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Other Names: Aunti, ah-pen-yen, aunti Emma, big O, black pill, chandu, chandoo, Chinese molasses, Chinese tobacco, dover’s powder, dopium, dream gun, dreams, easing powder, dream stick, gee, God’s medicine, fi-do-nie, goric, great tobacco, hop, hops, gondola, guma, joy plant, mira, midnight oil, O, O.P, pen yan, ope, pox, skee, pin, toys, toxy, when-shee, zero, ze

This drug is traditionally obtained by slightly cutting the seed capsules of the poppy once the plant’s flower petals have fallen. The incised seedpods release a milky fluid that congeals and changes into a gum-like brownish mass upon air exposure.

Opium is one of the oldest recreational and therapeutic drugs in the world. Ancient Greek and Roman physicians used this substance to relieve pain, induce sleep, and provide relief to the bowels. Today, opium serves as raw material for the production of a wide variety of drugs, such as morphine, codeine, hydromorphone, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and the illegal substance heroin.

Opium and the substances derived from it are known as opiates. It is worth noting that the United States imports all its opium and poppy straw used for pharmaceutical products from legitimate sources in regulated countries. As a Schedule II drug under the Controlled Substance Act, however, opium is regarded as a dangerous substance with a high potential for abuse despite its medical benefits. It is also considered a drug that could potentially lead to severe psychological or physical dependence when abused.

Perhaps you are interested in learning more about this natural drug. If that is the case, this piece will give you a better understanding of the origins of opium, its methods of use, its effects on the human body, the signs experienced by people who  abuse it, and how opium use disorder is addressed.

A Brief History of Opium

The opium poppy plant and opium are mentioned in early Assyrian herb dossiers and medical texts.. Even the Greek physician Dioscorides from the first century recounted opium in his written work De materia medica, the primary Western text on pharmacology for many centuries. The popularity of opium spread throughout the Mediterranean in ancient times, but it only reached China in the 7th century.

Opium was consumed orally in the form of pills initially. But once smokers started mixing opium with tobacco in their pipes, opium smoking eventually became the favored method of using the substance. Opium smoking began in China in the 17th century and became widespread, causing the Chinese government of the time to prohibit the sale of opium, but without success.

During the 18th century, European traders started the opium trade to obtain silk, tea, and other Chinese goods without using gold and silver. By 1838, millions of Chinese were addicted to this substance, so much so that the authorities tried to ban the importation of opium from British-ruled India to address the growing addiction problem. Unfortunately, the British defeated China in the Opium Wars, forcing the latter to legalize the importation of opium in 1858.

In the West, opium was used primarily as a pain killer in the 18th century and as an active ingredient in various other drugs. These medicines were legally available without restrictions and caused a rise in addiction cases. However, the addiction problem did not arouse social attention until an unprecedented number of American Civil War veterans became addicted to morphine, a potent painkiller extracted from opium.

In 1898, a German pharmaceutical company introduced heroin as a safe alternative to morphine, but it proved to be even more addictive. Opiate addiction became too widespread that the American government curtailed the legal use of opiates by the early decades of the 20th century.

How Is Opium Used?

Opium can be taken orally, by inhalation, or by injection. Although ingestion of the drug is not typically practiced in the west, many people in developing countries where the poppy plant is still grown eat raw opium despite its bitter and unpleasant taste. Besides eating, opium can also be imbibed by dissolving it in boiling water. However, drinking opium is inefficient and usually produces only mild effects.

Opium can also be smoked using a special piece of equipment. Users usually smoke the drug in a reclining position to minimize nausea. More importantly, this position makes it convenient for users to fall asleep quickly after inhaling a pipe.

It is worth noting that opium needs to be cooked to remove impurities before it can be marketed or synthesized. This process is carried out by adding the raw opium to boiling water until it dissolves. The solution is then passed through a cheesecloth or a fine sieve to eliminate any impurities, such as pod fragments, tree sap, sand, or ash. Afterward, the liquid is boiled again and reduced. The resulting clean, brown fluid known as liquid opium is left to simmer until it looks like a thick, brown paste. The cooked opium is then pressed into molds or trays and dried under the sun. Once it hardens, the cooked opium is now ready for the market.

Apart from using opium in its pure form, other users also abuse this substance by combining it with other drugs to create a more intense and lasting effect. Examples of this practice include “Buddha or Budda,” a mixture of marijuana and opium, and “Black,” a blend of marijuana, methamphetamine, and opium.

How Does Opium Work in the Human Body?

Opium significantly affects the functions of the brain and spinal cord. It causes both depressant and stimulant effects, which vary in intensity depending on the dosage and method of use.

The depressant action involves the cerebral cortex, inducing stupor, general depression, and reduction in pain perception. Opium use also impacts the hypothalamus and brainstem, causing sedation or decrease in the person’s awareness of the environment and sensitivity to external stimulation; and the medulla, affecting respiration, the cough reflex, and the vomiting center. Opium’s stimulant action, on the other hand, involves the spinal cord, the vagus nerve, and the oculomotor nerve, resulting in slow heart rate and pupil constriction.

The principal action of opium is suppression of pain. The use of this drug also causes the decline of cortical function, which produces euphoric effects, such as reduction of fear and anxiety, lowering of inhibitions, expansion of the ego, and heightened mood. Although these effects may seem pleasurable, it is worth pointing out that the chronic use of opium could lead to addiction, physical and mental deterioration, and a shortened lifespan.

What Are the Immediate and Long-Term Effects of Opium Abuse?

Opium use affects the functioning of the brain and other bodily systems. The severity of effects depends on the method of administration, with injection causing immediate and more pronounced results.

The immediate and short-term effects of opium abuse include a temporary feeling of euphoria (opium “high”) and pain relief, impairment of mental processes, mental clouding, apathy, drowsiness, and reduced physical activity. Some users may also experience other adverse reactions, including feelings of dissatisfaction, inability to focus, constipation, and constriction of pupils. New opium users may also suffer from vomiting. Once the immediate effects of opium wear off, the person will experience increased pain sensitivity.

People habitually abusing opium may also suffer from harmful long-term effects of this drug, which include constipation, reduced sharpness of vision, decreased sexual drive, mood swings, respiratory issues, and other medical conditions. When taken in large amounts, opium overdose may cause slow breathing, seizures, weakness, loss of consciousness, coma, and even death.

Signs of Opium Use Disorder

People abuse opium primarily for its pain-relieving and pleasurable effects. Unfortunately, persistent and uncontrolled use may lead to the development of opium use disorder. A person suffering from this condition will exhibit at least two of the following symptoms described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5):

  • Using opium in larger amounts or taking the substance for an extended period than initially intended
  • Desiring to reduce or cease opium use but being unable to
  • Spending considerable amount of time acquiring and using opium or recovering from its use
  • Craving to use the drug
  • Failing to manage commitments because of opium use
  • Continuing opium use even if the habit causes relationship issues
  • Giving up essential activities because of opium use
  • Continuing opium use even if it puts them in danger
  • Persisting drug use even if the habit is aggravating physical or psychological problems.
  • Growing tolerance (using more opium to achieve the desired effect)
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not using opium

It is essential to point out that these eleven criteria provided by DSM-5 allow clinicians to determine the severity of the substance use disorder based on the number of symptoms exhibited by the person. An individual showing two or three signs could mean mild opium use disorder, four or five symptoms imply moderate condition, and six or more symptoms indicate a severe disorder.

Rehab and Treatment for Opium Use Disorder

Detoxification is the first critical step in the treatment process for people suffering from opium use disorder. During this process, the person will most likely experience painful and uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety, distress, tremors, muscle pain, hot and cold flashes, and nausea, especially if they quit “cold turkey” or stop using opium all at once.

To minimize these undesirable effects and reduce cravings, a person in recovery may opt for a medically supervised detox process wherein certain medications are used to counter withdrawal symptoms. Some of the drugs used during opium detox include clonidine, an anti-hypertensive medication to manage blood pressure; anxiolytics or anti-anxiety medicines for reducing stress and anxiety; and other medications for symptomatic treatment that do not produce euphoric effects.

After completing the detox process, it is highly recommended that the person seek further treatment at an inpatient or outpatient rehab facility as detox alone cannot guarantee recovery from substance use disorder. Entering an addiction rehab program offers the individual in recovery the best chance of overcoming their addictive behaviors. During treatment, the person will most likely receive maintenance medications, like methadone and buprenorphine (Suboxone).

Methadone significantly alleviates painful withdrawal symptoms and cravings, improves the person’s emotional and social functioning, and reduces drug use. Buprenorphine also prevents cravings and helps opium users to return to their productive and fulfilling lives. The research supporting methadone treatment, along with buprenorphine, is so overwhelming that it has been included in the World Health Organization’s list of essential medications.

Apart from pharmacological interventions, individuals with opium use disorder can also benefit from behavioral therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Behavioral approaches encourage long-term abstinence, modify addictive and negative behavior patterns, and help the person develop essential life skills to handle stressful situations without resorting to drug use.

Get the Help You Need

Just like any other form of substance abuse, opium use disorder is a serious condition that should be dealt with immediately. Keep in mind that repeated drug use can lead to physical dependence and many other undesirable consequences. It is a disease and not merely a matter of willpower. As such, entering formal treatment in a reputable addiction rehab facility is the most beneficial solution if you or someone you love struggle with opium use disorder.

Get the quality treatment you deserve by relying on Better Addiction Care (BAC), a third-party information service provider with linkages to a national network of leading treatment providers. With BAC’s comprehensive and up-to-date listing of rehab centers, you can readily connect with the best addiction specialists and rehabilitation facilities in your area. Browse BAC’s directory today and find the ideal rehab center that will assist you or the person you care about on the road to recovery.

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