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Opium , (earlier) also opium mentioned, the gained through scribing dried latex immature seed capsules of the poppy plants ( Papaveraceae belonging) opium poppy ( Papaver somniferum L. ) During the drying process arises from the latex by autoxidation a brown to black mass, Raw opium. The main active components of opium are the alkaloids morphine , codeine and thebaine .

Among other things, opium is an intoxicant and anesthetic . In addition to the natural alkaloids mentioned, the semi-synthetic diacetylmorphine, commonly known by its trade name heroin , is the most widespread morphine derivative . Fully synthetic substances that act on the opioid receptors ( fentanyl , pethidine, etc.) are also produced. The naturally occurring and synthesized substances are classified in the groups of opiates and opioids and designated accordingly.


Pharmacy jar for storing opium as a medicine from the 18th or 19th century German Pharmacy Museum Heidelberg

The history of opium is practically identical to that of its raw material plant. For the story, see the History section in the Opium Poppy article .

Opium in China

Opium played a special role in the history of China: from the beginning of the 19th century , the British imported large quantities of opium from Bengal to China as part of the China trade in order to improve the trade balance that had previously been negative for them . This brought with it considerable health and social problems for the Middle Kingdom. The imperial family's growing resistance to opium imports was ultimately broken by the British in the First Opium War (1840–1842).

When the sustained imports of opium into China finally rose to 6,500 tons in 1880, there were already twenty million addicts in the Middle Kingdom. Nevertheless, the emperor now had opium grown in his own empire, especially in the southern provinces of Sichuan and Yunnan . As a result, imports from India fell to 3,200 tons, while domestic production rose to 22,000 tons. The missionaries working in China then began to distribute morphine as a substitute , which the Chinese called Jesusopium .

After the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911, opium laws were tightened. Nonetheless, the opium trade played a significant role until the 1920s when the Guomindang discovered it as an instrument for financing arms imports. The final curbing of the opium trade and consumption was only achieved by Mao Zedong . Opium continued to play a stronger role in the former British crown colony of Hong Kong , where it also competed with other drugs that have now come into use, such as heroin .

Extraction of opium

Opium poppy, Papaver somniferum , from whose milk opium can be obtained.
Milky juice of Papaver somniferum obtained by scratching immature seed
pods provides opium when dried.
Opium poppy harvest in northern Manchukuo , 1930s

The following method is usually used to extract opium: One to two weeks after flowering, the seed capsules are usually scratched about a millimeter deep in the late afternoon, which causes the milky sap to escape. The morning after, the black oxidized raw opium is scraped off the capsules. One capsule yields approx. 20–50 mg raw opium.

The smoke opium (also called Chandu ), the vapor of which is inhaled, must be distinguished from raw opium . This is accomplished by repeated heating, kneading and gently roasting raw opium, following water extraction and several months of fermentation with the fungus Aspergillus niger prepared. This complex process largely destroys secondary alkaloids such as codeine, papaverine and narcotine while increasing the morphine content at the same time. It is assumed that further psychotropic substances are formed , especially through fermentation with the Aspergillus niger mold .

Smoked or raw opium can also be drunk dissolved in alcohol (→ opium tincture ) or eaten in solid form. In legal pharmaceutical production, the opium is obtained from poppy straw; the plants are mowed for this purpose, dried, chopped and opium from the dry straw with a solvent extracted .

Opium producing countries

Six countries are allowed to produce opium legally under the supervision of the United Nations: Turkey, India, Australia, France, Spain and Hungary, with Turkey producing a little over half of the total legal amount on around 700 square kilometers of cultivation area.

The world's largest illegally producing opium-producing countries are Afghanistan , Myanmar , Laos and Thailand (the latter three form the Golden Triangle ). In Afghanistan, ruled by the Taliban in the late 1990s, the Taliban made money from growing drugs and smuggling opium, heroin , hashish and other goods. The Taliban left the farmers and the processing of the raw opium into heroin a free hand and levied taxes on cultivation and trade. In 1999, the Taliban's drug trafficking revenues are estimated at $ 40 million. Airplanes from Ariana Afghan Airlines were used for the transport . With the Resolution 1267 of the UN Security Council international flights of Ariana Air were banned, the drug smuggling from now on ran overland. In 2001, before the terrorist attacks on September 11th, the Taliban enforced a rigorous ban on the cultivation of opium poppies in Afghanistan, which represents the largest decline in drug production in any country in the world to date. As a result, opium poppies were only grown in northern Afghanistan, which is not controlled by the Taliban. However, the Taliban continued to trade in opium and heroin from inventory. According to the United States Institute of Peace, the stop in cultivation led to a "humanitarian crisis" as thousands of smallholders found themselves without an income. With the expansion stop, the Taliban wanted, on the one hand, to ease the sanctions of Resolution 1267 of the UN Security Council. However, when the Northern Alliance came to power at the end of 2001, opium poppy cultivation increased again sharply. In autumn 2007, 8,200 tons were harvested in Afghanistan, more than half of them in the Afghan province of Helmand . That exceeds global consumption by 3000 tons. The opium poppy cultivation earns about ten times as much as the wheat cultivation.

The largest opium producing countries in the world

Components of opium

Raw opium

Opium contains 37 different alkaloids , which make up up to a quarter of the mass in raw opium. The main component is morphine (approx. 12%), one of the strongest known pain relievers ( analgesics ). It was isolated for the first time in 1804 by the German pharmacist Friedrich Sertürner . Another alkaloid, codeine (0.2 to 6%, Ø 1% content), is mainly used as a cough suppressant. Other important alkaloids found in opium are noscapine (also obsolete narcotine , 2 to 12%, Ø 5%), papaverine (0.1 to 0.4%), thebaine (0.2 to 1%, Ø 0.5%) , Papaveraldin (also xanthalin , 0.5 to 3%, Ø 1%) and narcein (0.1 to 1%, Ø 0.5%). These already work synergistically in their natural composition , as the analgesic and spasmolytic properties complement each other well.

Opium alkaloids, which are also opioids , are called opiates ; these include morphine, codeine and narceine. With continued use of opium there is a risk of developing tolerance towards the effects of the various alkaloids.

Analysis of the opium components

Constituents of the opium can be reliably detected qualitatively and quantitatively in the various test objects after appropriate sample preparation by coupling gas chromatography or HPLC with mass spectrometry .

A reliable assignment of the geographical origin of Indian opium could be achieved through analysis of the alkaloid patterns for thebaine , codeine , morphine , papaverine and narcotine through capillary zone electrophoresis and the fingerprint analysis of the amino acids .


Opium has historically been used as a pain reliever and sleep aid and has always been used as an intoxicant . Opium was also used in psychiatry, especially in the form of the so-called “opium cure”, to treat depression. Between 1881 and 1910, for example, “some patients ... after administration of opium showed a positive development in willingness to work and mood”.

Use as a pain reliever

Two sustained release capsules morphine sulfate (5 mg and 10 mg)

Opium played an important role in antiquity and the Middle Ages as a component of theriac and sleeping sponges . Opium ("poppy seed juice") or tincture of opium , better known as laudanum, was widely used in medicine until the early 19th century, and the dangerous, potentially fatal side effects were also known and described. Preparations made from opium, for example as latwerge , were also used in the Middle Ages for anesthesia (surface analgesia) of painful eye ailments. More recently, the most potent painkillers are no longer obtained from morphine, but from its dimethyl derivative thebaine . An example of this is buprenorphine . The great importance of Papaver somniferum was already emphasized by Thomas Sydenham (1624–1689), the "English Hippocrates":

"Among the remedies which it has pleased Almighty God to give to man to relieve his sufferings, none is so universal and so efficacious as opium."

"Of all the means that the Almighty has chosen to give man to alleviate his sufferings, none is as widely applicable and as effective as opium."

Even today, almost four centuries later, nothing has changed.

In addition to its analgesic effect, opium suppresses the appetite and acts against diarrhea . It also has a calming effect and promotes sleep . Opium is used as an intoxicant , especially in Asia .

Harmful use of opium

The long-term physical effects of opium use include loss of appetite and, as a result, weight loss up to emaciation and complete exhaustion, but also circulatory disorders and muscle pain. Overdosing threatens acute respiratory paralysis with fatal consequences. Psychological effects are dependency , lack of drive and often also strong personality changes, accompanied by apathy .

Legal situation in Germany

In Germany, opium can currently only be prescribed for the treatment of chronic diarrhea. Since opium is subject to the Narcotics Act, its prescription requires a narcotics prescription form .

However, this does not apply to pure opiates and opioids. In the case of codeine , for example, the former are prescribed not only as a pain reliever, but also for dry coughs . Opioids such as B. Tilidine or Tramadol are used as pain relievers, e.g. B. used in dental and jaw operations.

See also


Web links

Commons : Opium  - collection of images, videos and audio files
 Wikinews: Opium  - In The News
Wiktionary: Opium  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Under the eyes of the UN: Turkey is one of the top opium producers in the world. In: German-Turkish News . November 24, 2012.
  2. UNODC crop monitoring
  3. a b c d e f g Gretchen Peters: How Opium Profits the Taliban. (PDF; 808 kB) United States Institute of Peace , 2009.
  4. a b International Crime Threat Assessment 2000.
  5. a b Raphael F. Perl: Taliban and the Drug Trade. (PDF; 48 kB) CRS Report for Congress, 2001.
  6. UNODC Afghanistan Opium Survey 2007 Executive Summary (PDF, 2.0 MB)
  7. ^ Entry on opium. In: Römpp Online . Georg Thieme Verlag, accessed on July 31, 2013.
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  9. ^ G. Cassella, AH Wu, BR Shaw, DW Hill: The analysis of thebaine in urine for the detection of poppy seed consumption. In: J Anal Toxicol . 21 (5), Sep 1997, pp. 376-383. PMID 9288591
  10. BD Paul, C. Dreka, ES Knight, ML Smith: Gas chromatographic / mass spectrometric detection of narcotine, papaverine, and thebaine in seeds of Papaver somniferum. In: Planta Med . 62 (6), Dec 1996, pp. 544-547. PMID 9000887
  11. S. Lee, E. Han, E. Kim, H. Choi, H. Chung, SM Oh, YM Yun, SH Jwa, KH Chung: Simultaneous quantification of opiates and effect of pigmentation on its deposition in hair. In: Arch Pharm Res . 33 (11), Nov 2010, pp. 1805-1811. PMID 21116784
  12. R. Kikura-Hanajiri, N. Kaniwa, M. Ishibashi, Y. Makino, S. Kojima: Liquid chromatographic-atmospheric pressure chemical ionization mass spectrometric analysis of opiates and metabolites in rat urine after inhalation of opium. In: J. Chromatogr. B . 789 (1), Jun 5, 2003, pp. 139-150. PMID 12726852
  13. M. Mohana, K. Reddy, G. Jayshanker, V. Suresh, RK Sarin, RB Sashidhar: Principal opium alkaloids as possible biochemical markers for the source identification of Indian opium. In: J Sep Sci . 28 (13), Aug 2005, pp. 1558-1565. PMID 16158998
  14. MM Reddy, P. Ghosh, SN Rasool, RK Sarin, RB Sashidhar: Source identification of Indian opium based on chromatographic fingerprinting of amino acids. In: J. Chromatogr. A . 1088 (1-2), Sep 23, 2005, pp. 158-168. PMID 16130746
  15. Matthias M. Weber: The "opium cure" in psychiatry. A contribution to the history of psychopharmacotherapy. In: Sudhoff's archive. Volume 71, No. 1, 1987, pp. 31-61.
  16. Reinhard Platzek to: Reinhard Steinberg, Monika Pritzel (ed.): 150 years of the Pfalzklinikum. Psychiatry, psychotherapy and neurology in Klingenmünster. Franz Steiner, Stuttgart 2012, ISBN 978-3-515-10091-5 . In: Specialized prose research - Crossing borders. Volume 8/9, 2012/2013 (2014), pp. 578-582, here: p. 580.
  17. George Younge, Treatise on Opio, or Poppy Seed Juices, Based on Practical Observations. Translated from English. Bayreuth 1760.
  18. Georg Wolfgang Wedel : Opiologia. Jena 1682.
  19. Gundolf Keil: "blutken - bloedekijn". Notes on the etiology of the hyposphagma genesis in the 'Pommersfeld Silesian Eye Booklet' (1st third of the 15th century). With an overview of the ophthalmological texts of the German Middle Ages. In: Specialized prose research - Crossing borders. Volume 8/9, 2012/2013, pp. 7–175, here: p. 54.