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Last updated : August 8, 2018

What is opium?

Opium is a depressant drug, which means it slows down the messages travelling between your brain and body. Derived from the poppy (Papaver somniferum), it was traditionally cultivated in the Mediterranean and Asia. The Opium Poppy is one of the oldest plants in recorded history, with information dating back to 5,000 BCE 1, 2, 3

A milky exudate called latex is collected from the poppy, air dried and manufactured into a brown powder or resin.4 This latex contains a combination of active chemicals such as morphine and codeine.

What does it look like?

Opium is a sticky dark-brown gum with a strong odour. It can also be manufactured into a liquid, powder, or solid resin.5, 6

Slang names

Aunti, Aunti Emma, Big O, O, Black pill, Chandu, Chinese Molasses, Dopium, Dream Gun, Fi-Do-Nie, Gee, Guma, Midnight Oil, Zero.7

How is opium used?

Opium is commonly smoked, but can also be injected, swallowed or drunk.8 Raw opium has a bitter taste due to the alkaloid levels.
Ingesting and injecting opium may increase the chance of overdose. Some of the most common ways to take opium are to smoke it via a bong or a pipe or take it in the form of a pill.10

Effects of opium

There is no safe level of drug use. Use of any drug always carries some risk. It’s important to be careful when taking any type of drug.

The main effects of opium are exerted by its collection of alkaloids collectively known as ‘opiates’. Opiates predominately affect the functioning of the brain and spinal cord.  The levels and potency of alkaloids in opium can be difficult to measure, as they vary between batches, area of growth and growing techniques.1

The effects of opium last for two-to-three hours, though this is dependent on individual characteristics. Tolerance to the effects of opium increases quickly.

Opium affects everyone differently, based on:

  • the person’s size, weight and health
  • whether the person is used to taking it
  • whether other drugs are taken around the same time
  • the amount taken
  • the strength of the drug (which varies between batches).

Symptoms of use include:

  • euphoria
  • relaxation
  • analgesia12

Opium and lead poisoning

Opium use has been closely linked to lead poisoning. People who smoke opium may demonstrate higher levels of lead in their blood. This is because when temperature is applied to the opium, lead vapor is created, which is more readily absorbed by the lungs.

The source of lead in opium is still unclear, though it is either thought to be a byproduct of processing, or may be added to increase its weight at the point-of-sale.13, 14

Overdose

The alkaloids present in opium are well known to cause respiratory and cardiac suppression.15 Ingestion at high levels has been reported to cause severe suppression of heart function, coma and death.16, 17

Symptoms of opium overdose:

  • slow breathing
  • seizure
  • dizziness
  • weakness
  • loss of consciousness
  • coma
  • death

Coming down

In the days after opium use, the following may be experienced:

  • irritability
  • depression

Long-term effects

Long-term use can inhibit smooth muscle function in the bowel, leading to constipation. It can also cause drying of the mucous membranes, leading to dry mouth and nasal passages. Tolerance to opium is established quickly, and as a result, physical dependence may increase the chance of overdose.20

Regular use of opium may cause:

  • intense sadness
  • irregular periods and difficulty having children
  • loss of sex drive
  • constipation
  • damaged heart, lungs, liver and brain
  • damage to veins, skin, heart and lung infections from injecting
  • needing to use more to get the same effect
  • dependence on other opioids
  • financial, work or social problems21, 22

Mixing opium and other drugs

The effects of taking opium with other drugs – including over-the-counter or prescribed medications – can be unpredictable and dangerous.

Opium is commonly taken with other drugs such as cannabis and/or methamphetamine. Black is the mixture of marijuana, methamphetamine and opium, and Buddha is the mix of potent marijuana spiked with opium.23

Taking multiple depressant drugs can significantly increase the chances of respiratory and cardiac depression and overdose. Similarly, taking depressants with stimulants may mask the negative effects of either, also leading to overdose.

Withdrawal

Giving up opium after using it for a long time is challenging because the body must get used to functioning without it. Withdrawal symptoms usually start within six to 24 hours after the last dose and can last for about a week – days one to three will be when the worst withdrawal symptoms are experienced. These symptoms can include:

  • cravings for opium
  • restlessness and irritability
  • depression and crying
  • diarrhoea
  • restless sleep and yawning
  • stomach and leg cramps
  • vomiting and no appetite
  • goosebumps
  • runny nose
  • fast heartbeat.24, 25

Opium and the law

Federal and state laws provide penalties for possessing, using, cultivating or selling opium, or driving under its influence.

Opium statistics

Current statistic on opium use in Australia are unknown.

References
  1. Opium, Get Smart About Drugs, DEA – United States Government, 2017
  2. Schwarcz, J, 2015, ‘Opium and Laudanum history’s wonder drug’ Canadian Chemical News, July-August, 2015
  3. Paul L. Schiff, Jr. (2002). “Opium and its alkaloids”. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education.
  4. ibid
  5. Garg, P, Hitawala, A & Agarwal, M, 2018, ‘Cardiotoxic Effect of Raw Opium’ Indian Journal of Critical Care Medicine, Vol 22, No 1, Jan 2018
  6. Opium, Get Smart About Drugs, DEA – United States Government, 2017
  7. Ibid
  8. Garg, P, Hitawala, A & Agarwal, M, 2018, ‘Cardiotoxic Effect of Raw Opium’ Indian Journal of Critical Care Medicine, Vol 22, No 1, Jan 2018
  9. Ibid
  10. Opium, Get Smart About Drugs, DEA – United States Government, 2017
  11. Garg, P, Hitawala, A & Agarwal, M, 2018, ‘Cardiotoxic Effect of Raw Opium’ Indian Journal of Critical Care Medicine, Vol 22, No 1, Jan 2018
  12. Opium, Get Smart About Drugs, DEA – United States Government, 2017
  13. Hayatbakhsh, MM, Oghabian, Z, Conlo, E, Nakhaee, S, Amirabadizadeh, AR, Zahedi, MJ, Moghadam, SD, Ahmadi, B, Soroush, S, Aaseth, J & Mehrpour, O, 2017, ‘Lead poisoning among opium uderes in Iran: an emerging health hazard’ Substance Abuse, Treatment, Prevention and Policy, Vol 12, No 43
  14. Kambiz Soltaninejad, Andreas Flückiger & Shahin Shadnia (2011) Opium addiction and lead poisoning, Journal of Substance Use, 16:3
  15. Garg, P, Hitawala, A & Agarwal, M, 2018, ‘Cardiotoxic Effect of Raw Opium’ Indian Journal of Critical Care Medicine, Vol 22, No 1, Jan 2018
  16. Ibid
  17. Opium, Get Smart About Drugs, DEA – United States Government, 2017
  18. Campbell, A. (2000). The Australian illicit drug guide. Melbourne: Black Inc.
  19. Brands, B., Sproule, B., & Marshman, J. (Eds.). (1998). Drugs & drug abuse (3rd ed.). Ontario: Addiction Research Foundation.
  20. Opium, Get Smart About Drugs, DEA – United States Government, 2017
  21. Campbell, A. (2000). The Australian illicit drug guide. Melbourne: Black Inc.
  22. Brands, B., Sproule, B., & Marshman, J. (Eds.). (1998). Drugs & drug abuse (3rd ed.). Ontario: Addiction Research Foundation.
  23. Opium, Get Smart About Drugs, DEA – United States Government, 2017
  24. Campbell, A. (2000). The Australian illicit drug guide. Melbourne: Black Inc.
  25. Brands, B., Sproule, B., & Marshman, J. (Eds.). (1998). Drugs & drug abuse (3rd ed.). Ontario: Addiction Research Foundation

Effects

analgesia, euphoria, relaxation.

AKA

zero, midnight oil, guma, gee, fi-do-nie, dream gun, dopium, Chinese molasses, chandu, black pill, big O, aunti Emma, aunti, O.