Opium poppy - western medicine

In many parts of the world the use of opium derived drugs such as heroin are illegal and in Britain they are categorised as Class A drugs. People using or supplying these drugs face a prison sentence. Morphine is one of the most active alkaloids from the opium poppy. It is legally produced under strict controls for use as a prescription drug to treat pain, especially severe pain associated with conditions like cancer. Another alkaloid isolated from the poppies is codeine and this is used to treat pain and inflammation in patients with rheumatism. Codeine is available as an over-the-counter remedy to relieve pain and coughs.

Opioid medicines

Opium is the air-dried latex from the unripe capsules of the opium poppy. It contains compounds called alkaloids such as morphine and codeine. Morphine and codeine are known as opioid analgesics and are licensed medicines that are used to treat pain. Codeine and some related medicines are also sometimes prescribed to suppress dry coughs or for diarrhoea.
A photo of dried brown scarified poppy seed heads.
Opium is released from the scarified seed heads.

Many new opioid drugs have been developed that are derived from morphine and codeine. A number of these drugs are in clinical use for pain and to suppress coughs. They are also used to assist people who have become addicted to the illegal drug heroin that is made from morphine. These medicines include dihydrocodeine, pholcodine and methadone.

Repeated administration of opioid analgesics may cause dependence and tolerance. Common side effects of opioid analgesics include nausea, vomiting, constipation and drowsiness. Opioids such as morphine should be used with caution in those with liver or kidney disorders, asthma or other respiratory problems or those with a history of drug abuse. Opioids can interact with a number of other prescribed medicines and cause side effects or reduce the effectiveness of other beneficial prescribed medicines.

This information is provided for general interest only. It is not intended as guidance for medicinal use. Further information on using herbal medicines is available.