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Updated on February 8, 2022

Opium - Side Effects, Risks, & Treatment

What Is Opium?

Opium is a highly addictive and potent illegal narcotic. It can be used to relieve pain. It also can be used for its euphoric properties and the "high" it causes.

Opium is an ancient drug. Many civilizations have used it throughout the world for over 8,000 years.

Opium is a derivative of the opium poppy plant (Papaver somniferum). It the base of legal opioid prescription drugs such as:

It is also a primary component of the illegal drug heroin.

More than half of the 632,331 drug overdose deaths in the United States from 1999-2016 involved opioids

What Does Opium Look Like?

In its raw form, opium extraction from seed capsules of the poppy plant is a milky substance called "latex." The latex is processed and manufactured into various opioid products.

These products can be smoked, injected, drunken, snorted, or taken in tablet form.

Opium Poppy Plants
Opium Poppy Plants
Opium Milky
Opium Plant Dripping "Latex"

Opium
Processed Opium
Opium Tincture
Opium Tincture

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Opium Side Effects

Common side effects of opium use include:

  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Euphoria
  • Tiredness
  • Headache
  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dry mouth
  • Flushing
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness nad lightheadedness
  • Low blood pressure
  • Itching and rash
  • Seizure
  • Red eyes

Alert your doctor right away for medical advice if you have more serious side effects such as:

  • Agitation
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Blurred vision
  • Severe stomach pain / abdominal pain
  • Difficulty urinating

Seek medical help immediately if you experience very serious side effects including:

  • Fainting
  • Seizures
  • Slow or shallow breathing
  • Extreme tiredness / inability to stay awake

Opium can pass into breast milk and can affect nursing babies. If you are pregnant or plan on becoming pregnant speak with your doctor. Request full drug information before starting any opioid medications.

Before using any derivative of opium, be sure to give your doctor your full medical history.

This is especially important if you or your family has any history of:

  • Brain disorders
  • Breathing problems
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Drug use
  • Stomach problems
  • Prostate, pancreas, or gallbladder issues

Medical Use

Currently, many FDA-approved opioid medications treat moderate-to-severe pain. They come in many different forms and have varying levels of potency.

The drug attaches opioid receptors in the brain and suppresses pain signals sent to the brain. These receptors control the central nervous system (CNS).

However, too much of the drug can suppress the CNS to the point of slowed breathing. It can drop to dangerously low levels, or stop altogether.

Opioids can be highly addictive. They alter behavior and motivation within the brain. Doctors use caution when prescribing opioids. Patients must follow their prescriptions strictly.

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Illegal Use

Illegal use of opioids is a significant problem throughout the world, particularly in the U.S. The illicit drug trade of heroin and pure opium is thriving.

Legal prescription drugs are often misused or stolen and then sold.

Most people who use opioids illegally are doing so to get "high" from their euphoric effects. Some have become addicted to prescription opioids and search for cheaper alternatives.

Risks of Opium

There are many risk of opium use, including dependence, withdrawal symptoms, and a high risk for addiction:

Dependence

Dependence is a term used to describe a person's physical and psychological loss of control. Dependence occurs when a person abuses or misuses this drug, among others.

Abuse or misuse of the drug will occur when a patient:

  • Takes more of the drug than prescribed
  • Takes medicine without a prescription altogether
  • Uses it in any way other than intended

Once dependent, a person will experience symptoms of withdrawal if they abruptly stop taking the drug. Opioids are highly potent drugs, so the withdrawal symptoms can be severe.

These may include:

  • A strong craving for the drug
  • Profuse sweating and clamminess
  • Runny nose
  • Chills and goosebumps
  • Muscle spasms
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Depression
  • Psychosis
  • Agitation and irritability
  • Hallucinations
  • Homicidal or suicidal thoughts
  • Insomnia

Addiction

Opioids have a high potential for drug abuse and addiction. People who get addicted chemically alter their behavior. They find themselves constantly thinking about the drug and will pursue it at all costs.

People who have an opioid prescription are in pain. So it may be challenging to identify someone as addicted.

The drug is legal, so the symptoms of addiction may be subtle. For many people taking the drug, addiction sets in unknowingly.

Other times addiction may be painfully obvious. Illegal opioids are highly potent and often taken in ways to maximize the "high."

The symptoms of addiction can include:

  • Depression
  • Neglect of personal relationships and isolation
  • A decline in fulfilling responsibilities at work and home
  • Visible fatigue and drifting off
  • Strong desire to use the drug
  • Frequent visits to the ER to coax doctors into writing them a prescription
  • Mood swings
  • Apathy
  • Lapses in memory
  • Decreased appetite and weight loss
  • Financial or legal problems
  • Visiting different physicians to obtain opioid prescriptions (doctor shopping)
  • Seemingly distant or "nodding out"

Overdose

An opium overdose can cause severe symptoms and even death. It is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant.

Large quantities become toxic. It drastically affecting vital systems in the body, especially breathing.

Initial symptoms of overdose include:

  • Vomiting and stomach cramps
  • Slurred speech and loss of basic motor functions
  • Slow pulse and low blood pressure
  • Pin-point-shaped pupils
  • Blue lips and fingertips
  • Cold to the touch
  • Clammy skin
  • Seizure

A person's breathing slows to a dangerously low pace. This causes a lack of oxygen to the brain and other vital organs.

In many cases, breathing stops altogether, resulting in permanent, irreversible damage to the brain and other organs. It can even cause coma or death. Immediate medical attention is required.

The drug Naloxone, an opioid agonist, is often used to remove opioids from the brain's receptors and counteract its effects. It is fast-acting, so people normally experience instant withdrawal symptoms.

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Treatment Options for Opioid Abuse & Addiction

Opioid use disorder is challenging to overcome. Fortunately, there are several options for help.

These include:

Medication-Assisted Therapy (MAT)

There are three types of medication-assisted therapy for opioid use disorder:

  • Buprenorphine
  • Methadone
  • Naltrexone

Buprenorphine and methadone help manage withdrawal symptoms as you detox.

Naltrexone blocks the receptors that opioids bind to, making it impossible to get high from them.

Medication-assisted therapy (MAT) is most effective when combined with other treatments.

Inpatient Programs 

Inpatient programs are the most intensive addiction treatment options.

These programs guide you through:

  • Medically supervised detoxification
  • Behavioral therapy
  • Other services like medication-assisted therapy

They typically last 30, 60, or 90 days. However, they may be longer if necessary.

Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHPs)

Intensive outpatient programs are the next level of addiction treatment. These programs provide similar services to inpatient programs such as detoxification and behavioral therapy.

The difference is that the patient will return home to sleep. Some programs also include transportation and meals.

PHPs are ideal for new patients and those who have completed inpatient treatment but still need intensive care.

Outpatient Programs

Outpatient programs provide well-rounded treatment for people with a high motivation to recover. These programs are flexible and can be made around your schedule. They can also be customized to work best for you.

These programs work for new patients and those that complete an inpatient or partial hospitalization program.

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Resources

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  1. Opium. 26 June 2019, https://adf.org.au/drug-facts/opium/
  2. Center, AuthorsSubmit. “An 8,000-Year History of Use and Abuse of Opium and Opioids: How That Matters For A Successful Control Of The Epidemic ? (P4.9-055).” Neurology, 9 Apr. 2019, https://n.neurology.org/content/92/15_Supplement/P4.9-05.
  3. “Heroin.” Truth, https://www.thetruth.com/categories/heroin/fact
  4. https://www.fda.gov/media/116265/download

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