Some similarities to : Garden Cultivar varieties of Poppies.
The plant exists only in 2 sub-species: the main one, Papaver somniferum ssp. somniferum and Papaver somniferum ssp. setigerum) where the rays on the stigma overlap each other in the centre.
Uniquely identifiable characteristics : there is no other plant quite like this, (apart from the other sub-species Papaver somniferum ssp. setigerum)
Poppy seeds have been put to use within fireworks, to create a myriad of tiny sparks which fly off in all directions.
Opium Poppy is the plant from which opium, a cocktail of dangerous drugs, was first obtained. The seed head and stems, when cut, exudes a milky white latex which contains opium. This should not be touched.
Surprisingly the seeds themselves, sold as Poppy Seeds, are non-poisonous and do not contain opiate alkaloids in any significant quantity as is likely to be consumed. They are used in dressing the tops of baked products such as buns, muffins, cakes and other confectionery. Poppy Seed Oil is obtained by compression of the seeds and used as a cooking oil, the principle flavour being due to 2-pentylfuran.
Opium Poppy is still grown commercially for the pharmaceutical drugs it contains. After refining Morphine and Codeine can be extracted directly. Sometimes these are used as pre-cursors in a chemical process to derive secondary drugs, such as diamorphine, etorphine, buprenophrine, naltrexone, naloxone, nalbuphine, oxymorphone and oxycodone but these, being derivatives, are beyond the scope of this tome (but see below). Most of these act to depress the Central Nervous System and reduce pain. The morphine-like drugs act on the same receptors in the brain as do enkephalins, natural pain-killers found within the brain.
The two genes that enable the production of opium and codeine have now been identified. Placing these genes in other organisms, such as bacteria or yeasts, will enable the production of these pharmaceuticals at much lower cost and without using agricultural land which would be better suited to growing food. On a World-Wide basis, growing Opium Poppy for pharmaceutical opiates currently (2014) occupies 280,000 hactares of land.
The milky latex contains a mixture of dangerous opiate alkaloids, the three most significant being Morphine, Codeine and Thebain. In particular, it contains no Cocaine, which is a different kind of alkaloid altogether. Codeine is used as pharmaceutically as an analgesic and anti-tussive drug, and for this purpose is obtained from Opium Poppy.
Morphine is present in opium at about 10% - 12%.
The concentration of codeine in opium is far less at between about 0.3% to 3%. Codeine is a very close relative of Morphine, and is possibly the most widely available over-the-counter pain-relieving (analgesic) drug on sale, usually being mixed with paracetamol. In the human body, codeine is converted into morphine, which is the modus operandus of this drug, and endows it with a wide safety margin. It is also safer than morphine in unscrupulous hands. However, 2% of the population exhibit a greater metabolism of codeine into morphine (particularly children) and those patients may suffer from overdose.
Thebaine is a minor constituent of opium, and although chemically similar to both morphine and codeine, it actually has the opposite effect on the Central Nervous System: it stimulates rather than depresses it, and at higher doses causes strychnine-like convulsions. It is not used pharmacologically, but can be converted chemically into many other commercial drugs that are. It is itself a controlled Class A drug.
The only difference between the three is the differing substitution of hydroxyl group(s) for methoxy group(s), and that the lowest 6-membered ring of Thebaine has 2 double-bonds (whereas in the other two opiates there is only a single double bond).
Papaverine, a benzylisoquionoline, is another opiate alkaloid found within the sap of Opium Poppy, but has both very different chemical structure and different pharmacological action. It is used pharmaceutically to treat spasms, but there are moves afoot to withdraw it from the market because of lack of evidence of effectiveness. Papaverine inhibits the enzyme phosphodiesterase and thus acts to relax smooth muscle, dilate blood vessels and reduce muscle spasms.
Noscapine, aka Narcotine or Anarcotine, is another opiate alkaloid found naturally within the Opium Poppy. Abundance in Opium Poppy seeds is between 2% and 10%. Structurally it is similar to morphine with lactone-ring modifications. Used as a cough suppressant it also exhibits anti-cancer activity which is now being investigated to determine whether it can be deployed effectively. It may also be useful in stroke victims.
In theory, about 2500 opiates can exist, and some may have desirable medicinal properties where the undesirable side-effects of opium are either reduced or eliminated. But synthesizing opiates is very intricate. A new yeast has now been genetically engineered which is capable of producing the main pre-cursor molecule of all opiates, S-Reticuline, by the brewing process using sugar, but yields are so-far low. S-Reticuline is itself present in Opium, and has similar effects to Opium.
a SYNTHETIC OPIATE and ANTIDOTE
Opium Poppys (of a differing variety from those grown in Afghanistan for the illegal drugs trade) are being legally grown since 2009 in Dorset by a farmer for the Scottish drugs manufacturer Macfarlan Smith, who then refine and process the opioids into several pharmaceuticals (such as Morphine and Codeine) for the National Health Service. They are being grown on set-aside land on a private estate owned by Conservative MP Richard Drax, upon which nothing much else will grown in any case. Macfarlan Smith were the first to synthesize the non-naturally occurring opiate Etorphine.
Etorphine, a semi-synthetic opiate, is between 1000 to 3000 times more potent an analgesic than is Morphine, but it is only used by the veterinary profession and not for use on humans. It is often used to immobilise elephants and other large animals because of the speed at which its effects take place and because there is an extremely effective antidote, Diprenorphine, which reverses the effects with speed.
Etorphine is highly potent, and its high potency means sufficient dose can be administered by a single hypodermic dart, but it exhibits severe side effects (such as cardiopulmonary depression). However, those side-effects can be mitigated by administration of the antidote. But its use on smaller animals has fallen out of favour by vets, and is now used solely on large mammals such as elephant and rhinoceros.
Diprenorphine is an opiate antagonist which is used as quick-acting antidote for the synthetic opiates Etorphine and Carfentanil which are used to sedate and tranquillise large animals. Dipreorphine is 100 times more potent than the next strongest opiate antagonist Nalorphine, but these are not used on humans because the required dose would be so minuscule as to be hard to measure reliably (although your Author feels sure some homeopathists could come up with some high dilution solute which does not involve there being no antidote whatsoever left!).
Meconic Acid is present at about 5% in several species of Poppy including this, Opium Poppy and Welsh Poppy, but it is pharmacologically inert, having no noticeable effect.