Opium as Gift of God

Publication Year: 
1994

Image retrieved from opium.com on August 23rd, 2013.

Many physicians of past centuries considered opium divine in origin. A plant capable of such miraculous deeds seemed supernatural. Today, the belief persists because of some startling similarities between opium and certain chemicals produced in the human body.
The effects of opium are closely related to a number of brain chemicals known collectively as endorphins, which stimulated different areas of the brain known as endorphin receptors. All vertebrate animals (and even some invertebrates) have the same system of endorphins and endorphin receptors in essentially the same parts of the brain and in the same concentrations. From what we know of the evolution of the human brain, it is clear that this system of opioid (opium-like) chemicals has been with our species for a long time and is at least as important for the survival of our species as our ability to manufacture antibodies or blood cells.
Opium, that complex mass of alkaloids, is more than just plant juice to the human body. It can be thought of as a guide to understanding our bodies, and a sort of yardstick for some of our most delicate and important brain functions. Opium is related to much of our basic brain chemistry rather like the earth's water is uncannily related to the human body, Sea water is of roughly the same salinity as human blood and the earth's surface is covered by about two thirds water -- the same proportion that makes up each cell in the human body.
Each of the many constituents of opium (see Figure 8-1) has an effect on our brains. Various combinations of these ingredients have different effects still. This interplay of chemicals is mirrored in the brains own natural chemicals that are so similar to opium chemicals as to be practically interchangeable. Opium's chemical structure is so astonishingly similar to chemicals we need to survive, it seems impossible that it could be a coincidence. That the poppy contains opium is as miraculous as slicing open an exotic fruit and using its juice as a substitute for blood.
The body's own version of opium--endorphins--is not a single entity and neither is opium. Morphine may appear to be the most "important" constituent of opium but that is a gross simplification. Opium could not be what it is without morphine but to ascribe its powers to this single alkaloid is like saying bloods's most crucial ingredient is water. You could make that argument (dry blood would be pretty useless, after all, and saline solution can act as a stopgap in case of blood loss), but it falls far short of accounting for blood or its functions.
Yet something like this has become to the prevailing view of opium.
Unfortunately, the emphasis science has put on morphine (and its chemical cousins) has obscured the true nature of opium. Today the Western world thinks of opium as nothing but a crude substance exuded by an exotic plant. It's possible to make drugs out of it even essential ones, but our modern world prefers its own, more "miraculous" products of high technology. To the Western world today, poppies have become forbidden fruit, linked in the public mind with illegal drugs only.

pp. 28-29 of Opium for the Masses by Jim Hogshire (1994)

opium poppy, opium, poppy, analgesic, pain killer, anti-depressant, endorphin
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