Other Names

Opiate, opiates, opium compounds

The study of opium and the isolation of its constituents

ranks among the most important achievements

in the history of pharmacology (cf. Papaver

somniferum). In ancient times, opium was already

known as the best of all analgesics (cf. soporific

sponge). The isolation of morphine from opium

revolutionized pain therapy in Europe. No other

component of opium has a comparably powerful

effect. The potency of morphine would not be

exceeded until heroin (diacetylmorphine) was

synthesized (Snyder 1989). Subsequent pharmacological

research has led to the creation of

numerous morphine analogs (fentanyls), some of

which are as much as 7,500 times more potent

than morphine (Sahihi 1995,31 ff.*).

The opium alkaloids codeine and morphine

have become culturally significant as psychoactive

substances. Papaverine is used in medicine as a

treatment for impotence.

Some opium alkaloids are also found in other

Papaver species (Papaver spp.), although these

species usually contain only traces of these substances

(Khanna and Sharma 1977; Ktippers et al.

1976; Phillipson et al. 1973; Phillipson et al. 1976).

Aporphines, whose structures are analogous to

those of the opium alkaloids, occur in Papaver

fugax Poir. [syn. Papaver caucasicum M.-B., Papaver

floribundum Desf.] and Nymphaea ampla. Other

substances related to the opium alkaloids are

present in Argemone mexicana, Eschscholzia californica,

Nuphar lutea, and Papaver spp.

See also the entries for Argemone mexicana, Papaver

somniferum, Papaver spp., codeine, morphine, and


Khanna, P., and G. 1. Sharma. 1977. Production of

opium alkaloids from in vitro tissue culture of

Papaver rhoeas 1. Indian Journal ofExperimental

Biology 15:951-52.

Krikorian, A. D., and M. C. Ledbetter. 1975. Some

observations on the cultivation of opium poppy

(Papaver somniferum 1.) for its latex. Botanical

Review 41:30-103.

Ktippers, F. J. E. M., C. A. Salmink, M. Bastart, and

M. Paris. 1976. Alkaloids of Papaver bracteatum:

Presence of codeine, neopine and alpinine.

Phytochemistry 15:444-45.

Phillipson, J. D., S. S. Handa, and S. W. EI-Dabbas.

1976. N-oxides of morphine, codeine and

thebaine and their occurrence in Papaver species.

Phytochemistry 15:1297-1301.

Phillipson, J. D., G. Sariyar, and T. Baytop. 1973.

Alkaloids from Papaver fugax of Turkish origin.

Phytochemistry 12:2431-34.

Scully, Rock, with David Dalton. 1996. An American

odyssey: Die legendare Reise von Jerry Garcia und

den Grateful Dead. St.Andra-Wordern: Hannibal


Snyder, Solomon H. 1989. Brainstorming: The science

and politics ofopiate research. Cambridge and

London: Harvard University Press.

The Constituents of Opium

The composition of the alkaloid mixture can

vary greatly, depending upon the strain of poppy,

the location of cultivation, and the processing

technique (Krikorian and Ledbetter 1975).

1. Isocholine derivates

laudanindine (= tritopine)*  
narceine (= narceinum) 0.1-0.2%
1-narcotine (= narcotine = noscapine) 1-11%
papaverine 0.5-10%
protopine* (also in Papaver rhoeas,  
Argemone mexicana, and  
Eschscholzia californica)  
xanthaline (= papaveraldine)*  
II. Bases that yield phenanthrene derivatives when broken down  
codeine 0.2-4%
morphine 2.8-23%
thebaine (also in Papaver bracteatum) 0.1-4%
III. Other bases  
oripavine* (also in Papaver orientale)  
Alkaloids marked with * are present in only trace amounts.  

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