The Poppy Family Papaveraceae

Most members of the Poppy Family are herbs distributed throughout temperate and subtropical regions north of the equator, but several poppies occur in the Southern Hemisphere, and a number are widely planted as ornamentals. Poppies, like buttercups, tend to have numerous stamens, but most have a single pistil (Fig. 24.5). Most also have milky or colored sap, and their sepals usually fall off as the flowers open. All members produce alkaloidal drugs.

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) is a pretty, early-flowering spring plant of eastern North American deciduous forests. A bright reddish sap that is produced in its rhizomes was used by some Native Americans as a facial dye, an insect

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Oozing Opium
Figure 24.6 Immature opium poppy capsules that were gashed with a razor blade. Note the opium-containing latex oozing from the gashes.

repellent, and a cure for ringworm; children today paint their nails with it. It has a very bitter taste, except when ingested in minute amounts. The bitterness made it effective in inducing vomiting, but members of one tribe treated sore throats with it after compensating for the bitterness by squeezing a few drops on a lump of maple sugar so that it could be held in the mouth.

Opium poppies have had a significant impact on societies of both the past and the present. Opium itself was described by Dioscorides in the 1st century A.D., and ancient Assyrian medical texts refer to both opium and opium poppies. Opium smoking, which does not extend back nearly as far as the use of the drug in other ways, became a major problem in China in the 1600s. Smoking opium has given way to other forms of use in recent years. The substance is obtained primarily by making small gashes in the green capsules of the poppies (Fig. 24.6). The crude opium appears as a thick, whitish fluid oozing out of the gashes and is scraped off. It contains two groups of drugs. One group contains the narcotic and addicting drugs morphine and codeine, best known for their widespread medicinal use as painkillers and cough suppressants. Members of the other group are neither narcotic nor addictive. They include papaverine, used in the treatment of circulatory diseases, and noscapine, used as a codeine substitute because it functions like codeine in suppressing coughs but does not have its side effects.

Heroin, a scourge of modern societies, is a derivative of morphine. It is from four to eight times more powerful than morphine as a painkiller, and less than 100 years ago, it was advertised and marketed in the United States as a cough suppressant. It is estimated that 75% of American drug addicts used heroin up until the early 1980s, but cocaine has now largely replaced it. The loss to society in terms of its economic, physical, and moral impact is enormous, since addicts frequently commit violent crimes to obtain the funds needed to support their habits that often cost well over $200 per day.

The seeds of opium poppies contain virtually no opium and are widely used in the baking industry as a garnish. However, there are reports that even the mere traces of opium in some poppy seeds have produced positive results in urine drug tests. They also contain up to 50% edible oils that are used in the manufacture of margarines and shortenings. Another type of oil obtained from the seeds after the edible oils have been extracted is used in soaps and paints.

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