Plants - Drugs Mind - Spirit Freedom - Law Arts - Culture Library  
Is it important to you that the world have accurate information about drugs?
Please donate to support Erowid Center's vision!
Opium FAQ
Opium poppy : Papaver somniferum
by Roo and others
v 1.0 - Unknown Date
minor update Mar 2005, by Erowid
Erowid Note: This FAQ was not authored by Erowid. It may include out-of-date and/or incorrect information. Please check the version date to see when it was most recently revised. It appears on Erowid as part of our historical archives. For current information, see Erowid's summary pages in the substance's main vault.


This information has been gathered from openly available sources.

This FAQ is provided for informational purposes ONLY. The authors, contributors, and editors do not advocate the use of anything described in this document, and accept NO responsibility for any harm that might occur as a result of acting on any of the information contained here. Although good faith effort has been made to ensure the validity of the information contained in this document, no guarantees or assurances of accuracy are provided by anyone. Read at your own risk, act at your own risk.

Revision History

  • 1.2 - Mar 10, 2005 - by Erowid : E suggested removing 'stimulant' from stimulant narcotic phrase.
  • 1.1 - Jan 31, 2005 - by Erowid : Minor typo corrections, added species name for the "common variety [that] has purple petals with a white centre", added version history, updated disclaimer.
  • 1.0 circa ???? - First public release, by Roo, an543201 at


Being no expert on legalities I can suggest you try the following:

The legalities of Papaver cultivation depends entirely on the law in the state where you live. If you live in a city, you might want to check with your local council, who will usually have a list of banned and/ or noxious weeds on file. You could try requesting a list, saying, for example, that you intend to set up a herb garden and want to grow St John's Wort (which is a noxious weed in many places) and would they mind sending you a list?

If you're in a rural area, try one of those Lands/Agriculture department type government agencies for a similar list.

Most Papaver species are legal to grow: some are NOT and are listed merely as weeds, which means that you _must_ take steps to eradicate them on your property and must not _cultivate_ them. In some instances their presence on your property is not a problem PROVIDING that you are not cultivating them directly, i.e. they are classed as weeds, but not noxious weeds. Somniferum is most likely to be problematic, but other papaver spp may also cause legal problems depending on the paranoia of your government agencies.

And it is a question definitely worth following up.


Several varieties of opium yielding poppies exist -- Persian White has the largest bulb and subsequently highest yield. Another more common variety called Hungarian Blue has purple petals with a white centre, often with a bit of yellow in the middle. It is a much easier variety to find than the white, but with smaller pods and a lower opium yield.

Papaver somniferum is basically a winter crop in the Southern hemisphere, preferring cool nights and warm days and will stand slight frosts. It is possible to germinate seeds in summer using plant tissue culture processes and Murashige & Skoog basic medium -- stick the cultures in the fridge until they germinate. I have no successful experiences with planting these on -- possibly due to the short lifecycle of the poppy, but this could be a useful starting point for experiments where the object is to cultivate poppies year round. I have tried to stratify the seed in my refrigerator with a view to inducing germination for early plantings- this has not been successful, but has not seemed to compromise the fertility of the stratified seed in any way.

All poppies like sandy soils (or at least well drained ones) with a little bit of shelter and not too much shade. Prepare beds in advance by digging fertilizers and any claybreak leaving about six weeks between each dig. Cover the beds with mulch and let them sit for a month or so. You CAN fully mulch the beds, and sow into rows where the mulch has been completely removed to about 7cm away from both sides of the seed row. DO NOT MULCH OVER SEEDS OR MULCH TO THE STEMS OF ADULT PLANTS- this makes them susceptible to fungal infestations of the browning-off type!

Plant on or around Mayday (in the Southern hemisphere) by raking into prepared beds. Broadcast seeds or sow thickly in rows. Young poppy plants resemble lettuce seedlings. Stronger plants will become apparent at about 7cm high. Wait until about 10cm high and thin as follows:

Poppies DO like a bit of companionship, so thin around a clump of 2-3 strong plants. Two thinnings about four weeks apart will ensure that plants have enough 'companionship ' (i.e. shelter, shade and whatever allopathic conditions favour clumps as opposed to individual plants). I tend to thin seedlings progressively, over a month or so, leaving only enough room for strong plants to grow into, without leaving vast spaces between plants. Poppies do not like to be moved and it is better to sow directly into beds than to transplant, which can result in stunted growth and a later, shorter flowering season.

Interplanting with ranunculus and/or anemone, which flower at the same time and have a similar leaf and flower formation, may reduce flower visibility: this is important in areas where cultivation of opium poppies is illegal.

Keep the beds well weeded (poppies hate too much competition though shorter type groundcover weeds such as chickweed can keep the soil moist). Keep the water up to them in dry areas. Opium poppies (particularly the purple ones) are weeds in many places and can stand a bit of neglect. For some strange reason the tallest and most vigorous poppies are often the ones that got walked on by accident in their youth.

The plants may look a bit weedy when the flowers start to happen, don't worry, flowering gives the plant a bit of a boost.

You will get a lot of thinnings: young plantlets which have been removed from the garden bed to make room for stronger plants. If you're keen you CAN make use of them. I have references which list young plants 10-20cm high as having up to 71 mg/100g dry weight of alkaloids. This can seem insignificant until you consider that opium is only about 12% alkaloids, and you can end up with a kilo of thinnings or more in your home garden. I estimate a couple of grams of smokeable opium type extract can be extracted using methanol. And given that thinnings usually appear prior to flowering commencing, why would you waste a chance?

On the other hand you CAN drop the thinnings into hot water and allow to steep for 10 minutes, which produces a vile tasting tea. Opium tea, in my humble opinion, is fucked. It tastes horrible, needs fresh flowers to be halfway potent, and does not store well. All alkaloids are apparently present in such a tea in roughly equal proportion to that which occurs in crude opium, but this improves the taste not one whit. Potency varies with opium tea: you can drink a glass and feel nothing, or drink a glass and discover in half an hour that you've had too much. Smoking O is a more immediate route and allows for better dose control. Smokeable O is also easier to store and has a long shelf life.

The alkaloids in papaver somniferum are present in the plant their pure form, and are combined with so called vegetable acids. Combined with acids, alkaloids tend to be more soluble than the free bases. An early method for the extraction of morphine involved addition of calcium chloride to the filtrate of opium 'soup'. The calcium would precipitate the calcium salt of these vegetable acids as a sort of soap scum leaving a crude morphine hydrochloride.

Opium varies in alkaloidal content from batch to batch, and between regions. The British Pharmacoepia 1954 lists Yugoslavian opium as the most potent at 15-17% alkaloid content, followed by opium from Turkey, Iran, and Indian opium was at the bottom of the list with a 9- 10.5% alkaloid content.


As soon as flower petals open, pull them away from the capsule to expose the green seed pod, slice the surface of the pods with a SHARP blade (I find a Stanley blade best) and either place seepage directly onto fresh marijuana which is then dried, or collect the exudation into a vessel (eggcups are good) and store to dry. This operation is best done in the early morning- I've found that yields decrease as the temperature rises.

Another method is to slice the seed heads and wipe the opium onto cigarette papers. You can pull the dried opium latex away from the paper to store in airtight bags at a latter stage. I've found opium is best stored in a dry environment- can't remember whether its hygroscopic or not, but keep it dry for best results.

In a large harvest two layers of extract will form from the opium seepage. Separate the two layers if possible- it may be possible to do this at harvest stage especially with the Persian White variety as the two layers have distinctly different weights- one can be used to enhance the potency of heads or leaf, and the other is a high grade opium product best appreciated on its own.

Discard all sliced poppy heads as trash: they are a legal liability and should they be found a charge of cultivation can more easily be proved. For economy's sake, you can also use the weep at both the edges of the cut stem- best taken by wiping straight onto fresh dope leaves. It's not high quality yield from this cut, but hey, why waste it?

Resist temptation and save the first, last and largest heads to ripen without slicing for next year's seed. You can improve your strain over time, selecting for first, last, largest, most potent, whatever. I have not experienced problems with the strain 'running out' of genetic material as a result of inbreeding, as can happen with pot, or corn, or lotsa other stuff. This does not mean its not a potential concern, and ALWAYS take a chance and outbreed your variety: note results of any improvements and conserve your seed stocks.

You can reslice yesterdays pods if you choose to keep them, though I've found the best way to increase yields is to remove spent flowerheads at the base of the main stem or where the flower stem joins to a larger branch- this encourages new flowers to form. Leave only the capsules you intend to save for seed.

Flowers continue until end October/start November in the southern hemisphere. Usually pod sizes decrease with the age of the plant- though this is not always the case with transplanted poppies. Keep the seeds from your best pods (if you think that you have enough seed to select for yield) or just keep the seed from any old pods (this is a strategy for preserving genetic variance and is the better practice in small crops).

Poppy seeds are VERY tiny, shake or crush the seed pods and remove any non-seed trash for best storage. Place in an airtight jar in a cool place, use one of those wretched drierite sachets you find in vitamin pill jars to absorb moisture, in my view seeds will remain viable for no more than three years even under optimum conditions. So take care to take fresh seedstock for every year.


Opium is the name for the brown waxy exudation from the unripe seed capsules of Papaver somniferum. Opium is a combination of chemicals, not a chemical name in itself, as someone so rightly pointed out in Usenet recently. It's active ingredients are morphine, thebaine, codeine, papaverine and several others besides. Yield and proportions of opiates vary between individual plants, crops, varieties, areas. Other parts of the poppy plant (stems, leaves) produce a latex which dries and resembles opium, but the quality of the latexes from the other parts of the plant are not near as high.

Opium is described as a narcotic. Historically it has been prescribed as a painkiller, for inflammation unaccompanied by dyspnoea, in typhus, typhoid and smallpox etc.



Smoking it regularly can increase your tolerance- faster than you think. The good thing about growing your own opium is that usually by the time you think you've picked up a habit, you run out. The other good thing about growing opium is that it's a fiddly, low yield job, particularly using the easier to get, purple variety. You'd only do it if you were fairly dedicated to having a smoke of O. In the quantities it takes to pull a reasonable crop, it is way too much work for the money or the buzz...not to mention the risk.

The best way to smoke O is in a bong. Assume you've cut and grown your own O: store it in small flakes in an airtight bag, or just dry the heads you wiped it on and smoke them. You can mix O with tobacco or pot, or smoke it on its own.

O burns at a higher temperature than pot or tobacco, so keep your lighter at its hottest. Initially pack small cones as O will keep burning long after your tobacco or pot has gone out: you can waste quite a bit without realising it. The taste is a bit of a shock at first, but the smell of the smoke is a delightful sweetish pungent scent. If you've ever read anything about smoking opium you'll recognise the smell immediately...

My first smoke of O, some years ago now, reminded me of nothing so much as the first time I got stoned on pot. I grinned a lot. I snuggled with a friend as we watched TV. The best thing about an O stone is the lack of paranoia, and it's a stunning sex drug which can prolong orgasm, etc. It's also a great painkiller, given its history of legitimate prescription that's hardly surprising.

As to the amounts you'd start with, it's best left to the individual really, start with a matchead size portion of opium per person and take it from there. The effects of O are fairly immediate, making it easier to calculate an appropriate smoking dose as opposed to say, dropping acid. It is, of course, much easier to overdose via oral dose of opium, which is why I've recommended the smoking route.

The effects of O last 2-3 hours, depending on body size, tolerance, how much you've smoked. I've absolutely no idea as to how long traces stay in your bloodstream. Side effects- well, you sleep well, and next day you experience a certain amount of lassitude if you've had a fair bit, but that's all I'm aware of. I've heard it can cause nausea and constipation and have experienced neither.

Pharmaceutical incompatibles: Astringents, alkaline carbonates, salts of copper, iron, mercury, lead and zinc.

Antidotes to opium poisoning are: stomach pumps, coffee enemas, 1/6 grain apomorphine hydrochloride hypodermically, emetic of zinc sulphate, 5 grains or so of potassium permanganate in a half pint of water. All sounds most unpleasant- just don't take too much in the first place.

You can purify opium further into its constituent alkaloids -- then take the morphine and turn it into smack if you so desire. Wouldn't bother really, opium is a much more pleasant experience overall than heroin. And the skills you'd require are well out of the range of those described in this FAQ. It IS possible though, if you need more information you may well find it.

And yes, I believe it's possible to get out of it on opium seeds, which CAN contain (depending on the seed source, age and your luck) absolutely minute traces of alkaloids. Positively microscopic traces...I estimate, however, that it would be cheaper and far less hassle to go out and buy a'd need that many seeds .......and loads of determination. The presence of alkaloids in opium seeds has been a hotly debated thread on alt.drugs.chemistry for quite some time. Cheers