Did you know that these two highly addictive drugs are both sourced from a flower?
Opium and heroin are both originally derived from the opium poppy plant, but they are two distinct drugs that vary in terms of chemical composition, potency, usage and more.
Opium was historically used as a pain reliever, but has since been replaced with more specific and controlled medications. Heroin’s medical use is extremely limited throughout the world, and is illegal in most countries due to its high potential for abuse and addiction.
In this article, we’re going to take a closer look at the primary differences between opium and heroin, as well as what to do if you think your loved one is suffering from substance abuse.
What is opium?
Opium is a natural opiate substance that’s derived from the wax of the opium poppy plant.
Because of its natural origins, opium has a long history of ancient medicinal use that dates back centuries. It’s proven to have many uses, including pain relief, sedation, muscle recovery and recreational use (such as through rituals and community gatherings in the ancient world).
Later on, it was still widely used in medicine for its sedative qualities, but is no longer commonly used once more controlled and precise medications were developed for the same purpose.
Nowadays, opium and its derivatives are all considered controlled substances in the United States due to their high potential for dependence, abuse and addiction.
What is heroin?
Heroin, like opium, comes from the poppy plant, but the difference is that heroin doesn’t come directly from the plant, it’s procured from morphine (which is first extracted from opium).
While it may have natural origins, heroin is not a natural substance. It is a highly addictive, semi-synthetic opioid that’s been constructed through chemical modification processes. It’s known to be significantly more potent than morphine and as such, is considered a Schedule I substance in the United States.
This means that in addition to having a high potential for abuse, it has zero accepted medical uses and all offenses with the drug (production, distribution, use) are severe and illegal.
Opium versus heroin: an overview
While both opium and heroin come from the poppy plant, they do have several differences when it comes to their chemical makeup, potency and usage.
The first main difference is the chemical composition and status of each opiate. While both opium and heroin are ultimately sourced from the fully natural, opium poppy plant, only opium is left natural. Heroin is a semi-synthetic opioid product that’s created through various processes.
The second difference is how each substance is derived: opium is extracted directly from the sap of the opium poppy plant, which is often left in its original sticky form, but sometimes ‘cooked’ into other forms. Heroin, on the other hand, is produced by extracting morphine from opium and then chemically (synthetically) processing it into a powder or crystalized form.
The third main difference is the potency of these drugs. Opium is less potent than heroin; it contains many of the same chemicals and still poses risks to the consumer, but the levels of these chemicals are balanced because they’re innate. Heroin is a manmade, chemically altered substance that’s been modified and enhanced in order to produce a heavier intoxication; it’s believed to be up to four times more potent than morphine.
Both opium and heroin are considered controlled substances in most countries and are closely regulated if they are used for any medical purposes, due to how highly addictive they are. Even in the cases where pharmaceutical opioids may be prescribed or temporarily administered, they always pose significant health risks and many potential mental or physical health complications.
What to do now
Opioids, both legal and prescription, are involved in the majority of all drug overdoses that occur nowadays, and a dependence on or recreational use of opium or heroin can lead to serious health issues and even death.
Some people experience fear, uncertainty, embarrassment or even anger at the thought of seeking professional help; if it feels uncomfortable (or even wrong), know that you’re not alone. Many demographics still perpetuate stereotypes around seeking help, especially for men, and breaking free of those untrue thought patterns takes time, let alone healing from addiction.
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Detoxification is only the beginning, but you can rest assured knowing you’ll have a comprehensive aftercare plan to support you into the next phases of recovery. While you’ll face various challenges throughout recovery, one stable truth is that you’re never alone.
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