Source, Etc

Opium consists of the dried latex of the opium poppy, Papaver somniferum, Linne (N.O. Papaveraceoe). The drug was apparently known in very remote times, as both the Greeks and Romans were well acquainted with it, and with the manner in which it was collected then, as it is now, from the unripe capsule of the opium poppy. The physicians of the Arabian school probably introduced the drug into India as well as into Europe. It was originally used as a medicine, the practice of opium-eating having originated probably in Persia.

Opium is collected principally in Greece, Serbia, Asia Minor, Persia, India, China, and in small quantities in Australia. The cultivation of the opium poppy has been experimentally carried on in France, Germany, and other countries, where, however, the expense of the necessary labour and land has been so great as to render it unprofitable, although opium of very high quality has been obtained. Indeed, the highest percentage of morphine ever observed in the drug (22.88) was found in a sample collected near Amiens, in France.

All parts of the plant yield on incision a white latex, but the unripe capsule is especially rich, and from it alone opium is obtained. The wall of the capsule contains an elaborate branching and anastomosing system of laticiferous vessels that accompany generally the fibrovascular bundles; these vessels are filled with a white, milky secretion, and, as they are in open communication with one another, a considerable area of the system is drained of its latex when the vessels are incised at any particular point.

Although the methods adopted in the different countries for collecting the opium vary in their minor details, the principal features remain the same; in India alone a particular method of treating the opium is adopted. Soon after the petals have fallen, and whilst the capsule is still unripe, being about 4 cm. in diameter, incisions are made in the wall, great care being taken that they do not penetrate to the interior of the fruit, for then both opium would be lost and the seeds prevented from ripening; the latter have a commercial value, for they contain a fixed oil which they yield when submitted to pressure. The incisions are sometimes limited to a single transverse one extending round the capsule (Asia Minor); sometimes they are oblique or vertical and two or three together (India); or the method adopted varies in different districts of the same country. Sometimes the capsules are cut once only, sometimes they are subjected after a short lapse of time to a second and third cutting. This is usually done in the afternoon, and on the following morning the latex that has exuded and partially dried is scraped off with a knife. The scrapings are united, and as soon as sufficient has been collected it is formed into a cake which is further dried by exposure to the sun.

Source Etc 343Source Etc 344Source Etc 345Fig. 233.   Opium. Poppy capsules, showing the different methods of incising. (Vogl, from specimens in the Museum of the Pharmacological Institute, Vienna.)

Fig. 233. - Opium. Poppy capsules, showing the different methods of incising. (Vogl, from specimens in the Museum of the Pharmacological Institute, Vienna).

These cakes are wrapped in poppy leaves (Turkey; Bulgaria) or paper (Persia), and are then ready for exportation.

Varieties Of Opium

1. Turkey

Turkey. This variety of opium is obtained in both south-eastern Europe and Asia Minor. In the former, Macedonia produces increasing quantities of opium which are exported from Salonica, and the cultivation is being pushed forward in Bulgaria; in Asia Minor, the central and north-western districts yield the bulk of the drug, which is sent chiefly from Constantinople, Smyrna and Salonica.

Fig. 234.   Turkey Opium. Slightly reduced. {Pharmaceutical Journal.)

Fig. 234. - Turkey Opium. Slightly reduced. {Pharmaceutical Journal).

Turkey opium occurs in flattened cakes varying commonly from 1/4 to 1 kilogram in weight, occasionally much larger (5 kilograms). They are covered with a greyish green leaf of the poppy plant, the broad midrib of which is usually conspicuous, and are sprinkled over with the brown, triangular, winged fruits of a species of Rumex. These are thrown amongst the cakes by the opium merchants to prevent them from sticking together when packed in cases (' chests ') for shipment.

When fresh the drug is plastic; internally, it has a rich reddish brown colour of varying depth, and is coarsely granular or more or less smooth according to the variety (see below). It has a strong characteristic and not unpleasant odour and a bitter taste.

Several subvarieties of Turkey opium are recognised on the market. The most important of these are the Karahissar, Ghiveh, and Boghaditz opiums, which are largely used by pharmacists. Salonica, Tokat, and Malatia opiums are known as ' soft shipping ' opiums; as the name indicates, the paste is usually, though not necessarily, soft; they are used by the morphine makers and are also exported to the United States, the West Indies, Central and South America. Yerli opium is also soft; it is largely used for the manufacture of morphine.

Salonica opium is characterised by its rougher coat, its (usually) dark, smooth paste, its very high moisture content (up to, or even exceeding, 35 per cent.), and its very high morphine content (usually 18 to 22 per cent, of the dried opium). ' Druggist's ' opium has a smoother coat than the Salonica variety, contains about 22 to 26 per cent, of moisture and about 13 to 16.5 per cent, of morphine, calculated on the dried opium.

2. Persian Opium is produced most largely in the neighbourhood of Ispahan and Shiraz in the west and near Meshed in the north-east. After collection the opium is kneaded, often with added gum, into a homogeneous mass, which is then divided into brickshaped masses about 15 cm. long; after further drying these are wrapped in red paper and tied round with red or sometimes yellow string. Occasionally it is formed into bluntly conical masses weighing from 200 to 400 grammes each or short sticks or flat cakes, but these are seldom seen. It is usually of a dark brown colour internally and quite homogeneous, not exhibiting the granular appearance that characterises much of the Turkey opium; this is doubtless due to the method of preparation.