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Papaver somniferum

Papaver somniferum, source of opium and the narcotic alkaloids: morphine and codeine, has been recognized for ages as “the flower of joy”, for its euphoric properties. Opium has been used and abused mainly in Asia and Middle East countries also as a drug and it has been the cause of wars and international conflicts. Since the beginning Opium has been employed in medicine for pain control, to treat coughs and severe diarrhea cases. Morphine is today a preferred painkiller among the ones available, in spite of its addictive side effect, and its remarkably effective controlling pain during final phases of terminal diseases, such as cancer and degenerative disorders of muscles, bones and articulations. The relevance of Papaver somniferum as a medicine is undeniable, and its harvesting for medical purposes is allowed and considered legal in some countries such as Japan and Australia. Also all the other species that do not contain these alkaloids are legal and grown in many countries for ornamental use thanks to their beauty.

This plant was originated in the Middle East area, and today it can be cultivated in tropical, subtropical and warm tempered areas, its common to find large fields of Papaver somniferum in Afghanistan and other surrounding countries where even its illegal, the blind governments and corruption “blinds” and consents this practice for the economical advantage that black market represents. Contraband and smuggling of Opium is a huge business opportunity for economically constricted countries, which satisfy the demand of consumers al over the world treading an intricate web. Opium as a drug was first consumed by smoking it through hot water pipes and later injected. Both methods help opium to reach blood stream fast and the euphoric effects start almost immediately. Opium is not present in the seeds of Papaver somniferum, and they are commonly used in culinary traditions in Middle East countries, Europe and Asia. The trading of Papaver seeds is legal.

Greeks, Arabs and Romans recognized Papaver somniferum in the past as a sedative and soporific poppy, and it was first cataloged and studied by the father of botanic in 1753, Linnaeus, classifying this poppy as Papaver somniferum (sleeping-inducing), in his book “Genera Plantarum”. Serturner, a young German pharmacist isolated Papaver somniferum most important constituent, Morphine, back in 1803. It was the first plant alkaloid ever isolated, and its discovery started out an intensive research that radically changed medicine investigation since then. Within the next 50 years, a large amount of alkaloids, such as atropine, caffeine, cocaine, quinine, etc. were isolated from other plants and they start to be used in specific measured dosages since.

Papaver somniferum contains approximately 25 different alkaloids such as: Morphine, Codeine, Thebaine, Papaverine, Noscapine, Meconic Acid, Narceine, Protopine, Laudanine, Laudanosine, Codamine, Cryptopine, Lanthopine and Meconidine, just to name the most important ones.