What is opium?
Opium is a depressant drug, which means it slows down the messages travelling between your brain and body. Derived from the poppy (Papaver somniferum), it was traditionally cultivated in the Mediterranean and Asia. The Opium Poppy is one of the oldest plants in recorded history, with information dating back to 5,000 BCE. A milky exudate called latex is collected from the poppy, air dried and manufactured into a brown powder or resin. This latex contains a combination of active chemicals such as morphine and codeine.
What does it look like?
Opium is a sticky dark-brown gum with a strong odour. It can also be manufactured into a liquid, powder, or solid resin.
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How is opium used?
Opium is commonly smoked, but can also be injected, swallowed or drunk. Raw opium has a bitter taste due to the alkaloid levels. Ingesting and injecting opium may increase the chance of overdose. Some of the most common ways to take opium are to smoke it via a bong or a pipe or take it in the form of a pill. If injecting drugs there is an increased risk of:
• vein damage.
If sharing needles there is an increased risk of:
• Hepatitis B
• Hepatitis C
• HIV and AIDS.
Effects of opium
There is no safe level of drug use. Use of any drug always carries risk. The main effects of opium are exerted by its collection of alkaloids collectively known as ‘opiates’. Opiates predominately affect the functioning of the brain and spinal cord. The levels and potency of alkaloids in opium can be difficult to measure, as they vary between batches, area of growth and growing techniques. The effects of opium last for two-to-three hours, though this is dependent on individual characteristics of the batch. Tolerance to the effects of opium increases quickly. Opium affects everyone differently, based on:
• the person’s size, weight and health
• Regularity of use
• whether other drugs are taken around the same time
• the amount taken
• the strength of the drug (which varies between batches). Symptoms of use include:
Opium and lead poisoning Some opium has been found to be heavily contaminated with lead. The source of lead in opium is still unclear, though it is either thought to be a byproduct of processing or may be added to increase its weight at the point-of-sale. Lead poisoning can have a serious effect on people’s health, can cause long-term organ damage or be fatal. If you have taken opium recently, especially since early 2016, you should see a doctor and request a blood lead test.
The alkaloids present in opium are well known to cause respiratory and cardiac suppression. Ingestion at high levels has been reported to cause severe suppression of heart function, coma and death.
Symptoms of opium overdose:
• slow breathing
• loss of consciousness
Coming down In the days after opium use, the following may be experienced:
Long-term use can inhibit smooth muscle function in the bowel, leading to constipation. It can also cause drying of the mucous membranes, leading to dry mouth and nasal passages. Tolerance to opium is established quickly, and as a result, physical dependence may increase the chance of overdose.
Regular use of opium may cause:
• intense sadness
• irregular periods and difficulty having children
• loss of sex drive
• damaged heart, lungs, liver and brain
• damage to veins, skin, heart and lung infections from injecting
• needing to use more to get the same effect
• dependence on other opioids
• financial, work or social problems
Mixing opium and other drugs
The effects of taking opium with other drugs – including over-the-counter or prescribed medications – can be unpredictable and dangerous. Opium is commonly taken with other drugs such as cannabis and/or methamphetamine. Black is the mixture of marijuana, methamphetamine and opium, and Buddha is the mix of potent marijuana spiked with opium.
Taking multiple depressant drugs can significantly increase the chances of respiratory and cardiac depression and overdose. Similarly, taking depressants with stimulants may mask the negative effects of either, also leading to overdose.