“Our current drug crisis is a tragedy born of a phony system of classification. For reasons that are little more than accidents of history, we have divided a group of nonfood substances into two categories: items purchasable for supposed pleasure (such as alcohol), and illicit drugs. The categories were once reversed. Opiates were legal in America before the Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914, and members of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, who campaigned against alcohol during the day, drank their valued “women’s tonics” at night, products laced with laudanum (tincture of opium).”
–Stephen Gould, evolutionary biologist
Opium is not just an illegal drug used to get high; it can also be found in many medicines, some of which are still used today for a variety of reasons. Before you criticize opium, you must first understand what it is and how it can legitimately be used for medicinal purposes.
Introduction to Opiates
Opiates are derivatives of opium, whether in its natural form or a chemical substitute, a drug that is primarily made up of morphine and is a key component in several super-powerful pain relievers. Opiates are a major ingredient in many different medicines, the result of the beautiful poppy plant, and the drug comes from a class of drugs known as opioids. Experts say that opiates are among the oldest-recorded medications known to man, used thousands of years ago in cultures around the world.
Drugs that can be classified as opiates are most often used for pain relief, especially after major surgeries, life-threatening accidents, chronic pain from illnesses such as cancer or rheumatoid arthritis, difficult childbirths, and other very serious problems. However, opiates in smaller doses are used for other medical purposes as well, including some diarrhea medications, severe coughs, and anxiety. They are often combined with other medications in order to alleviate symptoms while the underlying problem is treated or cured, depending on the situation.
Derivatives of Opiates
There are many opiate derivatives, some that are widely used recreational drugs that are illegal in the United States and other parts of the world and others that are a part of accepted medications. Here are just a few examples:
Heroin is a derivative of opiates, and this drug is sweeping the nation in many different forms, pure and less pure. The less pure versions are often a shade of brown, cut with cocoa powder or face powder. The purer heroin is white, but may still be cut with procaine or powdered milk so that it is not as strong and dangerous.
As stated before, morphine is directly related to the opiate family. It is very hard to find morphine without a prescription, so most individuals addicted to morphine have become so while under the supervision of a licensed physician. Morphine is extremely addictive, and as the body becomes accustomed to it more is needed to achieve the same result. Most opiates have this quality.
Methadone is commonly used to treat addiction to a variety of illegal drugs, including heroin addiction, although methadone is also an opiate derivative. Many doctors and scientists say that using methadone negates the fight to overcome the opium addiction, but this controversial method is believed to be among the most effective for some addicts and it is widely used by even the court system for mandatory rehab.
For coughs and other problems, codeine is frequently prescribed. This opiate derivative can also be used to treat pain, although codeine is toward the bottom of the strength spectrum for opiate derivatives. In fact, some over-the-counter cough medicines have codeine as an ingredient, so it is far easier to obtain this opiate than most others.
Other Medical Applications and Interesting Facts
As we have already discussed, there are many practical applications for the use of opiates and opioids in general, and the use of this drug for centuries proves the effectiveness of it. However, it should be kept in mind that it is one of the more addictive drugs available today, and the more you take the more you have to take in order to achieve the same effect after repeated uses. It can be very difficult to quit using the opiate as well, often requiring professional help and other medications to achieve success for most people.
There are other medical applications for and a few interesting facts about opiates as well, some that might even surprise you. Consider some of the following facts and medical uses for opium, opiates, and derivatives:
- Opium was the first medication used to treat depression.
- Opiates were mixed with wine hundreds of years ago to create laudanum, which was an all-encompassing medication given for everything from venomous bites to menstrual pain.
- In some parts of Asia, opiates were considered social drugs for those who wanted to have more enlightened conversations.
- During ancient Roman times, opiates or their derivatives were entombed with members of royalty for use in the afterlife.
- You could purchase opium on the street in years past without fear, as it was considered an over-the-counter-style medicine.
- Opiates were not banned for human consumption in religious cultures such as Muslim areas, unlike alcohol in any form.
- Babies were often given opium-laced milk or special opium tinctures to reduce colic, and children were given similar mixtures to counteract hyperactivity.
- Poppy seeds are a common baking ingredient, and the little black seeds are used for making breads and muffins.
- Poppy heads can be mixed with tea for use as a sleep aid.
- Many of our first presidents grew or used opiates in some form, including Thomas Jefferson, who would be arrested for this feat today.
- Opiates were valued because they do not cause a loss of consciousness, but rather seem to sharpen the mind and clarify thought and senses. It takes a large, concentrated dose of opium to cause drowsiness.
- The first manufacturer of heroin was actually a pharmaceutical giant that is still a frontrunner in producing pain relief medicines to ease headaches, body aches, and help prevent heart attacks: Bayer™.