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Poppy & Opium
by Erowid
3400 BCE Opium poppy cultivated in lower Mesopotamia...called Hul Gil, or "joy plant" by the Sumerians. 1  
1300 BCE Egyptians cultivate opium poppies during the reign of Thutmose IV, Akhenaton and King Tutankhamen. They reportedly trade the item across the Mediterranean into Greece and Europe. 1  
1100 BCE On the island of Cyprus, the "Peoples of the Sea" craft surgical-quality culling knives to harvest opium, which they would cultivate, trade and smoke before the fall of Troy. 1  
330 BCE Alexander the Great introduces opium to the people of Persia and India.   
300 BCE Opium used by Arabs, Greeks, and Romans as a sedative and soporific. 2  
160-180 Marcus Aurelius, emperor of Rome, habitually took opium to sleep and to cope with the difficulty of military campaigns. 3  
400 Opium thebaicum, from the Egytpian fields at Thebes, is first introduced to China by Arab traders.    [Details]
c. 1000 China. The medicinal use of opium poppy seeds is widespread. By 1100, the more potent capsule is in use, but pure opium is not extracted from the capsule. 4  
c. 1000 India. Opium is cultivated, eaten, and drunk by all classes as a household remedy; it is used by rulers as an indulgence, and given to soldiers to increase their courage. 4  
1300s Opium disappears from European historical record due to the Holy Inquisition. "In the eyes of the Inquisition, anything from the East was linked to the Devil."    [More Info]
c. 1500 China. The medicinal use of pure opium is fully established; native opium is manufactured, but recreational use is still limited. 4  
c. 1500 India. Earliest western records of opium as a product of India and its widespread use occur. 4  
1526 India. The first Moghul dynasty is founded- poppy cultivation and opium sales become a state monopoly. 4  
1527 Opium is reintroduced into European medical literature by Paracelsus as "laudanum". These black pills or "Stones of Immortality" were made of opium thebaicum, citrus juice and quintessence of gold and prescribed as painkillers. 1  
15th - 16th Century "Syrup of poppy" and other poppy preparations are commonly prepared and used medicinally by monastic communities that devoted major efforts to the production and improvement of herbal medicines.   
Apr 10, 1563 "Conversations on the simples, drugs and materia medica of India" is published by Portuguese physician Garcia de Orta. It discusses Cannabis, Opium, and Nutmeg, among more than 50 medicinal plants and substances.    [Details]
17th Century Use of hashish, alcohol, and opium spreads among the population of occupied Constantinople   
c. 1700 Use of tobacco-opium mixtures (madak) begins in the East Indies (probably Java) spreads to Formosa, Fukien and the South China coast (refs). In 1689, Engelberg Kaempfer inspects primitive dens where the mixture is dispensed (Amoenitates Exoticae, 1712:642-5). 5  
1729 Reports reach Peking of the evils of opium smoking (shrivelling up the features; early deaths) in Formosa and Fukien; Emperor Yung Chen prohibits the sale of opium and the operation of smoking houses. 5  
c. 1750 The British East India Company assumes control of Bengal and Bihar, the opium growing districts of eastern India; British shipping dominates the Bengal opium trade out of Calcutta. 5  
1757 Britain annexes Bengal; the Chinese confine foreign trade to Canton where it can be restricted and controlled in the interests of revenue for the Chinese. Hong Kong merchants serve as intermediaries between the foreigners and the Chinese authorities. 5  
1767 Opium from Bengal continues to enter China despite the edict of 1729 prohibiting smoking. It increases in frequency from 200 chests annually in 1729 to 1000 annually by 1967. However, much is for medicinal use. Tariffs are collected on the opium. 5  
1772 The East India company establishes a limited monopoly over Bengal opium. 5   [Details]
1773 - 1786 Warren Hastings, the first governor general of India, recognizes that opium is harmful and at first opposes increasing production; later he encoiurages the the control of opium by the company hoping that by monopolizing and limiting the supply he will discourage its consumption. This limited monopoly lasts throughout his administration and beyond, but when the Chinese market is discovered, the monopoly shifts from controlling to expanding cultivation. 5  
1779 First mention of actual trading in opium at Canton. 5  
1780 British traders establish an opium depot at Macao. Another imperial edict prohibits consumption of opium and reiterates prohibition of its sale. 5  
1787 Trade in opium is still less important than trade in commodities; directors of the East India Company, recognizing China's objections to the importation of opium, make offers to prohibit the export of Indian opium to China. However, company representatives in Canton declare that the Chinese are never sincere in their declared intentions of suppressing illicit traffic, as long as the officials issue prohibitory edicts with one hand and extend the other to receive bribes from the illegal trade. 5  
1796 Alarmed by increasing use, the emperor of China issues an edict forbiding importation of opium, as well as export of Chinese silver that is being used as a medium of exchange. Now even legitimate trade is limited to barter. Nonetheless, illegal purchase of opium with silver continues. 5  
1797 The East India Company assumes full control of Bengal opium. 5  
1799 A strong edict by authorities at Canton, supporting the emperor's decree of 1796, forbids opium trade at that port. A concurrent drive against native poppy growing is initiated. Opium becomes an illicit commodity. 5  
1799 The 1799 edict increases traffic through Macao and other areas beyond government control enabling UNPRECEDENTED GROWTH. The British declare only their legitimate cargo, leave opium on board to be picked up by Chinese mercahnts who smuggle it ashore in small, fast boats. 5  
1800 Opium becomes identified with official corruption, criminals and antigovernment secret societies. An imperial edict prohibits domestic cultivation and repeats the prohibition against importing opium. China develops an anti-opium policy, at least on paper. Edicts continue to be issued reiterating prohibitions against importation, sale, and consumption of opium. 5  
1800s Patent medicines and opium preperations such as _Dover's Powder were readilly available without restrictions. Indeed, Laudanum (opium mixed with alcohol) was cheaper than beer or wine and readily within the means of the lowest-paid worker. As a result, throughout the first half of the 19th century, the incidence of opium dependance appears to have increased steadily in Enland, Europe and the United States. Working-class medicinal use of opium-bearing _nostrums_ as sedatives for children was especially prominent in England. However, despite some well known cases among 19th century English literary amd creative personalities--Thomas de Quincey, Byron, Shelley, Coleridge, and Dickens--recreational use was limited, and there is no evidence that use was so excessive as to be a medical or social concern. 5  
1800 - 1820 Domestic opium cultivation is encouraged by increased opium use, along with rising prices and problems with adulteration. It declines after the 1820s, but there does not appear to have been any call for controls. 5  
1803 Morphine isolated from poppies by 20-year-old German pharmacist Friedrich Wilhelm Adam Serturner. This may have been the first plant alkaloid ever isolated and set off a firestorm of research into plant alkaloids. Within half a century, dozens of alkaloids, such as atropine, caffeine, cocaine, and quinine, had been isolated from other plants and were being used in precisely measured doseages for the first time. 2  
1804 Opium trading resumes at the port of Canton. Though the 1799 edict is still in force, it has little effect and no immediate practical change in policy ensues. 5  
1834 - 1850 An awareness grows of endemic opium use among Fenish peoples, who both tolerate and successfully control their use by informal social mechanisms. Use is particularly widespread among poorer classes, agricultural populations, the inhabitants of small hamlets and isolated farms, and women and babies. Contemporary observers attribute initiation of use for the rheumatic pains which plague almost everyone in this low-lying marshy area. 5  
1839 Opium and its preparations are responsible for more premature deaths than any other chemical agent. Opiates account for 186 of 543 poisonings, including no fewer than 72 among children. 5  
1850-1865 U.S.: Tens of thousands of chinese laborers immigrate to the U.S. in a period of labor shortage, bringing the habit of opium smoking with them. 5  
1878 U.S.: San Francsico passes an ordinance making it a misdemeanor to "keep, or maintain, or visit, or in any way contribut to the support of any place, house, or room, where opium is smoked." Importation, sales and possession of opium remain legal. 5  
1887 U.S.: The importation of opium by Chinese (but not by Americans) is forbidden. 5  
1900-1906 China: 27% of the adult male population of China is addicted to opium. This is about 3.5% of the total population of the country. 6  
1906 More than 50,000 opium containing medicines have been patented. 7  
1906 Pure Food and Drug Act is passed, regulating the labelling of products containing Alcohol, Opiates, Cocaine, and Cannabis, among others. The law went into effect Jan 1, 1907 8   [Details]
1912 U.S. government publication reports 5,000 fatal poisonings in one year, mostly related to opium and cocaine. 9   [Details]
Dec 17, 1914 The Harrison Narcotics Tax Act is passed, regulating and imposing a tax upon the sale of Opium, Heroin and Cocaine for the first time. The Act took effect Mar 1, 1915. 10   [More Info]
1942 The Opium Poppy Control Act prohibits the possession or growing of the opium poppy without a license.   

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  2.   Reader's Digest. Magic and Medicine of Plants. Reader's Digest, 1986.
  3.   Courtwright DT. Forces of Habit. Harvard U Press. 2001.
  4.   Austin G. "A Chronology of Psychoactive Substance Use".
  5.   NIDA. "Perspectives on the History of Psychoactive Substance Use," Research Issues 24. 1978.
  6.   Durlacher J. Heroin: Its History and Lore. Carlton, 2000.
  7.   Zackon F. The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Drugs: Heroin, The Street Narcotic. Chelsea House, 1992.
  8.   Pure Food and Drug Act. 1906.
  9.   Nahas G. Cocaine: The Great White Plague. Paul S Eriksson. 1989. 59.
  10.   Johanson CE. The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Drugs: Cocaine, A New Epidemic. Burke, 1992.

Opium Throughout History, FrontLine