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What is Opium?

Opium is a highly addictive narcotic drug acquired in the dried latex form the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) seed pod. Heroin is derived from the morphine alkaloid found in opium.

Traditionally the unripened pod is slit open and the sap seeps out and dries on the outer surface of the pod. The resulting yellow-brown latex, which is scraped off of the pod, is bitter in taste and contains varying amounts of alkaloids such as morphine, codeine, thebaine and papaverine.

Other synthetic or semisynthetic opium derivatives include fentanyl, methadone, oxycodone and hydrocodone.

In the U.S., opium is rarely grown and cultivated for illicit commercial use. Most supplies in the U.S. come from Latin American and Afghanistan. Afghanistan is the worldwide capital of opium cultivation, leading to about three-quarters of the world's heroin supply.

Opium History

Opium's history dates back to 3400 B.C., when the first records of its cultivation and use are known.

Poppy seeds and drug testing

The poppy plant is a flowering plant that is used in the garden for its beautiful flowers, often red, pink, purple, orange or white. Poppy seeds are used in baking and can be purchased in the spice section at the grocery. Poppy seeds may be used in cakes and on top of bagels commercially.

Poppy seeds do have small amounts of opium content and eating poppy seeds may rarely yield a positive result on drug tests. Usually, most of the opium is removed from the poppy seeds during processing. However, according to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), drug testing will account for the morphine threshold level. According to the USADA, morphine and codeine may be detected in the urine up to 2 days after consuming poppy seeds from baked items such as pastries, bagels, muffins, and cakes. WADA-accredited laboratories mark a urine sample as positive for morphine when the level exceeds 1.3 micrograms/mL.

Opium Tincture (Paregoric) is a prescription medication in the opioid class, and is classified as a Schedule II or III narctoic. This medication is used to decrease control diarrhea by the reducing the number and frequency of bowel movements. It works by increasing smooth muscle tone and decreasing fluid secretions in the intestines. This slows the movement of bowel matter through the intestines.

Heroin abuse

Heroin (diacetylmorphine) is derived from the morphine alkaloid found in opium and is roughly 2 to 3 times more potent. A highly addictive drug, heroin exhibits euphoric ("rush"), anxiolytic and analgesic central nervous system properties.

Heroin is classified as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 and as such has no acceptable medical use in the United States.

Pure heroin is a white powder that tastes bitter. Because heroin abusers do not know the actual strength of the drug or its true contents, they are at risk of overdose or death.

Heroin methods of use

Heroin which is derived from opium is most often injected, however, it may also be vaporized (or smoked), sniffed (also known as snorting), used as a rectal suppository, or orally ingested by mouth.

Learn more: Heroin and Treatment of Opioid Use Disorder


See also


Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.