Cultivating Opium Poppies

When a friend of mine lived in the south west of England, he would often celebrate summer with a fortnight or so of smoking opium, produced from a crop he grew in his own garden.

I have no intention of replicating this, but I do wonder: If I were to grow opium poppies (legally and freely avaliable in this country) up here in Scotland, would they be potent enough to produce said drug?

To stop this thread being closed, I reiterate that I have no intention of doing such a thing, and neither does anyone else that I am aware of. And, furthermore, even if I did so it would be legal in this country unless they were prepared. In fact, opium poppies are a very common sight in well done up gardens a bit earlier in the year.

Phew, more of this post is disclaimer than question!

How To Grow Opium Poppies

Yes, they would be potent enough.

As a side note the legal situation here is (as I understand it) sort of weird. Basically, you can see opium poppies growing all over the place, and you can even buy the seeds at any nursery (the horticultural kind). However, they’re not called opium poppies, but instead have a different, innocuous name. It’s perfectly legal to grow them as long as you don’t know that they’re really opium poppies. That is, if I told my mother what she’s got in her backyard, I’d make her into a criminal.

Given that heroin is one of the biggest targets of the US DEA, why is this plant legal while other, much less dangerous drugs like Marijuana, are not?

Yes, you can grow poppies that can produce opium, and in fact the same poppies are used to make poppy-see bagels, as Cecil described here. And if you have access to the archives of Harper’s Magazine, take a look at an article written by Michael Pollan in the April 1997 issue, where he described attempts at cultivating these poppies and how the government responded.

From what I have read, getting the raw opium from the poppies is a labor intensive process. You can’t just munch down a poppy and get stoned, as you can with marijuana. In fact, parts of the poppy flower are very poisonous. The DEA says at least 90% of the world’s opium and heroin comes Afghanistan, where farm hands work more cheaply that anyone in the US or the UK would. The DEA also says the Afghan crop this year is bigger than ever before, so the street level prices are down.

Aside from the satisfaction a gardener gets from consuming a crop he grew himself, there’s no practical reason to grow your own. The black market product is much cheaper. As for risk, it’s probably less conspicuous to buy it from a dealer than to be crawling around with a razor blade in a whole backyard full of poppies.

Here is an article by a person who was buying poppies from E-bay, and using them to make opium tea.

Confessions of an Ebay Opium Addict

I get Harper’s but I don’t have access to back issues. What does the government do?

Very doubtful. The types under garden cultivation are bred to produce attractive flowers, not opiate compounds.

Even if there was sufficient active principle in the modern hybrids, you’d need a lot of plants to yield even a small quantity of opium. I suspect the amateurs supposedly getting high off poppy seed tea are either faking it or falling for the placebo effect.

Some garden seed catalogues (domestic and foreign) will not sell poppy seeds to the U.S. public because of uncertainty over DEA enforcement. Some will. The rule apparently is that you can buy the seeds, but you’re not supposed to grow them (every once in a while some granny will get her plants seized by overzealous drug agents). The whole thing is pretty ridiculous. The chance of poppy hybrids being a useful source of dope is probably much lower than your odds of getting high on wild Midwestern hemp plants.

My friend assures me that two days out of action is not attirbutable to a placebo effect.

But perhaps he or she was lucky growing them where they did. My question is really about the effects that soil and climate have on the poppies.

I don’t remember exactly, but if you subscribe, you should be able to read the article via the online archives.

Do they have orange flowers? I recall here in the midwest, a rather large (several dozen acres?) operation was discovered by an astonished pilot. The landowner/farmers (immigrants from golly knows where) feigned ignorance and I’m not sure how the case ended up.

Pollan’s article is available for free on his website.

Yes, here’s a link to the page of thumbnails for the article. I, too, subscribe to Harpers, but am too lazy to find my login stuff for the site. Maybe later.

“Out of action” could also describe an extended period hunched over the toilet, barfing (nausea and vomiting are common side effects with refined opiate compounds, and one wonders what the other alkaloids present in poppy seeds would do in this regard).

You might be better off smoking banana skins. :dubious:

IIRC, the caretakers at Monticello used to always be very careful to maintain the gardens exactly as Thomas Jefferson had done when he was a resident. This was until the DEA came in to inform them that they had to remove the opium plants, which Mr. Jefferson personally introduced to the property.

Hmm…this site places the incident in 1991.

Although it’s sometimes the case that there’s an either/or tradeoff (as in fibre hemp vs dope), I don’t think it’s necessarily universally true that breeding for one set of traits will result in a diminishment of others. It can happen, it often does happen, but I think it would be false to assume it must.

If someone had purposely been testing and selecting low-alkaloid-yield strains for the flower breeding stock, then yes, I would expect ornamental cultivars to be generally low in alkaloids, but to be honest, I think a lot of garden cultivars of this particular species haven’t even been the subjects of particularly intensive selection - the ordinary farmed-for-opium version is in fact quite showy, and includes quite a range of colours from blood red through pinks to white.

I have occasionally harvested the P. somniferum that grow like weeds in Seattle, for recreational purposes. FWIW, the nauseating effect usually outweighs the recreation. Not that big a kick, to get mildly euphoric before you throw up.

There are many plants that people commonly grow that have, or can have psychoactive, somatic or other drug effects. Even simple lettuce can apparently produce opiate like compounds. There are many common houseplants that contain some very serious toxins/poisons.

I think that many (most?) poppies produce opiate compounds in their seed pods in varying amounts. Very few (less than a fraction of 1 percent, I assume) are grown for any but decorative reasons (In Europe, North America, at least).

Canabis, on the other hand is almost entirely grown for the drug value. Hemp is a related plant and does not contain nearly any THC.

There is obviously an ambiguity that allows certain plants and illegalises others.

History, tradition, ease of processing and common knowledge of the plants “secret” properties may be one of the primary reasons that many plants remain legal even if they contain drug or drug precursors. Can you imagine what the Lettuce growers would do if Nancy Reagan appeared on TV saying “Just say no to Iceberg!”?


I predict SBSO’s next thread will be “Weaponized anthrax: hard to make?”