Heroin Plant

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Heroin is an opioid drug made from morphine, a natural substance produced from the pod of the opium poppy plants grown in the southeast and southwest Asia, Mexico, and Colombia. Heroin can be a white or brown powder or a black sticky substance known as black tar heroin. People inject, snort, or smoke heroin. All ways of use can quickly enter the bloodstream, instantly causing a person to feel high. This intense high is what leads to heroin being very addictive.

In 2021, 1.1 million people aged 12 and older reported using heroin in the past 12 months.

Guardian Recovery will discuss what heroin is, what plants heroin is derived from, and how to seek addiction treatment.

If you or someone you love has a heroin use disorder, Guardian Recovery is available to help. We are dedicated to providing the most comprehensive and individualized medically monitored detox program. To learn more about our programs, contact us today.

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What Plant Is Heroin Derived From?

Heroin originates from the Asian poppy plant found in southeast and southwest Asia, Mexico, and Columbia.

Heroin, like opium and morphine, is made from the seed pod of poppy plants. Milky, sap-like opium is first removed from the pod of the poppy flower. This opium is refined to make morphine, then further refined into different forms of heroin.

Heroin is not only highly addictive and illegal but incredibly dangerous, as many people die from overdose and toxicity yearly. In 2020, more than 13,000 people died from an overdose involving heroin in the United States.

Heroin is sold in black tar, brown powder, and white powder. Each kind of heroin contains slightly different ingredients, and all likely have various other substances added. These can add to the drug’s potency, sometimes making it even more dangerous.

Over the past two decades, rates of heroin abuse, addiction, and overdose have climbed throughout the United States. Men and women of all ages, demographics, and personal backgrounds have been deeply affected by what is now known as a nationwide opioid epidemic.

The Heroin Poppy Plant (Papaver Somniferum)

The poppy plant produces opium, a powerful drug whose variations include morphine, codeine, heroin, and oxycodone. Also described as a narcotic, it refers to opium, opium alternatives, and synthetic substitutes. These drugs are used medically to treat pain, suppress cough, alleviate diarrhea, and induce anesthesia. However, they are some of the most addictive substances on Earth.

The earliest reference to opium growth and use is in 3,400 B.C. when the opium poppy was first harvested in Mesopotamia. The Sumerians soon passed it on to the Assyrians, who, in turn, passed it on to the Egyptians. As people learned of the power of opium, demand for it increased.

Where Does the Poppy Plant Grow?

Today, heroin’s production process for drug traffickers begins with planting opium poppy seeds. Opium is grown mainly by farmers on small plots in remote regions. It flourishes in dry, warm climates, and most opium poppies are produced in a narrow, 4,500-mile stretch of mountains extending across central Asia from Turkey through Pakistan and Burma. Recently, opium has grown in Latin America, notably Colombia, and Mexico.

What Do Poppy Plants Look Like?

The Wizard of Oz made poppies famous when Dorothy and her friends fell asleep as they crossed the field of red poppies. These flowers can also come in shades of pink, purple, and white. Poppies have five delicate petals. The petals form the shape of a cup, with the flowers reaching up to four inches in diameter on large plants. A few days after blooming, the petals of the opium poppy fall away, leaving their seed pod behind. The green seed pods grow to the size of a golf ball, gradually turning brown over time. The pods contain hundreds of seeds each, which the pod releases.

Historical Uses of Opium & Poppy Plants

As mentioned, opium was first discovered in 3,400 B.C. It originated in Mesopotamia and then quickly spread throughout Asia and Egypt. These ancient societies used opium to help people sleep, relieve pain, and calm crying, children. There is also some evidence that opium-based medicines were used as anesthesia during surgery. They may also have used the drug recreationally, though they probably weren’t aware of its addictive effects.

The Opium Wars broke out in the 1700s. This conflict consisted of China’s attempts to suppress opium use within its borders and British efforts to keep opium trafficking routes open. In each case, the Chinese lost, and Europe gained power and control over the right to sell and profit from opium.

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The Process of Extracting Morphine From Opium Seeds

After three months of planting the poppy seed plants, brightly colored flowers bloom. As the petals fall away, an egg-shaped pod is left remaining. Inside the pod is milky sap. This is opium in its most simple form. The sap is extracted by slitting the pod vertically with a curved knife. The sap oozes out as a thick brownish-black gum, and the farmer then wraps the gum up in bricks with leaves over the top. The remaining process is sent to be completed in a morphine refinery.

Raw Opium Sap & Morphine

Not all opium is used to produce heroin, as large quantities of raw opium are used for “prepared opium.” The primary use of prepared opium is for smoking. In addition, there are considerable quantities of opium poppy grown for legitimate purposes. These uses include the isolation of opium for medicinal purposes, extracting oils from the seed, and using the seed as food. For instance, a cold pressing of the poppy seed yields a white oil used partly as olive oil and as a flavoring agent in cooking. Additionally, the use of the poppy seed as a condiment on bakery goods is widely practiced, and the seed cake, which is left after pressing, is used as animal food. Opium is generally encountered in four recognized forms: raw opium, prepared opium, opium sap, and medicinal opium.

What Are Other Drugs Produced From Opium?

The poppy plant not only produces opium, but additional variations, including oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl, codeine, and methadone. Below, Guardian Recovery will describe each drug and its use.

Oxycodone

Oxycodone is used to relieve moderate to severe pain. It relieves severe pain in people who need pain medication continuously and cannot be treated with other medicines. It should not be used to treat pain that can be controlled by medication that is taken as needed. Oxycodone extended-release tablets, capsules, and concentrated solution should only be used to treat people who are tolerant to opioid drugs because they have taken this medication for at least one week. Oxycodone is in a class of medications called opiate (narcotic) analgesics. It changes how the brain and nervous system respond to pain.

Hydrocodone

Hydrocodone is used to relieve severe pain. Hydrocodone is only used to treat people who are expected to need medication to relieve severe pain continuously and cannot be treated with other drugs or treatments. Hydrocodone extended-release (long-acting) capsules or extended-release tablets should not be used to treat pain that can be controlled by medication that is taken as needed. Hydrocodone is in a class of drugs called opiate (narcotic) analgesics. It changes how the brain and nervous system respond to pain.

Fentanyl

Fentanyl, a prescription opioid 100 times more powerful than morphine, is sometimes used to cut heroin or other street drugs. It may also be made into tablets that look like prescription medication. Many overdoses have occurred because people did not know that what they were taking was contaminated with fentanyl.

Codeine

Codeine is used to relieve mild to moderate pain. It is also used to reduce coughing, usually in combination with other medications. Codeine will help relieve symptoms but will not treat the cause of symptoms or speed recovery. Codeine belongs to a class of drugs called opiate (narcotic) analgesics and to a class of medications called antitussives. When codeine is used to treat pain, it works by changing the way the brain and nervous system respond to pain. When codeine is used to reduce coughing, it works by decreasing the activity in the part of the brain that causes coughing.

Methadone

Methadone relieves severe pain in people who are expected to need pain medication around the clock for a long time and who cannot be treated with other medicines. It also is used to prevent withdrawal symptoms in patients who are addicted to opiate drugs and are enrolled in treatment programs to stop taking or continue not taking the pills. Methadone is in a class of medications called opiate (narcotic) analgesics. Methadone works to treat pain by changing the way the brain and nervous system respond to pain. It works to treat people addicted to opiate drugs by producing similar effects and preventing withdrawal symptoms in people who have stopped using these drugs.

At Guardian Recovery, we understand how difficult heroin withdrawal can be. Often, withdrawal symptoms are so severe that those struggling with heroin addiction return to using within 24 hours. The key to overcoming this obstacle is a medically supervised detox where withdrawal symptoms can be identified and treated immediately. Our team performs an in-depth initial evaluation and tailors a treatment plan unique to each client’s needs and recovery goals. We can provide 24-hour medical supervision and comfort care for our detox clients. Our medical and client support team’s goal is to ensure all clients have a safe and comfortable detox so they can begin the next phase in their recovery journey.

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At Guardian Recovery, we remain dedicated to providing our clients with a comprehensive program of heroin detox — one that focuses on much more than physical stabilization. In addition to emphasizing physical recovery, we tackle mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. While we prioritize a safe and pain-free cocaine withdrawal, we offer individualgroup, and family therapy sessions, case management services, relapse prevention training, and aftercare planning.

Contact us today if you or your loved one is ready to begin an entirely new way of life and commit to long-term recovery. As soon as you call, we start developing a plan of action that begins with an initial pre-assessment. This assessment helps us determine which level of care is the most appropriate for each unique case. We identify potential coverage options if our medically monitored detox program is a good fit. We work closely with most major regional and national insurance providers. Contact us today for a free, no-obligation insurance benefit check.

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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

  1. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/heroin
  2. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/scope-heroin-use-in-united-states
  3. https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/deaths/heroin/index.html#:~:text=In%202020%2C%20heroin%2Dinvolved%20overdose,deaths%20for%20every%20100%2C000%20Americans.
  4. https://museum.dea.gov/exhibits/online-exhibits/cannabis-coca-and-poppy-natures-addictive-plants/opium-poppy
  5. https://www.ojp.gov/pdffiles1/Digitization/141189NCJRS.pdf
  6. https://www.swgdrug.org/Monographs/OPIUM.pdf
  7. https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a682132.html
  8. https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a614045.html
  9. https://www.cdc.gov/stopoverdose/fentanyl/pdf/fentanyl_fact_sheet_508c.pdf
  10. https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a682065.html
  11. https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a682134.html

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave

L.M.H.C.

Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

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Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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