Deadly but Useful: Opium Poppy
To begin, I wanted to share with you some images of Opium Poppy to give you a better understanding of what it looks like during each stage of it's developmental cycle. As you can see, this plant looks similar to the plants that may grow in your garden or in nearby locations close to where you live. It looks like a beautiful flower that could grow throughout your home and add a lot of color to your garden. However, this plant has more effects to humans than you would expect. This plant is both deadly and useful. Continue reading to see how this plant can both help humans in medicinal ways as well as have serious addicting and deadly effects.

The story of the opium poppy and its deadly but useful effects:
This is a break down of the opium poppy plant illustrating the vocabulary we have learned throughout the semester.
The flower that develops from the seedlings.

These opium poppy seedlings, or Papaver Somniferum, are released through pores. In fact, these seeds from the opium poppy are commonly seen on our poppy seed bagels. These seeds do not cause any narcotic effects; however, they can cause a positive result in a urine test for drugs.
This is mature opium poppy. The opium has just been cut and what is dripping from the seam is a milky latex sap containing a “naturally occurring narcotic alkaloid” including morphine and codeine. This morphine can then turn into heroin.

Opium Growth throughout its most popular location: Afghanistan.

Background Information:
A. Botanical Classification:
Family: Papveraceae
Genus: Papaver
Species: somniferum

B. Relatives to Papveraceae (Opium Poppy):
  • Papaver- corn poppy, Opium poppy, Oriental poppy, Iceland poppy, and 120 other species
  • Eschscholzia- California Poppy and relatives
  • Meconopsis- Welsh Poppy, Nepal Poppy and relatives
  • Stylophorum- Celandine poppy or wood poppy
  • Argemone- Prickly Poppy
  • Romneya- Matilija poppy and relatives
  • Canbya- Pygmy poppy
  • Stylomecon- Wind poppy
  • Arctomecon- Desert Bearpaw poppy
  • Hunnemannia- Tulip poppy
  • Dendromecon- Tree poppy

C. Common Names:
Opium Poppy; Plant of Joy; Mawseed

D. Location: Iran, Turkey, Holland, Yugoslavia, India, Canada, Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia, and many Asian/Central/South American countries
  • Legal Locations where Opium can be grown in government-regulated opium farms: India, Turkey, Tasmania, Australia
  • Illegal locations: Mainland Southeast Asia (Burma, Laos, Thailand), Southwest Asia (Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan), southern China, northwest Vietnam, Lebanon, Guatemala, Colombia and Mexico

E. Plant: (as seen in above photos) can have white, pink, red or purple flowers

F. Historical Significance of Opium Poppy:
Historically, Opium Poppy was used to treat individuals with asthma, stomach illnesses and bad eyesight
Additional Resources:
  • - Here I have added a youtube video to help you understand the history of Opium Poppy as well as gaining a better understanding of how "deadly" this plant has become.
...“When a plant produces a substance that is causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people every year, you’d expect its cultivation to be outlawed, and it is. But when that same substance is also relieving the pain of million of cancer suffers and other patients, you’d expect its cultivation to be encouraged, and it is." .......There is far more heroin being produced than being consumed.
  • - Also: here is a timeline of the use of Opium and Poppy to put it in better perspective:

I hope this background information gave you a better feel for what family Opium Poppy is grown in, its location, its description as well the plants historical significance in our world. This background information gives you a better knowledge of the plant; however, I want to continue to explain how this plant has "two sides" to its beauty. Deadly and useful.

A. Effects:
Sedative; Euphoriant

B. Current Uses:
  • Poppy seeds are used inbaking goods and pastries because of their nutty odor and flavor.
    • Bagels, bialys, muffins and cakes
  • Poppy oil isused in edible cooking oil, paints, varnishes and soaps
  • Opium is used to concoct: papaverine, codeine, other alkaloids and deodorized forms of Opium
    • Papaverine: a muscle relaxant
    • Codeine: used in cough suppressant
    • Morphine: acts on the sensory nerve cells of the cerebrum
  • Opium is used to concoct: morphine
    • Morphine: the raw ingredient for heroin, an extremely addictive drug.

C. Poppy as a medicine: (USEFUL)
Historically, “dry opium was considered an astringent, antispasmodic, aphrodisiac, diaphoretic, expectorant, hypnotic, narcotic, and sedative."
(__ Poppy, in the past, has been used to relieve toothaches as well as coughs. Opium, and the use of its subsidiaries, are used in the pharmaceutical industry. They are used as narcotic analgesics, hypnotics, and sedatives as well as antidiarrheals, antispasmodics and antitussives. These drugs can become addictive as well as have toxicological effects on their users. (__
The United States purchases 80% of its medicinal opium from India and Turkey.
- Some brand name medicines containing Opium include: belladonna and opium systemic that relieve diarrhea as well as an overactive bladder.

“In 2007, Afghanistan cultivated 193,000 hectares of opium poppies, an increase of 17% over last year. The amount of Afghan land used for opium is now larger than the corresponding total for coca cultivation in Latin America (Colombia, Peru and Bolivia combined). Favourable weather conditions produced opium yields (42.5 kg per hectare) higher than last year (37.0 kg/ha). As a result, in 2007 Afghanistan produced an extraordinary 8,200 tons of opium (34% more than in 2006), becoming practically the exclusive supplier of the world's deadliest drug (93% of the global opiates market). Leaving aside 19th century China, that had a population at that time 15 times larger than today's Afghanistan, no other country in the world has ever produced narcotics on such a deadly scale." (

D. Poppy as a drug: (DEADLY)
1. An interesting articule on the “transformation of Opium Poppies into Heroin” is included in the link below: __
- This is yet another example of how Opium can be “Deadly”
- Here is a quote that I found extremely moving and powerful:
...By an age-old rule of thumb, every 10 tons of raw opium reduces to one ton of heroin. In other words, the worldwide opium output in 1996 translates into 430 tons of heroin. About half of that is destined for the United States.

2. This is a very moving video about how Opium is not only deadly, but the trade and transportation of it also causes serious battles and deaths. In this video, it illustrates how dedicated farmers are to the poppy, and how much they care about making money off of this crop.

3. Here is an article by Michael Pollan that he wrote in Harper’s Magazine in 1997 about Opium.

In Conclusion:
As you can see, there are many useful aspects of using opium and poppy; however, there are also many ‘deadly’ elements as well. The useful elements, as described, are its medicinal effects as well as the use of poppy in many baked goods. Some of the seriously deadly effects are the addictive aspects of Opium and its subsidiary, Heroine. Opium and its derivitatives can be smoked, eaten or injected. Heroine addiction continues to be a large problem in the United States because as the potency increases, the price continues to decrease. For example, some of the short-term effects include the initial high when they first inject the drug, for about 10 to 15 minutes and then the feeling of a dry mouth, warm feeling, and heavy arms and legs. Some drastic effects of taking too much Heroine include overdosing or death. Some long-term effects when an individual injects heroine include, collapsed veins, infections in the heart lining and valves, as well as abscesses. No matter how heroine is taken, there are serious effects with the liver and kidneys as well as liver failure, pneumonia and problems with one’s lungs and brain. Research shows that opium use and addiction is less common than heroine because heroine is more readily available and accessible. However, for both Opium and Heroine, the more you rely on the drug, the more you need it and the harder it is to get rid of the addiction. Shockingly enough, there are serious treatment programs for those who are addicted to Opium. Therefore, as our theme illustrates, this drug has both a "useful" tool to those who are sick and need it in their medicines; however, also works as a "deadly" tool for those who become addicted and for those who are involved in the war of Opium along the trade routes.


Some further reading suggestions:
Opium: The Potent Poppy, by Michael Robson
On the Trail of the Ancient Opium Poppy, by M. D. Merlin
Poppies: The Poppy Family in the Wild and Cultivation, by C. Grey-Wilson
Opium Poppy : Botany, Chemistry, and Pharmacology, by L.D. Kapoor (Ed.)
Opium Poppy Garden, by William Griffith