Papaver somniferum, the Opium Poppy, is one of the few species of Papaver that produces opium. The healing and euphoric effects of opium may have been known and date back as far as 4000 BC. It was referred to as "plant of joy".
In 1803 a German pharmacist named Friedrich Wilhelm Serturner isolated and described the principal alkaloid in opium and named it 'morphine' after Morpheus, the Greek God of dreams. Ironically poppies were used as a symbol of both sleep and death. Sleep because of the milky extract that induces sleep and brings serenity, death because of their blood red color. Myth has it that poppies were used as offerings to the dead and emblems on tombstones symbolizing eternal sleep.
In the United States, opium preparations became available in the 19th century and morphine was used as a painkiller for wounded soldiers during the Civil War. The result was opium addiction, and came to be known as “the army disease” or “soldier’s disease.” This prompted science to search for a potent but nonaddictive painkiller. In 1870 an opium based and supposedly nonaddictive substitute for morphine was developed. Bayer Pharmaceutical of Germany was the first to produce the new drug under the brand name "Heroin".
Studies soon showed heroin to have narcotic and addictive properties far exceeding those of morphine. Bayer marketed heroin as a cure for morphine addiction before it was discovered that heroin is rapidly metabolized into morphine, and as such, "heroin" was basically only a quicker acting form of morphine. The company was somewhat embarrassed by this new finding and it became a historical blunder for Bayer.The name was supposed to refer to the "heroic," fearless and painless, sensation users felt after using it.
Between 1850 and 1865 Chinese imigrants brought the habit of smoking opium to the United States. By 1887 the importation of opium was forbidden in the U.S. By 1906 27% of the Chinese population were addicted to opium. In January 1907 the Pure Food and Drug Act is passed, regulating the labelling of products... Opiates, Cocaine, Alcohol, etc..
In the United States Opium poppies were at one time grown as ornamental plants. Possession of the plant was declared illegal in 1942 by the Opium Poppy Control Act.
Today, Opium Poppy is grown legally on government regulated farms in India, Turkey and Australia. It is also illegally grown in Southwest Asia. It is also grown in Columbia, Mexico and Lebanon.