dating back to 2000 B.C. These tablets recommend calming fractious children with the juice of crushed poppies mixed with fly droppings; the mixture was ground into a pulp, forced through a cotton strainer, and administered orally for four days. It guaranteed peaceful, sleeping children. One of the earliest literary references to the dulling and drowsy effects of opium can be found in the epics of Homer, a Greek writer from the ninth century B.C. In his book the Iliad, Homer mentions the use of opium by contingents of the Greek army that had gone to fight at the gates of Troy. Homer described a scene in which the Greek army was sitting around a campfire one evening: “The poppy which in the garden is weighted down by fruit and vernal showers, droops its heads to one side, saturated with lethal slumber.” Later in his second book the Odyssey, Homer warned Greek soldiers traveling in foreign lands against drinking opium-laced beverages because of their powers to “induce forgetfulness of pain and any sense of evil.” Around 460 B.C., the Greek physician Hippocrates, one of the greatest Western figures in medicine, grew curious about the Read more […]

Dreams Turn to Nightmares

The sweet euphoria initially enjoyed by so many soon turned sour. Pharmacists who sold bottles of laudanum reported seeing the same people buying it with increasing frequency and hearing them say they needed larger doses each evening. As laudanum and especially its key ingredient opium came under closer scrutiny, chemists and physicians recognized that many users were increasing their daily consumption rate. Opium use in Europe was on the rise. Increasing numbers of laudanum users turned to the pure form of opium, which was often smoked, to satisfy their cravings. An anonymous writer in 1844 commented on opium’s addictive quality: “Opium smoking is a sort of incline plane, down which he who ventures to slide a little way is tolerably sure to go to the bottom.” As more users consumed opium, they needed larger and larger doses to experience the same numbing effect. The demand became so great that farmers in Europe attempted to cultivate the opium poppy, but it was to no avail, because the climate was too damp and cold. Instead, British traders purchased all they could from Turkey and Afghanistan for legal import to Europe and for export to China, where huge profits could be made trading it for tea, silk, and spices. Read more […]

Opium Dens

Some of those who succumbed to addiction sought refuge and companionship in opium dens, which were privately owned establishments where opium users congregated to socialize, smoke opium, have a bite to eat, and fall asleep in a safe environment. Sprouting first throughout Asia and then Europe, they were brought to America by the Chinese and were common in many of America’s large cities by the mid-nineteenth century. While the majority of patrons were men, women were welcomed and many enjoyed the atmosphere. In 1877 a tourist to San Francisco accepted a tour of the city’s Chinatown district and described her first experience inside an opium den: We were led into a small, close, but clean room, filled with the fumes of burning opium — resembling those of roasting ground-nuts, and not disagreeable. A table stood in the centre, and around three sides ran a double tier of shelves and bunks, covered with matting and cushioned with pillows. Nearly all of these were filled with Chinamen, many of them containing two, with a little tray between them, holding a lamp and a horn box filled with black opium paste. But although every one was smoking, it was so early in the evening that the drug had not as yet wrought its full Read more […]

Opium’s Physiological Effects

Early studies of opium indicated it had significant physiological effects on the body. Most noticeable and of greatest concern to physicians was its depressing effect on the heart and respiration. Clinical observations detected a slower respiration and heartbeat within minutes of ingestion, a suppression of the cough reflex, and constriction of the smooth muscles of the intestinal tract, causing constipation. Physicians recognized that part of the sleepy, blissful experiences reported by patients was the result of a lowered respiration and heart rate. Oxygen shortages associated with slow respiration were known to produce a light-headed sensation, causing a person to become disoriented, forgetful, and seemingly unaware of his or her surroundings. Coupled with a decreased heart rate, this robbed the brain of oxygen-rich blood, causing drowsiness in all cases and even death in some. Early physicians also identified a decline of opium smokers’ general health. Using opium regularly, especially smoking it, caused a loss of appetite and led to severe weight loss. Physicians noted the abnormal skin colors of long-term smokers caused by poor nutrition and a lack of oxygen, which is necessary for healthy skin and internal Read more […]

Opium: A Dark Paradise

Few sights in nature are more strikingly breathtaking than gently rolling fields blanketed by lavender, scarlet, white, and green opium poppies in full bloom. One of nature’s most dramatic displays, their splashes of dazzling color are rivaled only by that of tropical fish cruising amid the coral reefs or parrot flocks gliding amid the tropical rain forest canopy. However, the natural allure of the opium poppy in bloom masks a dark side unlike any other found in nature. Contained within the seedpod of the opium poppy is a gummy sap that bleeds from the surface when it is accidentally scratched or intentionally slit. Although the sap looks innocuous as it forms in droplets on the outer shell of the green pod, it becomes a dangerous narcotic once harvested and processed for millions of opium addicts who are dependent on its mystical yet tragic properties. The consumption of opium, whether smoked, eaten, or injected, is marked by a euphoric rush, a warm feeling of relaxation, a sense of security and protection, and relief from hunger, tension, and physical pain. Millions of addicts around the world spend tens of billions of dollars a year to experience its tranquilizing pleasure. Worth more money per acre than any Read more […]

Poppy Cultivation in Australia

Poppies (Papaver somniferum L.) were grown in Australia on a very small scale throughout the 19th century by some medical practitioners for the production of opium to be used in their individual practices. This was in the form of tinctures of opium (laudanum), a common item of medical practice in this period (). More comprehensive plans to establish a poppy industry based on opium production were considered in the state of New South Wales (Turner, 1891), however planned production was never brought to fruition at that time. World War II was the event which gave a strong motivation for the commencement of poppy production based, not on opium, but on dry poppy ‘straw’ (the capsules and a small quantity of stem). Morphine and related derivatives which were normally imported from Northern Hemisphere sources were in very short supply at that time and an experimental programme on the agronomy of P. somniferum was initiated by the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). Experimental plots were set out in the Australian Capital Territory at Canberra (Loftus Hills, 1945) and in collaboration with State Departments of Agriculture in Tasmania (), Victoria and South Australia. Small areas Read more […]

Poppy Cultivation in Australia: Plant Cultural Techniques

Crop Rotation In Tasmania poppies are typically grown on mixed farming enterprises which may include any or all of a very wide range of vegetables, pasture, cereal or other essential oil, herb or insecticidal crops. These crops may include green peas (Pisum sativum), potatoes (Solarium tuberosum), onions (Allium cepa), brassicas (Brassica ssp.), mint (Mentha piperita), fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), pyrethrum (Tanacetum cinerariifolium) and others. There is a generally accepted policy on the part of both poppy contracting companies that there should be a three to four year rotation between poppy crops because of the potential for disease with shorter rotations. However there is no general agreement on the specific crops which should precede poppies. Good poppy yields have been recorded when a range of the above vegetable, pasture, or cereal crops have preceded poppies. Time of Establishment Early spring (August — September) is the preferred sowing time for most poppy crops in Tasmania with flowering occurring in December and a dry mature harvest (12% moisture in capsules) during February/March. Trials have shown that spring sowing later than September resulted in lower capsule dry matter yields and lower morphine Read more […]

Poppy Cultivation in Australia: Plant Diseases

Although a number of fungal diseases of poppies which can have an impact on morphine concentration and yield have been recorded in Tasmania, their incidence has generally been low and fungicides are not commonly applied. These diseases have included poppy fire (Pleospora papaveraceae), Sclerotinia wilt (Sclerotinia sclerotiorum) and poppy leaf smut (Entyloma fuscum). In exceptional seasons the morphine concentration of capsules has been reduced to about half the normal average. The fungi involved on this occasion were identified as Dendryphion penicillatum (Corda) Fr. the conidial stage of Pleospora papaveraceae, Alternaria alternata (Fr.) Keissler, Cladosporium macrocarpon and Stemphyllium vesicarium (Laughlin and Munro, 1982). In these field and laboratory experiments, associations were drawn between the degree of fungal cover of the capsules and their morphine concentration. The morphine concentration of capsules which had been colonized by fungi to the extent of >30% of their surface area were 20% lower in morphine than those capsules with a light fungal colonisation of <10%. The colonisation of these capsules was generally localized in the top half and the morphine concentration of the top half was about Read more […]