Use of opium has a long history going all the way back to the Neolithic age. Throughout this time the drug has been used as an effective pain killer and many modern analgesic drugs come from the opium poppy. In fact all the morphine-type drugs come from this plant. As well as being used for medicinal purposes, there is a long history of people becoming addicted to opium. Indeed, non-medicinal use of the drug has apparently been accepted in many parts of the world right up to the beginning of the twentieth century.
Heroin is another drug that is manufactured from the opium poppy plant. Nowadays this synthesized version has replaced the opium pipe in many countries. This is because heroin is more potent and easier to transport illegally between countries. In places like Afghanistan, opium use is still responsible for many family and social problems. This is also where most of the drug has been produced in recent years.
Opium can be a highly addictive drug. This means that people do not have to use it many times before they become dependent on it. To say that an individual has developed an addiction implies that they have developed a physical as well as psychological dependence. Should an addict decide to stop using opium they will experience withdrawal symptoms.
The most important chemical in opium is morphine. It is this chemical which is responsible for the main effects that people associate with opium. Morphine is an alkaloid, which means that it contains mostly basic nitrogen atoms. It is usually obtained from unripe poppy seeds. Morphine works by mimicking the effects of endorphins. This neurotransmitter is responsible for handling pain and creating feelings of well-being.
People will smoke, inject, or orally ingest opium. The effects of taking the drug are quite similar to heroin. This is hardly surprising as they are just different versions of the same substance. Although users may get sick the first time they try it, the result of taking the drug is highly pleasurable. The individual is likely to experience:
* Feelings of well-being
* Feelings of relaxation and warmth
* A pleasurable dreaminess state
* Relief from pain and discomfort
* Lack of inhibitions
Opium use is highly seductive because it allows the individual to escape their problems for a short while. The sensation of being high is pleasurable and people yearn to recreate it. It does not take long for a physical and physiological addiction to develop. Once people become addicted, the drug takes over their life and denial about their problems can keep them locked into this world.
Opium has been called by many names over the centuries. The most common street names for the drug include:
* Big O
* Midnight Oil
* Dope (this word can also be used to refer to cannabis)
Opium has destroyed the lives of many millions of people over the centuries and possibly milennia. Recreational use of the drug was once common among the rich and poor alike. Edgar Allan Poe and Admiral Nelson are two famous people from history who were also addicted to opium. The damaging effects of this drug include:
* Increased tolerance means that the addict will need to take more of the drug to get the same effect
* High risk of overdose and death
* Withdrawal symptoms
* Inability to take care of social and family responsibilities
* Obsession with obtaining more of the drug
* Loss of interest in other activities
* Poor personal hygiene and grooming
* Paranoia and confusion
* Mood swings
* Loss of weight
If an individual is using opium there will usually be changes in their behavior. The most common symptoms of opium use include:
* Frequent red eyes
* Loss of interest in personal appearance
* Signs of depression
* Loss of interest in hobbies
* Money problems
* Secretive behavior
* Persistent cough
* Failure to meet family and social commitments
* Personality changes
* Difficulty with handling any type of stress
* Rapid mood changes
Recreational use of opium is not as popular as it was 100 years ago. The availability of heroin has replaced the demand for the less potent form in most western countries. It is claimed that 41,000 tons of opium was produced in 1906, but in 2002 there was only 5,000 tons produced and most of this was for legal purposes. 70% of opium production occurs in Afghanistan. Most of the illegal opium is now turned into heroin.
Opium addicts can find it hard to break the habit unless they are highly motivated to do so. In many instances it will not only involve giving up the drug, but also removing themselves from their social network. The period of detox is unpleasant, but it does not take too long to make it through the withdrawal period. Quitting the drug is usually a lot easier than staying free of it. Those who seek treatment and support are far more likely to manage a successful and lasting recovery.
The body adapts to chronic opium use. When use of the substance ceases the body responds with withdrawal symptoms. These have been described as flu-like in nature. The most common opium withdrawal symptoms include:
* Nausea and vomiting
* Stomach cramps
* Mood swings