Friday, January 12, 2018

Demystifying the Opium Poppy

Dorothy of Oz succumbs to the poppy's narcotic effects

Ahhh...the opium poppy.  Source of so much joy & pain all over the world.  Raw material from which heroin is made.  Much maligned & mythologized.  But aside from the political, economical & medical downsides of the plant, is it really the demon drug it's made out to be? 

As usual, the answer is no.  Opium is nature's gift to man for treating pain that no other substance will touch.  It contains the perfect combination of morphine, codeine & other opioids like thebaine, which discourages overdose by causing unpleasant effects like vomiting in high doses.  When you isolate the morphine, overdose becomes far more likely.  But opium itself is quite a chill drug.  It can be smoked, eaten or made into a tea.  As long as you use it in moderation, the risk of addiction or death is quite low. 

Soldiers in Vietnam used it for both physical & emotional pain during the war.  Semi-synthetic opioids such as hydrocodone & oxycodone are made from the opium poppy today.  For a while, you could purchase pounds of dried pods on eBay for under a dollar per pod.  (This came to an abrupt end circa 2011, resulting in a lot of desperately sick poppy tea drinkers).  The flowers themselves come in a variety of brilliant colors ranging from white to deep blue or purple, as do the seeds.  They are a popular ornamental flower grown in gardens all over the world, despite their Schedule II designation. 

So what does opium feel like?  Very, very sedating compared to most pain pills.  The effects last many hours when taken orally and your sleep is riddled with vivid technicolor dreams.  You often itch & crave sweet foods.  The desire to lie on your side is strong.  I've not smoked opium but was a pod tea drinker for several years.  The withdrawal is similar to that of methadone due to the long-acting nature of opium alkaloids, making it excruciatingly rough.  And the taste of the tea is somewhere between warm, sweaty genitals & musty socks.  I doubt I'll ever touch a poppy pod again unless it's a one-off occasion, but it was fun while it lasted. 

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