DARK Classics in Chemical Neuroscience: Opium, a Historical Perspective
Opium is the latex from the opium poppy Papaver somniferum L., which humankind has utilized since ancient Mesopotamia all the way to modern times. Opium used to be surrounded in divine mystery or magic-like abilities and was given to cure a wide variety of diseases until its analgesic, antitussive, and antidiarrheal properties were understood, the resulting alkaloids were isolated, and their structure and properties unmasked. Opium went from being sold in any store front in the form of pills or tinctures with no prescription necessary for purchase or smoked in an opium den down the street, to then bringing about consumer advocacy and the right to know what is in a medication. Legislation was created to limit the prescribing and selling of medications to doctors and pharmacists as well as outlawing opium dens and smoking opium. This review focuses primarily on the uses of opium throughout history, the isolation of the principle alkaloids, and their structure elucidation.