Opium (or poppy tears, scientific name: Lachryma papaveris) is dried latex obtained from the seed capsules of the opium poppy Papaver somniferum. Approximately 12 percent of opium is made up of the analgesic alkaloid morphine, which is processed chemically to produce heroin and other synthetic opioids for medicinal use and for the illegal drug trade. The latex also contains the closely related opiates codeine and thebaine, and non-analgesic alkaloids such as papaverine and noscapine. The traditional, labor-intensive method of obtaining the latex is to scratch ("score") the immature seed pods (fruits) by hand; the latex leaks out and dries to a sticky yellowish residue that is later scraped off and dehydrated. The word "meconium" (derived from the Greek for "opium-like", but now used to refer to newborn stools) historically referred to related, weaker preparations made from other parts of the opium poppy or different species of poppies.
|Source plant(s)||Papaver somniferum|
|Part(s) of plant||Latex|
|Geographic origin||Uncertain, possibly Asia Minor, or Spain, southern France and northwestern Africa|
|Main consumers||Worldwide (#1: Europe)|
|Wholesale price||US$3,000 per kilogram (as of 2002[update])[needs update]|
|Retail price||US$16,000 per kilogram (as of 2002[update])[needs update]|
The production methods have not significantly changed since ancient times. Through selective breeding of the Papaver somniferum plant, the content of the phenanthrene alkaloids morphine, codeine, and to a lesser extent thebaine has been greatly increased. In modern times, much of the thebaine, which often serves as the raw material for the synthesis for oxycodone, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, and other semisynthetic opiates, originates from extracting Papaver orientale or Papaver bracteatum.
For the illegal drug trade, the morphine is extracted from the opium latex, reducing the bulk weight by 88%. It is then converted to heroin which is almost twice as potent, and increases the value by a similar factor. The reduced weight and bulk make it easier to smuggle.