When most people think of poppies, they think of an innocent red or pink flower. They might think of the flower that put Dorothy to sleep in The Wizard of Oz, a fairly innocent children’s story. But poppies have a dark side with a long history – they are inextricably tied to drug addiction. Poppies are known as addictive plants and have long been used in opium production.
If you grow poppies in your garden, there is no need to panic and uproot them all at once. Nor is there any need to warn your families, friends, and neighbors against the evils of having a poppy in a bud vase. However, it is vital for everyone to educate themselves about the poppy’s history as an addictive plant. Education will help you and your loved ones guard against hidden sources of dangerous drugs.
How a Beautiful Flower Became a Dangerous Opium
Poppies have been cultivated for opium as far back as 3400 B.C. It was first cultivated in lower Mesopotamia, or what is now Southwest Asia. Poppies were progressively passed from the Sumerian culture to the Assyrians, and then to the Egyptians. The plant was commonly called hul gil, or “the joy plant,” because of the “highs” one can get from opium. From 3400 B.C. onward, opium importing, exporting, and use were common in many empires.
The main reason opium use spread so fast, was the Silk Road. The Silk Road refers to a series of interconnected trade routes running from Europe to China. The trade routes first developed between Persia (now Iran) and Syria, as well as in East Indian kingdoms. They grew along the Mediterranean coast, expanding well into China, and into European nations like Italy. By the Middle Ages, the Silk Road’s trade routes reached as far as Scandinavia. The Silk Road encompassed land and sea routes, making opium spread even farther and faster.
Opium was not always used recreationally. As far back as the 1600s and 1700s, it was primarily used medically, such as in traditional Chinese medicine. Recreational use was not unheard of, but uncommon, until the beginning of the Opium Wars. Until then, people who sought opium for recreational use depended on smuggling and commercial loopholes.
The Opium Wars
Although opium was not the only product traded on the Silk Road, it was always in high demand. Empires used it to increase their power and influence, and to control other nations. For example, Britain used their control of the East India Company to smuggle opium into China during the 1800s. The smuggling guaranteed Britain could meet its citizens’ constant demand for Chinese-produced tea. However, the more opium smuggled into China and other nations, the more people became addicted. By the early 1800s, China’s number of opium addicts had skyrocketed, partially due to Turkey’s involvement in the opium trade. An influx of American ships carrying Turkish-grown opium supplied China and other nations with heavy amounts of this coveted drug.
In 1839, China recognized this problem and shut down Britain’s drug trafficking racket. China also confiscated existing opium, which angered Britain and touched off the first of the Opium Wars. China’s Daoguang Emperor was determined to stop the spread of opium addiction in his country, and so Imperial Commissioner Lin Zexu enacted laws banning opium in China and cracking down on opium traders. British traders demanded compensation for their lost opium, but when the Treasury could not afford it, the war was used to resolve Britain’s debt.
During this time, Lin Zexu sent a letter to Queen Victoria, appealing to England’s own ban on the opium trade. He pointed out that if England was going to ban the drug, China was justified in instituting its own ban. In response, the Royal Navy blockaded Pearl Bay to restrict free trade in drugs. However, runs on the blockade, lost English and Chinese ships, and expeditionary forces kept the Opium War going until 1842.
The first Opium War ended with the Treaty of Nanjing, which established Hong Kong as a British territory. The treaty forced China to set up five treaty ports at which the British could trade all goods, including opium, freely. However, a second Opium War began in 1856 when Chinese officials seized the Arrow, a former pirate ship with a Chinese crew and expired British registration. This time France joined the war, having been involved in the treaty port business since 1843. Britain’s constant demand for concessions from China, failed diplomatic missions, and other issues made the Second Opium War stretch until 1860.
The Boxer Rebellion of 1899 further damaged relations between China and the West, and increased the opium problem. Today, the Opium Wars are known as part of China’s Century of Humiliations, and of the conflicts that destroyed Imperial China.
The Rise of Opium Across the World
Opium first entered the United States when Chinese immigrants arrived to work on our many developing railroads. The Gold Rush of 1849 brought a larger influx of Chinese immigrants, along with increased opium smoking and addiction. Opium addiction was not just a Chinese problem, however. By the mid-1800s, opium dens could be found around Southeast Asia and in parts of Europe. Immigrants from many nations brought opium with them, and dens gradually sprang up in the United States, especially in places like San Francisco and New York.
From the 1850s to the 1890s, opium use became more common in the United States. Opium could be drunk, injected, or smoked; drinking and injection were two popular methods of the time. San Francisco effectively banned opium smoking in the late 1800s, but the versatility of opium made it difficult to eradicate altogether. The Harrison Tax Act of 1914 sought to outlaw opium nationwide. However, opium, and especially its derivatives, was readily available to those who knew where to find them.
Along with opium, itself, heroin can be produced from the opium poppy. This particular type of heroin has a long medical history; it was used as an asthma treatment in the 1830s. It was also used to calm fussy babies, as were its derivatives morphine and synthesized heroin. At the time, “heroin” was a brand name of the Bayer Company, now known for its aspirin, not just a street name or moniker for an illegal drug. After the Civil War, Bayer Heroin was actually used to help people addicted to morphine get rid of their addictions. Additionally, it was used as a pain reliever. These uses eventually backfired, and the Heroin Act of 1924 made heroin use illegal for medical and recreational uses throughout the United States.
Despite heroin’s illegal status, its use has been widespread for centuries. It was popular among jazz players and enthusiasts of the 1930s; this subculture gave us the term “hipster.” Heroin, opium, and related drugs such as LSD, MDMA, and marijuana have gained popularity in recent decades, too. Many people continue to use opium, heroin, and morphine to relieve chronic pain or induce sleep, which can lead to severe and lifelong addictions.
Codeine and Oxycodone are two other opium derivatives. They are arguably more dangerous than some of the others because they are often prescribed to treat common illnesses. Codeine, for example, is found in many popular cough syrups. It can also be taken orally as pain relief, and is much less potent than morphine. Yet constant or prolonged codeine use carries risk of dependency and addiction. As for Oxycodone, it too is a commonly prescribed pain reliever. It is made from a component of opium called the Baine, and can be snorted or injected.
Opium Addiction Signs and Symptoms
Opium has been used in medicine since at least 460 A.D., when Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, admitted its usefulness as a narcotic. However, opium’s addictive effects have consistently proven more harmful than beneficial. Today, opium addiction flourishes around the world, particularly in Asian and South American countries such as Thailand and Colombia. International drug trafficking organizations continue to market opium, heroin, and similar drugs throughout the United States.
Today, opium abuse is more commonly called opiate abuse. Abuse covers illegal drugs such as heroin, as well as legal ones such as fentanyl. Physical signs of the use of opioids include drowsiness, confusion, restricted pupils, slowed breathing, and intermittent loss of consciousness. Some opiate abusers experience marked euphoria and mood swings.
Opiate addicts often “doctor shop” to get the drugs they want. Their loved ones often notice extra pill bottles in the trash, or an increase in doctor’s appointments. Due to the doctor shopping, opiate addicts often experience financial problems. They may withdraw from friends and family to keep their addictions secret.
Some opiates are used to treat anxiety and insomnia, so addicts may experience an upswing of these symptoms when they can’t get their drugs of choice. During opiate withdrawal, addicts battle headaches, nausea, constipation and diarrhea, and fatigue, among other symptoms.
If You or a Loved are Suffering From an Opiate Addiction and Need Professional Help, Please Contact The Treatment Center Now for Individualized, Professional Rehabilitation.