History Of Opium
A History of Opium
Fact: Opium poppies are still cultivated freely in some parts of the world, such as Czechoslovakia, Turkey, Poland, Iran, Holland, India, some parts of Canada and South America, and Romania. They are also grown extensively in Asia and Central America, contributing to the creation of opium and derivatives thereof.
Poppies are some of the hardiest flowers on the planet, and in fact are viewed as weeds in some places because once they are planted they tend to take over the area completely, choking out other plants.
The opium poppy is not a new flower, and opium is not a newly discovered drug in medicinal or recreational forms. In fact, it is believed to be one of the most popular drugs on the planet, with a rich and ancient history in the major civilizations all over the world for thousands of years. There is evidence of ancient opium use worldwide, from Egypt to Iran and Asia in pictures, drawings, texts, and stories, mostly because the drug was believed to be a cure-all for almost anything that was wrong during those years.
More than five thousand years ago, the Mesopotamians were already using opium poppies as a means of achieving euphoria. They were not selfish with the knowledge, passing it along until it became available as far away as Egypt’s markets. Even Hippocrates acknowledged the medicinal qualities of the opium poppy, especially in female-related illnesses and internal diseases.
During the Inquisition, opium was among a variety of medicines that was actually banned from Europe, despite its effectiveness, primarily because it was so popular in Asian countries. If it was from that part of the world, it had to be “of the devil” and was therefore not allowed. It was reintroduced under a new name—laudanum—more than two hundred years later.
Opium has been used for many purposes throughout the years, many of which were legitimate and medical in nature rather than recreational. Here are just a few of the ways that opium was used throughout history:
- Narcotic. Opium dulled pain due to many problems, from injuries to chronic pain related to illnesses. It was widely marketed throughout Europe during the 1500s as a miracle cure for headaches.
- Easing menstrual discomfort. For women, opium was one of the earliest ways to deal with cramps, heavy bleeding, and other menstrual-related problems.
- Treating epidemics. Although there is little or no information about specifics, some historical documents link opium to the treatment of epidemic illnesses such as cholera and dysentery.
- Cure for diarrhea. Several cultures list opium as the best treatment for diarrhea, even severe diarrhea, in patients of all ages.
- Sexual problems. India was among the first countries to publish books citing opium as a viable option for dealing with sexual problems such as erectile dysfunction.
- Anesthesia. In the 1800s, morphine was discovered, believed by many doctors to be the perfect form of opium.
- Recreational drug. Although opium was used as a recreational drug since it was first discovered, it was not until 1874 that heroin was discovered, created by boiling morphine.
There have been many advancements and setbacks for opium, specifically during the last two or three hundred years in the United States. One interesting note is that countries around the world, even those established long before the U.S., follow suit in her opium decisions, such as making opium production against the law except for medicinal purposes and by special license only. This includes the passing or banning of legislation regarding opium, such as Mexico’s decision to rethink a law that would permit drug use for recreational purposes only, including opium, based on the advice of the American embassy.
Opium Use in Medicine
Most of us know that opium is a major component in morphine, one of the most effective painkillers known to man. It is most often used for serious, chronic pain, such as pain related to terminal cancer or grave bodily injury. However, many doctors are limited in the prescription of morphine due to restrictions placed by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and other drug watchdogs.
A few medicines are still used by doctors today, although they may not prescribe them as often as they should due to the crackdown on “frivolous” pain relief, such as codeine and morphine. Instead, they turn to other, less effective pain remedies, or people live with a greater amount of pain than is necessary. The following table breaks down other medications that contain or are made from opium or a derivative like morphine:
|Laudanum||Painkiller and cure-all containing opium, spices and wine.|
|Soothing Syrup (and dozens of similar names)||Given to babies and small children for teething, colic, and other problems|
|Heroin||Initially prescribed as a means of defeating opium addiction|
|Paregoric (also known as Blackdrop)||Painkiller and cure for dysentery|
Prohibition of Opium
America was not the first—or last—country to decide that opium use should be extremely restricted at best. China tried for almost two hundred years to ban the drug completely from her borders, but ruling England made it impossible until the problem became virtually out of control. The United States banned production of the opium poppy in order to quell the rising number of heroin addicts in the country, but banning the drug and making it illegal only caused millions to turn to illegal production instead. Whether used as a painkiller or recreational drug, they sought any means necessary, including importing the drug from other countries, as a method of making it available again.
Opium is a Schedule II substance, although heroin is ranked higher at Schedule I due to the addictive nature and potential for overdose. Even growing the opium poppy is against the law without a special license, such as those who grow poppies for leading pharmaceutical companies who license them for real medical purposes. Today, most illegal opium comes from countries such as Afghanistan, accounting for more than 90% of the world’s opium poppy production.