Opium is an illegal, highly addictive narcotic extracted from the latex of the Asian opium poppy plant (Papaver somniferum). It can be smoked, snorted, or injected. The drug is sold under the street names “buddha,” “chillum,” “Chinese molasses,” “goric,” and “gee.” Opium has a history of use and abuse that spans centuries.
The opium poppy was first cultivated in lower Mesopotamia by the Sumerians. Poppy culling was a common practice among the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Egyptians, who understood and indulged in the narcotic properties of the plant. While much of Europe rejected the drug on moral grounds, the opium industry flourished in Asia. It reentered the European Market with the invention of laudanum, a mixture of opium and alcohol that was prescribed medicinally. American opium consumption peaked in the 19th century, when Chinese immigrants opened and operated scores of opium dens. These drug houses (which were already popular in Europe and Asia) sold opium for consumption, and offered patrons a place to smoke. Many citizens saw the dens as symbols of a declining, corrupt society. In 1890, a tax was placed on the drug, and use declined. Opium was officially criminalized in 1905. Today illegal use of opium use has dropped off, with morphine and heroin dominating the global market.
Consuming opium gives the user a euphoric high, followed by drowsiness. Users may experience anxiety or heightened inhibition when taking larger doses of the drug. Side effects include constipation, hives, anxiety, sweats, and nausea. The primary long-term side effect of opium use is physical dependence. Opium addiction can occur after just a few weeks of use. Long term use can also cause damage to internal organs. Opium withdrawal symptoms are severe; they include vomiting, muscle pain, diarrhea, sweating, fever, depression and anxiety.
The process of producing opium is relatively simple. Mature poppy plants are harvested for their gum. Their seed pods are scoured with a specialized curved blade. The milky white fluid that drips from the incisions is collected and air-dried into raw opium. This substance can be smoked, or refined into higher quality opium and opium derivatives (morphine, codeine, and heroin).
Opium is classified by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration as a Schedule II substance. It has a high potential for abuse and dependence. Medicinal use of opium is acceptable with severe restrictions, and only under supervision.
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