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Opium is a substance derived by collecting and drying the milky juice in the unripe seed pods of the opium poppy, Papaver somniferum. Opium varies in color from yellow to dark brown and has a characteristic odor and a bitter taste. Its chief active principle is the alkaloid morphine, a narcotic. Other constituents are the alkaloids codeine, papaverine, and noscapine (narcotine); heroin is synthesized from morphine. Morphine, heroin, and codeine are addicting drugs; papaverine and narcotine are not. A tincture of opium is called laudanum; paregoric is a mixture of opium, alcohol, and camphor.

Opium has powerful narcotic properties. Its constituents and derivatives are used as painkillers in extreme circumstances, such as in terminal stages of cancer. Therefore, legal opium production is allowed under the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and other international drug treaties, subject to strict supervision by the law enforcement agencies of individual countries. The leading legal producer of opium is India, which is also the only place on earth where opium is still legally harvested by the traditional method of incising the pods.

How Opium Works on the User
Opium resin contains two groups of alkaloids: phenanthrenes (including morphine and codeine) and benzylisoquinolines (including papaverine). Morphine is by far the most prevalent and important alkaloid in opium, consisting of 10%-16% of the total. It binds to and activates µ-opioid receptors in the brain, spinal cord, stomach and intestine. Regular use, even for a few days, invariably leads to physical tolerance and dependence. Various degrees of psychological addiction can occur, though this is relatively rare when opioids are used for treatment of pain, rather than for euphoric effects. These mechanisms result from changes in nervous system receptors in response to the drug. In response to the drug, the brain creates new receptors for opiates. These receptors are "pseudo" receptors and do not work. When the opiates are out of the body, the brain has more receptors than before the use of the drug, but only the same amount of endogenous opiate (endorphins) to fill these receptors.

Opium Side Effects
Opium and its various constituents exert effects upon the body ranging from analgesia, or insensitivity to pain, to narcosis, or depressed physiological activity leading to stupor. Opium users describe experiencing a feeling of calm and well-being. Opium addicts in otherwise good physical and mental health whose drug needs are met are thought to experience no debilitating physiological effects from their addiction, although there is some evidence that immune function is compromised. However, their preoccupation with the drug and its acquisition can lead to malnutrition and general poor self-care and an increased risk of disease.

One of the most detrimental side effects of opium is addiction. Opium addiction occurs very rapidly, sometimes within weeks. Once an individual becomes addicted to opium, they will continue to use the drug not only for the purpose of intoxication, but too avoid the painful side effects associated with withdrawal that naturally come with opiate addiction.

Opium side effects include but are not limited to:
respiratory complications
low blood pressure
mental and physical health problems
severe constipation
contracted pupils
menstrual irregularities
lung, liver, kidney and brain damage
collapsed veins from injecting the drug
loss of weight
reduction of sex hormone levels
frequent infections
pregnancy complications including still birth

The History of Opium
The image of the poppy capsule was an attribute of deities, long before opium was extracted from its milky latex. At the Metropolitan Museum's Assyrian relief gallery, a winged deity in a bas-relief from the palace of Ashurnasirpal II at Nimrud, dedicated in 879 BC, bears a bouquet of poppy capsules on long stems, described by the museum as "pomegranates".

Until the practice of smoking was introduced to Europe and Asia after tobacco smoking in the Americas was observed and copied, opium was mostly either eaten or drunk. An early form of opium smoking involved the consumption of madak, a blend of tobacco and opium that became common in Asia in the 17th and 18th centuries. By the 19th century, in part because of a ban on madak in China, smoking of pure opium became more common. By this time, opium use had become widespread across much of the world, although consumption patterns and routes of administration varied.

In the 19th century, the smuggling of opium to China from India, particularly by the British, was the cause of the Opium Wars. It led to Britain seizing Hong Kong and to what the Chinese term the "century of shame". This illegal trade became one of the world's most valuable single commodity trades and was described by the eminent Harvard University historian John K. Fairbank as "the most long continued and systematic international crime of modern times."

Opium can be smoked, sometimes in combination with tobacco, but a high temperature is required to vaporise the alkaloids, so special opium pipes with spherical porcelain 'bowls' are traditionally used. A small blob of opium is stuck near the hole in the pipe 'bowl' - it is a very gummy substance and adheres without difficulty. The smoker — reclining beside a small burner — blows through the pipe onto a piece of glowing charcoal to increase the heat it gives off. When the opium starts to vaporise, the smoker begins to inhale. Another common smoking technique is to vaporise the stuff on a piece of metal foil, heated from below with a cigarette lighter. The vapor is then inhaled through a small tube. This is called 'chasing the dragon', and is also a common way of smoking the other notorious illegal opiates - morphine and heroin.

Thomas De Quincey's Confessions Of An English Opium Eater is one of the first literary accounts of opium addiction written from the point of view of an addict, in the early 1820s. Later, Opium smoking became associated with immigrant Chinese communities around the world, with "opium dens" becoming notorious fixtures of many Chinatowns.

There were no legal restrictions on the importation or use of opium in the United States until the Opium Exclusion Act of 1909 prohibited its importation. Other important legislation included the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914. Before this time, medicines often contained opium without any warning label. U.S president William Henry Harrison was treated with opium in 1841. Today, there are numerous national and international laws governing the production and distribution of narcotic substances. In particular, Article 23 of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs requires opium-producing nations to designate a government agency to take physical possession of licit opium crops as soon as possible after harvest and conduct all wholesaling and exporting through that agency. Opium's pharmaceutical use is strictly controlled worldwide and non-pharmaceutical uses are generally prohibited.

Opium poppies are popular and attractive garden plants, whose flowers vary greatly in colour, size and form. A modest amount of domestic cultivation in private gardens is not usually subject to legal controls. The dried seed cases are often used for decorations, and the small seeds themselves - which contain negligible amounts of any opiate alkaloids - are a common and flavoursome topping for breads and cakes.

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