Strausbaugh, Perry D. Department of Botany, West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia.
Core, Earl L. Department of Biology, West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia.
Last reviewed:January 2021
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Any of various ornamental herbs of the genus Papaver (family Papaveraceae), with large, showy flowers, and the source of the narcotic opium. Opium is obtained from the fruits of the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) [see illustration], which is probably a native of Asia Minor. It is cultivated extensively in Afghanistan, China, India, Pakistan, and elsewhere. The opium is obtained by cutting into the fruits (capsules) of the opium poppy soon after the petals have fallen. The white latex (juice) flows from the cuts and hardens when exposed to the air. This solidified latex is collected, shaped into balls or wafers, and often wrapped in the flower petals of the poppy. This is the crude opium, which contains at least 20 alkaloids, including morphine and codeine. These drugs are used in medicine to allay pain, induce sleep, and relax spasms. Opium is one of the most useful drugs, but it is habit-forming and consequently should be used with the utmost caution. An opium habit is deleterious physically, mentally, and morally, and misuse of the drug is an extremely serious problem. See also: Alkaloid; Analgesic; Morphine alkaloids; Narcotic; Opiates; Papaverales; Pharmacognosy; Ranunculales
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