Opium poppy is the most important species in medicine among papaveraceae. It is a plant cousin of the poppy with a similar appearance but much larger.
The wild opium poppy is probably native to the areas extending between the eastern Mediterranean and India.
The appearance of the plant and its flower are decorative and there are many varieties of opium poppy, but the most important are:
- the white-seed variety (var album) which mainly supplies opium
- and the variety with blue or black seeds (var nigrum) cultivated for its seeds and its "straws" from which the active substances are extracted.
The use of opium poppy in medicine has been proven since the Sumerian era, it is an important medicinal plant and was introduced very early in Europe from the Middle East because it is easy to cultivate.
The power of the effects of its components made it qualify as magic for a long time, but at the beginning of the 19 th century, several European chemists and pharmacologists managed to isolate the active substances of the opium poppy (especially morphine) which revolutionized the art of caring and especially allowed to fight against the strongest pains.
Unfortunately, opium poppy extracts caused secondary disorders with addiction (and therefore need to increase the doses), serious physical disorders at the time of cessation of treatment (withdrawal) and a psychological dependence (addiction) .
It is the latex present in the fruits and stems which contains the pharmacologically active substances (opiate alkaloids).
The seeds of the fruit do not contain opiate alcaloids, they are edible. The seeds contain an edible oil as well.
CHEMICAL COMPOSITION AND PROPERTIES
OPIUM, LATEX OF THE OPIUM POPPY: PAPAVER SOMNIFERUM
All parts of the opium poppy contain a latex which coagulates and browns in the air.
It is harvested manually by scraping the exudate obtained by incising very superficially (1 to 2 mm) the fruits (capsules) just after the fall of the petals or industrially by chemical extraction from poppy straws (stems and fruit cut green at the end of the plant cycle).
Hardened and dried latex or opium contains a variable percentage of a "cocktail" of alkaloids, the most important of which are:
- morphine (between 1 and 20% in opium): powerful analgesic (against pain),
- codeine (2-5%): against cough and pain but much less than morphine,
- noscapine: against cough,
- papaverine: antispasmodic against spasms of visceral muscles.
This important alkaloid has the property of acting on specific receptors of brain cells.
Its most obvious action is on the integration of painful messages sent by sensitive nerves, there is blockage of the painful signal.
By simplifying we can say that morphine takes the place of "natural hormones"( enkephalins), morphine saturates their receptor but only for a few hours because the body eliminates it quickly enough.
If one regularly absorbs morphine the brain opens up new receptors to the pain, it is necessary to increase the doses to obtain an effect, and if one brutally suppress the morphine the natural enkephalins which will have decreased in quantity will be able to regulate the messages coming from the nerves provoking the physical effect of weaning.
Morphine has other effects than the analgesic effect:
- On the parts of brain that control breathing, coughing, and vomiting,
- On the "mood", there is psychodyslepsy, a form of indifference, to pain but also to other stresses,
- There is a change in the regulation of hormones due to decreasing secretions of the pituitary gland.
The regular intake of morphine is addictive , here is the description made by J. Bruneton (French pharmacologist)in his book of pharmacognosy:
"The psychodysleptic effects of morphine are important. the euphoric activity, the feeling of transient well-being or drowsiness explain the appearance of the psychic dependence (drive to take the product to find this particular psychic climate) soon followed by tolerance (need to increase the doses and the frequency administration to achieve the same effect).
The abrupt cessation of the administration of the product causes in the chronically intoxicated a syndrome of abstinence (or weaning): rhinorrhea, sweating then agitation, mydriasis, joint pain and muscle pain accompany anxiety and insomnia; later tachycardia, polypnea, nausea and diarrhea appear >>
POPPY SEEDSThey are edible and DO NOT CONTAIN opiate alkaloids .
OPIUM POPPY and MORPHINE
For a long time doctors only used the decoctions of poppy heads, raw opium or its alcoholic extracts such as laudanum, or elixirs (example paregoric elixir).
Since the discovery of morphine and other alkaloids, pharmacologists have used these natural molecules to synthesize other compounds that are even more effective on pain and associated with fewer side effects, but morphine is still used in the form of salts ( Morphine hydrochloride most often) because it is a powerful, cheap and easy to manufacture analgesic.
Morphine and its derivatives are used especially in cases of acute and chronic pain, examples:
- injuries and fractures, especially while carrying of the wounded,
- war wounds,
- pain caused by cancer,
- neuralgic pains resistant to treatment .
The prescription of morphine and products derived from it is strictly reserved to medical and nursing profession in the majority of national legislation, which is most often very restrictive even for health personnel (time-limited treatment, prescription register).
In practice, morphine is flexible, the doses are adapted to the weight of the patient, the intensity of the pain and the pathway:
- it can be injected (mainly subcutaneous and intravenous),
- absorb it into tablets, capsules, syrup, alcoholic solution,
- in cutaneous application for a slow release (patch),
- more rarely in suppository and it can also be inhaled.
The main side effects in prolonged treatment apart from habituation and withdrawal problems are:
- constipation and sometimes nausea,
- behavioral disorders: drowsiness, more rarely excitation and irritability,
- and risk of respiratory failure and urinary retention.
Codeine is much less powerful than morphine, it is especially active on the center of the cough.
It is transformed in the body into morphine but never has the effects of pure morphine.
It is therefore analgesic but only on pain of little intensity, it is often associated with another analgesic (acetaminophen)..
Papaverine does not act on pain, it is a spasmolytic very useful in case of spastic contraction of visceral muscles and smooth muscles: liver colic or biliary colic, nephritic or renal colic, uterus spasms, abnormal contraction of the blood vessels.
Papaverine does not act on the origin of the spasm but can help to lift abnormal contractions and therefore the pain or disorders associated with them.
OLD USES OF THE OPIUM POPPY
Simple preparations based on opium or poppy heads are no longer marketed or even prohibited, but barely a century ago it was still used in France.
For information here is an excerpt from a book by Dr. Valnet, who was a MD and a defender of herbal medicine.
This information corresponds to a medical use of the poppy during the first half of the 20th century.
<< Decoction: a head of poppy removed from its seeds, boiled for 2 minutes in 1/2 liter of water, 1/2 glass has calming and hypnotic properties.
Opium powder: 10 cg per day
Tincture of opium at 1/20: 1 gr per day = 56 drops
Laudanum of sydenham: 1 g per day 49 drops
Paregoric elixir: 20g, once or twice a day
External use of the decoction also in gargles and vaginal injection
Precious plant for its action on the pain but caution !! >>
All poppy varieties produce small oilseeds that are used in baking or in the making of traditional dishes or sauces.
Poppy oil (blue or black poppy seed) was widely consumed in Europe when there were oilseed supply disruptions during armed conflict.
This oil rancit quickly like all oils containing a significant percentage of unsaturated fatty acids (such as walnut oil or linseed oil for example).
It is nonetheless a dietary oil that contains phytosterols and can be mixed with other oils that are less well supplied in linoleic or alpha-linolenic acid.
It is also used in the manner of linseed oil especially in artistic painting.
OPIU POPPY, OPIUM, HEROIN, TOXICOMANIAThe unreasonable use of the poppy or its extracts inevitably leads to the development of an addiction which is difficult and painful to escape.
THE SOMNIFEROUS POPPY OR OPIUM POPPY
The opium poppy contains a latex, opium, a real cocktail of substances very important in medicine, the most important of which are: the major analgesic morphine that has helped to reduce the most intense pain, antispasmodic papaverine and antalgic and antitussive codeine .
Unfortunately the misuse of opium or its derivatives is at the origin of mafia traffics and drug addiction slavery of millions of people
Copyright 2019 : Dr Jean-Michel Hurtel