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Scientific Name(S): Although a variety of members of the genus Papaver are called poppies, P. somniferum L. and p. bracteatum Lindl. are important commercially and medicinally. Family: Papaveraceae

Common Name(S): P. somniferum: Opium poppy, poppyseed poppy. P. bracteatum: Thebaine poppy, great scarlet poppy.

Botany: The opium poppy is a small annual. The bright showy flowers of the genus Papaver range in color from white to deep reds and purples. The seeds of the plants vary in color from light cream to blue-black.

History: The earliest accounts of the use of poppy derivatives date to the Sumerians in Mesopotamia, where the plant was used medicinally and was known as hul gil (the plant of joy). The medicinal uses of poppy were described by the Ancient Greeks, and opium, as an addictive agent, was described by the Arabs more than 900 years ago. Because of the wide distribution of the opium poppy, its use has been recognized by most major cultures. Opium has been used in the United States since its birth and was used widely during the Civil War. Morphine was isolated from crude opium in 1803, and in 1874, morphine was boiled with acetic anhydride to yield diacetylmorphine (heroin). This compound was developed by Bayer and Company for cough, chest pain and pneumonia. It was later recognized as having a high addiction potential. Derivatives of opium continue to play a major role as antitussives, antidiarrheals and analgesics. Their abuse potential remains high and strict efforts to curtail the illicit cultivation of the opium poppy have met with limited success. Poppy seeds are used in the preparation of confections and breads.

You can know more about these opium derivatives with the help of a comprehensive guide to opium-derived narcotics such as opiates and other similar resources.

Uses of Poppy:

Poppy has been used to relax smooth muscle tone, making it useful in the treatment of diarrhea and abdominal cramping, and used as sedative analgesics and antitussives.

Side Effects of Poppy:

Poppy is known for its highly addictive qualities and has been associated with poisoning and demonstrating symptoms of sedation and sluggishness, and abdominal contractions.

Toxicology: The abuse potential of opium has had an enormous impact on most societies. Deaths due to respiratory depression have been reported and heroininduced deaths are reported commonly. As little as 300 mg of opium can be fatal to humans, although addicts tolerate 2000 mg over 4 hours. Death from circulatory and respiratory collapse is accompanied by cold, clammy skin, pulmonary edema, cyanosis and pupillary constriction. Thebaine has an LD50 of 20 mg/kg in mice.

Significant attention has been focused on the fact that morphine and codeine can be detected in significant amounts in urine following the Ingestion of foods prepared with poppy seeds. After the ingestion of three poppy-seed bagels, urinary codeine and morphine levels were 214 ng/ml and 2797 ng/ml, respectively after 3 hours. Analysis of poppy seeds indicated that an individual consuming a single poppy-seed bagel could ingest up to 1.5 mg of morphine and 0.1 mg of codeine. Opiates have been detected in urine more than 48 hours after the ingestion of culinary poppy seeds. These results confirm that a positive finding of morphine or codeine in urine may not always be due to the ingestion of drugs of abuse.

The Mexican poppy (Argemone mexicana) L. has been associated with poisoning, demonstrating symptoms of sedation, sluggishness and abdominal contractions in rats fed its seeds.

Summary: The opium poppy continues to represent one of the most commercially important plants worldwide. Its use in medicine dates to antiquity as does its harmful addictive effects. Although an important commercial source of morphine, P. somniferum may be supplanted by P. bracteatum, a related plant high in thebaine, a compound which can be readily converted commercially to codeine, but only with extreme difficulty to morphine and heroin.

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