About Opium, Opioids and Opiates

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Opium is a flower. Its name is derived from Latin, meaning “sleep inducing.” Typically, it is a flower that grows wildly around the world with an abundance in temperate and sub-tropical regions. It was first cultivated by the Sumerians in 3400BC to be later shared with the Egyptians. Eventually, cultivation made its way into the Middle East and Europe, and later introduced to Asia around 400 AD by Arabic traders. Despite its progress, opium was not accepted by most. It was hardly spoken of in Europe and rejected socially by the Chinese. Eventually, opium became a medical narcotic used to treat various diseases and throughout the next few decades, it became of interest to medical practitioners. However, in the early 1900s, opium passed the Pure Food and Drug Act in the United States and was banned. Subsequently, the Indo-China opium trade was dismantled in 1910 and not long after, in 1925, New York’s China Town and other countries saw a booming opium black market.

Opium Addiction

Opium addiction is like that of standard, synthesized opioids. Typically, individuals become addicted through initial use which leads to subsequent withdrawal. Withdrawal can be severe and unbearable, leading to reward-seeking behaviours such as seeking out more of the drug. As this cycle continues, individuals who are addicted begin to build tolerance. Therefore, they require more opium to achieve the same desired effects. Oftentimes, if opium is not potent enough, individuals may seek out stronger synthetic opioids to fulfill the need and temporarily overcome their withdrawal. Unfortunately, the larger the dose of the drug, the more intense symptoms of withdrawal, thereby making it harder for individuals to overcome addiction.

Short-Term Effects and Risks

The short-term effects of opium can vary. Typically, side-effects include euphoria, drowsiness, paranoia, dream-like states, sedation, nausea, lethargy, relief from pain, and possible overdose.

Long-Term Effects and Overdose

The long-term effects of opium abuse are quite severe. As previously alluded to, it can cause tolerance, and other side effects such as damage to the liver and/or brain, constipation, nausea and/or vomiting, addiction, respiratory depression, and once again overdose.


Opium consists of two main alkaloids: morphine and codeine and are two of the primary psychoactive ingredients of the drug. Morphine is the most abundant of the two, making up 10-16 percent of the total chemical components of opium. It is responsible for the undesirable effects of the drug previously listed above. As it happens, morphine also produces the sought-after effects of opium such as euphoria and analgesia and is therefore useful in a clinical setting.

Like other opioids, morphine binds to mu opioid receptors in the brain, spinal cord, and gastrointestinal system and activates them. In turn, this creates a cascade of effects. Typically, pain is suppressed in patients experiencing moderate to intense pain. Further, it produces the euphoric or “high” effects that individuals with an opium addiction experience.

Opium can be taken orally, intravenously, subcutaneously, or inhaled from smoking. The most common route of administration outside of a clinical setting is smoking. This is sometimes referred to as “chasing the dragon.” Smoking opium does not produce an effect as quickly as intravenous injection, however, it is quicker than oral consumption. Further, it is safer than self-administration with a needle and reduces risk for HIV and other transmittable diseases through needle use.