Meaning of Opium


Opium, a natural product of the poppy Papaver Somniferum, belongs to the category of opiates, which is also composed of morphine, codeine and heroin. It is obtained by making an incision in the poppy capsule, from which a milky-looking liquid comes out that solidifies easily, becoming brownish. An average of 3000 plants are needed to obtain a pound and a half of opium.

It is presented in the form of small tubes (similar to a cigarette without a filter), powder or small balls already prepared for consumption. The most common way to consume opium is to smoke it, but it can also be eaten, drunk or injected.

Opiates act on specific brain receptors located in the limbic system, in gray matter, in the spinal cord and in some peripheral structures. At the pharmacological level, the main effects of opium are caused by morphine, one of its main compounds. It has a powerful analgesic and depressant action on the Central Nervous System.


Opium is extracted from the poppy Papaver Somniferum that grows in the Middle and Far East and more recently in the United States. In Portugal, plantations were discovered in the Alentejo and Algarve.

The word opium is derived from the Greek word opion, which means juice or juice from a plant. In medieval Latin it was called Opium, opiatum ipistus.

Archaeological finds in Switzerland show us that 3200 to 2600 years BC papaver was already cultivated, it is thought that for food purposes (45% oil), although its narcotic properties are also known. The first writings to mention opium are from Theophrastus and date from III BC. In the classic Greco-Latin world, papaver was used by elites for medicinal purposes, being considered a magical medicine. Opium reached great prestige in the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance due to the action of the “Lords” of Venice who held their almost monopoly. He entered Europe through Paracelsus (1493-1541). Only in the 7th century did it become known in the East as a magical product from the West.

Initially being a substance used for therapeutic purposes, it becomes a substance of abuse and recreation, with this type of consumption assuming a prominent role from the 18th century onwards. In China, this expansion acquired epidemic characteristics due to the great imports from England (great controller of the papaver plantations), which China will later oppose, generating the Opium wars and consequently an increase in profits for this market. substance (late 19th century).

In the 19th century, the substances that make up opium began to be isolated. The first was morphine in 1806, followed by codeine in 1832 and papaverine in 1848. In medicinal terms, these substances end up replacing opium, being used as painkillers and against diarrhea.

The increase in Chinese immigrants in the United States, as well as the intravenous administration of civil war wounded, has caused opioid use to increase dramatically in this country. This fact created conditions for morphine to become an important remedy to combat opium addiction.

At the end of the 19th century, the United States began to try to control the use of opium, even trying to ban it. Charles Henry Brent, the American bishop in the Philippines, is carrying out a moralist campaign against opium and opiomania, which has been widely accepted. In China, too, anti-oppositions are noted, which are viewed with suspicion by England and Holland, the main beneficiaries of the profits from this trade.

American pressure meant that in 1909, representatives of countries with colonies in the East and Persia would meet in Shanghai at the International Opium Conference, chaired by Bishop Brent, which was followed by the Hague in 1911. In 1912, Opium’s first international convention, which sought signatory countries to create a commitment to take measures to control the opium trade in their own legal systems. In 1913 and 1914 new conventions were carried out, and it was from the latter that the United States created Harrison’s Narcotics Act, which not only controlled trade, but also made illegal possession by unauthorized persons.


Opium can relieve pain and anxiety, decrease the feeling of distrust, euphoria, flash, feeling of well-being, tranquility, lethargy, drowsiness, depression, impotence, inability to concentrate, mental dullness. These effects may be accompanied by depression of the respiratory cycle (cause of death by overdose), pulmonary edema, low temperature, nausea, vomiting, pupil contraction, disappearance of the cough reflex, constipation, amenorrhea or death.

The effects last between 4 to 6 hours.


In the long run, opium can decrease the ability to work, cause physical weakness and decrease sexual desire.

In women, irregular menstrual cycles occur.

Tolerance and Dependence

There is tolerance as well as great dependence, both physical and psychological.

Withdrawal Syndrome

The individual may experience yawning, fever, crying, sweating, tremors, nausea, agitation, anxiety, irritability, insomnia, hypersensitivity to pain, dilation of the pupils, tachycardia and increased blood pressure. Subsequently, abdominal, chest and lower limb pain, low back pain, diarrhea or vomiting may occur.