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What is Opium?
A) Opium is the crudest form and also the least potent
of the Opiates. Opium is the milky latex fluid contained
in the un-ripened seed pod of the opium poppy. As the
fluid is exposed to air, it hardens and turns black in
color. This dried form is typically smoked, but can also
be eaten. Opium is grown mainly in Myanmar (formerly Burma)
How is Opium used?
Today opium is sold on the street as a powder or dark brown
solid and is smoked, eaten, or injected.
What are the effects of Opium?
Being of similar structure, the opiate molecules occupy many
of the same nerve-receptor sites and bring on the same analgesic
effect as the body's natural painkillers. Opiates first produce
a feeling of pleasure and euphoria, but with their continued
use the body demands larger amounts to reach the same sense
respiratory complications, and low blood pressure are some of
the illnesses associated with addiction.
Is Opium addictive?
Yes, Opium is highly addictive. Tolerance (the need for higher
and higher doses to maintain the same effect) and physical and
psychological dependence develop quickly. Withdrawal from opium
causes nausea, tearing, yawning, chills, and sweating.
long ago as 100 AD, opium had been used as a folk medicine,
taken with a beverage or swallowed as a solid. Only toward the
middle of the 17th century, when opium smoking was introduced
into China, did any serious addiction problems arise. In the
18th century opium addiction was so serious there that the Chinese
made many attempts to prohibit opium cultivation and opium trade
with Western countries. At the same time opium made its way
to Europe and North America, where addiction grew out of its
prevalent use as a painkiller.
Is there a withdrawal from Opium?
withdrawal is extremely uncomfortable, and addicts typically
continue taking the drug to avoid pain rather than to attain
the initial state of euphoria.
What is the history of Opium?
Excavations of the remains of neolithic settlements in Switzerland
(the Cortaillod culture, 32002600 B.C.), have shown that Papaver
was already being cultivated then; perhaps for the food value
in the seeds (45% oil), which we know as poppy seeds. The slightly
narcotic property of this plant was undoubtedly already known
milky fluid extracted from the plant's ovary is highly narcotic
after drying. This is then opium. The writings of Theophrastus
(3rd century B.C.) are the first known written source mentioning
opium. The word opium derives from the Greek word for juice
of a plant, after all, opium is prepared from the juice of Papaver
Arabic doctors were well aware of the beneficial effects of
opium and Arabic traders introduced it to the Far East. In Europe
it was reintroduced by Paracelsus (14931541) and in 1680 the
English doctor Sydenham could write:
the remedies which it has pleased Almighty God to give to man
to relieve his sufferings, none is so universal and so efficacious
the eighteenth century opium smoking was popular in the Far
East and the opium trade was a very important source of income
for the colonial rulers the English, the Dutch, with even the
Spanish getting their share in the Philippines. Although opium
was readily available in Europe at that time, its use was not
contains a considerable number of different substances, and
in the nineteenth century these were isolated. In 1806 Friedrich
Serturner was the first to extract one of these substances in
its pure form. He called morphine after Morpheus, the Greek
god of sleep. Codeine (Robiquet, 1832) and papaverine (Merck,
1848) followed. These pure substances supplanted the use of
raw opium for medical purposes. Like opium they were frequently
used as painkillers and against diarrhea. The invention of the
hypodermic in the midnineteenth century lead to widespread use
of morphine intravenously as a painkiller.
the United States opiate use rose greatly in the last century,
partly because of the opiumsmoking Chinese immigrants, and partly
because many of those wounded in the Civil War were given it
intravenously. In addition many 'patent medicines' contained
opium extract: laudanum, paregoric, etc. It was partly due to
this that morphine also became fashionable as a 'remedy' for
opium addiction; for if the doctor gave an opium addict morphine,
he was no longer interested in opium so he was cured.
was also the case in Europe and although its use was at that
time much more widespread than is now regarded as acceptable
for medical purposes, it led to few problems.
the end of the last century, the United States started to try
to curb the nonmedical use of opium, especially in China, and
later tried to prohibit it. American interest here was twofold:
they wanted an economically strong China as a market for their
own products, and the moral element played a major role. As
a result of the SpanishAmerican War, the Philippines became
American and the new rulers were confronted with a widespread
problem.The American bishop of the Philippines, Charles Henry
Brent, carried on a moral crusade in the US against the opium
trade and opium addiction, and found widespread support. And
not only because he was riding on the waves of Prohibition,
for as we have already seen, unlike the European countries,
the US also had a domestic opium problem.
with its economy weakening, also saw the rise of a strong antiopium
movement. England and the Netherlands, however, looked upon
this development with disfavor as the cultivation of the papaver
was a very important source of income for Britain and Dutch
1909, under American pressure, representatives from countries
with colonial possessions in the Far East and Persia met at
Shanghai to hold the International Opium Conference, chaired
by Bishop Brent. This conference laid the foundation for the
International Opium Conference in The Hague in 1911. The English
proposed that for participation in this second conference and
the treaty that would result from it the condition be set that
the effects of the treaty should extend to the preparation and
trade in cocaine and morphine. The Germans had considerable
difficulty with this condition as their pharmaceutical industry
substantial interests in this area.
conference lead to the first international convention, the Opium
Convention of 23 January 1912, although it went no further than
obliging the affiliated countries to take measures to control
the trade in opium within their own national legal systems.
The Germans were eventually successful in having the wording
changed in all articles to do with morphine and cocaine from
'undertake to' to 'try to'. The ratification of the convention
was ultimately made dependent on countries not present at the
conference, in short it was as leaky as a sieve.
second conference, held in The Hague in 1913, was equally unsuccessful
in effectuating the convention and it was only at the third
conference in The Hague in 1914 that a protocol was signed allowing
the convention to take effect without the signatures of all
the participating countries.
United States immediately gave substance to this convention
with the Harrison Narcotics Act of 17 December 1914 which not
only controled the trade, but went much further by making illegal
possession of substances named in the convention by unauthorised
persons. A maximum fine of $2000 and/or five years imprisonment
was the penalty set. The basis for the criminalization of the
use of drugs had now been formalized!
War I brought all efforts to a standstill, and the matter only
came up again after the Treaty of Versailles was signed. In
this convention the US introduced the provision that all countries
which had not signed and/or ratified the convention of 1912
should still do this. The convention was handed over to the
League of Nations in 1920 for enforcement.
England the Dangerous Drugs Act came into force in 1920. Of
interest here is that while the Americans also outlawed the
use of heroin for medical purposes, the English upheld this
usage and even found the provision of opiates, in this case
heroin, to addicts to be acceptable medical practice.
stated earlier, the treaty of 1912 was 'as leaky as a sieve'
because it allowed the states to determine for themselves when
and how they would fulfil their obligations with regard to opium,
which of course kept the use of opium legal until that time.
The chemical derivatives did, however, fall under this·
commitment: their use was illegal, making these substances more
than opium the object of the battle. To make this battle more
effective the League of Nations held two conferences which led
to two Geneva Conventions: one of 11 February and one on 19
first convention concerned limiting the domestic production
of and trade in opium in the colonies in the Far East. The second
extended the number of substances covered under the Convention
to include the coca leaf, raw cocaine, ecgonine and Indian hennep.
Also, the states were to step up monitoring of the preparation,
trade and possession of the 'numbing' substances involved.
as such was not made a punishable offence. After all, opium
was still being legally cultivated and consumed in the East.
An opium monopoly was seen as an effective way of combatting
1931 there was an international change of course and efforts
were also made to forbid the legal production and consumption
of opium for nonmedical purposes. New conventions were signed
for this purpose: the conventions of Geneva (13 July 1931),
of Bangkok (27 November 1931) and Geneva (26 June 1936) a more
and more complicated network of conventions. The last convention
especially for the suppression of the illicit traffic in narcotics
went further towards criminalizing the use of drugs by requiring
the convention partners to lay down harsher punishment, in this
case with imprisonment for all offenders of the provision from
the relevant conventions.
enough the Americans did not sign this one because it did not
go far enough.
World War II the United Nations took over the matter. The Economic
and Social Council of this organization set up the U.N. Commission
of Narcotic Drugs. This Commission, made up then of 40 member
states, started preparations for a worldwide drugs policy.
resulted in the Single Convention (New York, 30 March 1961)
which replaced all previous conventions with one.
this convention all parties are required to take the necessary
legal and administrative measures to restrict the trade, production
and possession of narcotics to scientific and medical purposes.
All activities which are not directed towards these scientific
and medical purposes must be considered as punishable offenses.
convention has four lists of substances with regard of which
a different regime of supervision applies, and on recommendation
of the World Health Organization (WHO) the UN can add certain
new substances to these lists. However it must be shown that
these substances present a serious threat for public health
or are involved in illicit traffic. The first is a clear criterium,
the second clearly not. As long as a substance is not forbidden,
production, trade and use can, of course, not be illegal!
on the degree of misuse, substances from one list can be put
on another. National legislation would then have to be adapted
to these changes.
is of interest with this to note when the European ratified
all these conventions drug abuse was not a social problem. Unlike
all other laws, the opium laws in Europe were not introduced
as a reaction to a social problem, but were more or less imposed
by foreign countries, namely the United States, the '...barbarians
of the West' for their 'extraordinary savage idea of stamping
out all people who happen to disagree ... with their social
theories' against narcotics, against alcohol and in 'their recent
treatment of Socialists'. NOTE 13
the world was a victim of American puritanism, for in Europe
it was really only still in a few Chinese communities that nonmedical
opium was used. It was no longer a problem in Asia either now
that the aggressive sales tactics by the colonial rulers had
ended. That is also disputed in most European countries, but
in the Netherlands, in Amsterdam and in Rotterdam, it was tolerated
as long as its use remained limited to the Chinese.
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