Opium – Source, diagnostic characters, constituents, tests and uses


Source, diagnostic characters, constituents, tests and uses


Source, diagnostic characters, constituents, tests and uses


At the end of this lecture, student will be able to

Discuss the source, diagnostic characters, constituents, tests and uses of Opium


Opium is a substance that has fascinated and puzzled humans for centuries. Derived from the latex of the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum), it has been both a source of immense pleasure and a cause of great harm. In this article, we will delve into the world of opium, exploring its source, diagnostic characters, constituents, tests, uses, and answer some frequently asked questions to shed light on this intriguing substance.

Opium plants

Opium, known by its scientific name Papaver somniferum, is a natural substance derived from the unripe seed capsules of the opium poppy. It has a rich history, with both medicinal and recreational uses.

Source of Opium

Opium is sourced from the milky latex that exudes from the unripe seed pods of the opium poppy. The process involves making incisions on the pods to allow the latex to ooze out. Once collected, the latex is left to dry, forming a dark, gummy substance known as raw opium.

• Dried latex from the unripe capsules of opium poppy, Papaver somniferum


• Papaveraceae

Geographical source

• Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Persia and India

• In India – Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Rajasthan

Plant description of Opium

Narcotics and Pshycotropic substances act, 1985

• Genus Papaver – 50 species

• 6 species are found in India (P. somniferum, P.nudicaule, P. rhoeas,  P. orientale, P. argemone, P. dubium)

P. somniferum Var. glabrum (bluish white)

P. somniferum Var. album (purple) – cultivated in India

P. somniferum Var. nigrum (violet)

Macroscopy of Opium

• Odour – strong, characteristic

• Taste – bitter

Natural opium:

• Round, conical, irregular, flattnened, 50 g to kilograms, may or may not be covered with poppy leaves

Manipulated opium:

• Natural opium is mixed, milled and then made up into cakes of definite shape containing fairly uniform content of morphine

Indian opium:

• Dark brown, cubical piece of 900 gm, enclosed in tissue paper, brittle, homogenous

Persian opium:

• Dark brown, brick shaped mass, 450 gm, brittle, granular or nearly smooth

Natural Turkish or Europena opium:

• Brown or dark brown, Conical or rounded, 250-100 gm, hard and brittle, covered with poppy leaves

Manipulated Turkish opium:

• Chocolate brown or dark brown, covered with broken poppy leaves, oval with flat upper and lower surface, 2000 gm, brittle

Manipulated European opium:

• Dark brown, covered with broken leaves, elongated mass with rounded ends, 150-500 gm, firm and brittle

Manchurian opium:

• Imported in 1947in large cakes weighing 3-5kgs, measuring 30/20/6 cm, each enclosed in white canvas cover or bag.

Diagnostic Characters

Raw opium exhibits distinctive diagnostic characters, including its dark brown to black color, peculiar odor, and a bitter taste. It is a sticky, semi-solid substance that hardens as it ages. The opium poppy plant itself is characterized by its large, lobed leaves and vibrant, colorful flowers.

Chemical constituents of Opium

Opium is a complex mixture of compounds, with the most notable ones being alkaloids. The primary alkaloids found in opium are morphine, codeine, and thebaine. These alkaloids are responsible for its medicinal and recreational properties.

Chemical constituents of Opium

• Contains 25 different alkaloids which occur in combination with meconic acid, of which about 5 % is present and with sulphuric acid

Type benzyl iso quinoline and phenanthrene

Morphine, codeine (methyl morphine), narcotine, thebaine

• Narceine, papaverine and the remaining alkaloids occur in very small quantities

• Starch, tannin, oxalic acid and fat are absent

Tests for Opium

Several tests can confirm the presence of opium in a sample, such as color reactions and spectroscopic analysis. These tests are crucial for the identification and purity assessment of opium.

General test- presence of Meconic acid

• Opium in water, filtrate added with ferric chloride gives deep reddish purple colour, which persists even on addition of HCl

Morphine sprinkled on nitric acid gives orange red colour, codeine negative

Morphine solution with potassium ferricyanide and ferric chloride gives bluish green colour (codeine negative)

Papaverine solution in HCl gives lemon yellow colour with potassium ferricyanide solution


• Hypnotic and sedative

• Administerd to relieve pain and to calm excitement

• As astringent in diarrhea and dysentery

• Order of narcotic action: morphine,papaverine, codeine, narcotine, thebaine (decreasing order)

• Morphine – potent analgesic, central narcotic effect – causes addiction, Codeine- antitussive

Historical Uses

Throughout history, opium has been used for its pain-relieving and sedative properties. It was widely employed in traditional medicine, often administered as an analgesic and cough suppressant.

Modern Applications

In modern medicine, opium-derived compounds are still in use. Morphine, for instance, remains a vital pain management medication. However, due to its addictive properties, its use is highly regulated.

Risks and Side Effects

Opium and its derivatives can be highly addictive and have numerous side effects. These may include respiratory depression, constipation, and, in extreme cases, overdose. Long-term use can lead to physical and psychological dependence.

Legal Status

The legal status of opium and its derivatives varies across the globe. In many countries, it is a controlled substance, and its use is restricted to medical purposes. The illegal production and distribution of opium are subject to severe penalties.


• Dried latex from the unripe capsules of opium poppy, Papaver somniferum, Type – benzyl iso quinoline and phenanthrene – Morphine, codeine (methyl morphine), narcotine, thebaine – Hypnotic and sedative

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Q1: Is opium still used in medicine today? A1: Yes, opium-derived compounds like morphine are used in modern medicine, primarily for pain management.

Q2: Can opium be legally obtained for recreational use? A2: No, opium is a controlled substance in most countries, and its recreational use is illegal.

Q3: What are the risks of opium addiction? A3: Opium addiction can lead to physical and psychological dependence, along with numerous health risks.

Q4: How is opium addiction treated? A4: Treatment often involves medical detoxification, counseling, and support to overcome addiction.

Q5: Are there any natural alternatives to opium for pain relief? A5: Yes, there are natural alternatives like acupuncture, yoga, and certain herbal remedies that can help manage pain without the risks associated with opium.

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