Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Opium. This well-known drug and narcotic consists of the dried juice obtained from the capsules of the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum). Incisions are made in these capsules, and the juice which exudes is, when dry, scraped off and collected. The plant is cultivated very largely in Eastern countries, notably in Asia Minor, Persia, Egypt, India and China, while it has also been successfully grown in the western European countries. Its properties as a narcotic appear to have been known from very early times, and its use is mentioned by some of the classical writers. In India the cultivation is a Government monopoly, and yields a revenue of over £10,000,000. Large quantities were supplied to China, and disputes in the opium traffic led to the Chinese War, which was concluded by the treaty of 1842. A large quantity is still shipped to China from India, but the Chinese growth is now very successfully competing with the imported article. The physiological properties of opium are chiefly due to the alkaloids which it contains. Of these the most important is morphine, which is present to the extent of from 3 to 17 per cent.

Others are also present to a small extent - e.g. narcotine, narceine, codeine, thebaine, papaverine, and meconic acid, of which the first three are used medicinally. It also contains a resinous substance and some other compounds of undetermined composition. The habit of opium-smoking is largely practised in China, a specially-prepared extract of opium being employed. With regard to the effect of the habit much difference of opinion exists.