The Manufacture of Morphine from Poppy Straw

Sections

I. THE RAW MATERIAL
II. POTENTIAL MORPHINE MANUFACTURE FROM POPPY STRAW

III. ACTUAL MANUFACTURE OF MORPHINE FROM POPPY STRAW
IV.CONCLUSIONS

Details

Pages: 16 to 18
Creation Date: 1953/01/01

The Manufacture of Morphine from Poppy Straw

I. THE RAW MATERIAL

The use of a soporific tisane or "tea" of poppy capsules has long been known in Europe, perhaps ever since the beginning of poppy cultivation there more than 3,000 years ago. However, the commercial manufacture of morphine direct from the poppy plant dates only from the 1920's, when it was begun in Hungary by Janos von ,Kabay.

The original conception was that a field of green poppies would be. mowed like hay, before maturity, and then processed for alkaloids. However, as soon as it was learned that the morphine did not disappear when .the juice dried up,. but remained in the mature dried plant (at least as long as it was not washed out by.rain), it became possible to use the poppies both for seed production and. for alkaloids. Consequently, the extraction of morphine became a by-product industry, as the poppy was already grown in Hungary for its edible and oil-producing seed. At first the Whole dried poppy plant was cut off for processing, and the term "poppy; straw" for.this material came, into international use. As soon as reliable analyses were available, it was clear that nearly all the, morphine was obtained from the capsules. The industry then began to use poppy capsules with as little stem as possible. Mechanical. harvesting may result in cutting a considerable length of stem with the capsules, but the stems contribute little, if anything, to the morphine manufacture.

Thus, whether the material used by the drug factories is referred to as "poppy capsules", "poppy heads" or "poppy chaff" (the relatively worthless residue of broken capsules, etc., left. from threshing out the seeds), or by some general term such as "poppy straw",1 or simple "poppy", "poppies" or "poppy plant" (the usual terms in French) 2or "poppy plant material" (suggested as a completely general term for English), the morphine extracted comes almost erntirely, from the capsules. It is necessary to bring out this point because there have been references to "poppy straw and poppy capsules", as if these were two different materials.

1. The term "poppy straw" as used internationally refers to the whole dried poppy plant or to whatever part is actually used. Thus,,in reporting statistics, Hungary used the term "poppy straw" until 1951, but the percentage yield as given by the Permanent Central Opium Board shows that essentially only the capsules were used at least as early as 1947, as a yield of 0.21 per cent could not otherwise be obtained.

The manufacture of morphine direct from the dried poppy plant soon spread from Hungary to Poland and later to other countries, and is now a commonplace in most countries where poppies are grown on a large scale primarily for their seeds.

II. POTENTIAL MORPHINE MANUFACTURE FROM POPPY STRAW

The manufacture of morphie from poppy straw as a by-product industry is limited by the extent of, poppy cultivation for poppy seed. This limitation, of course, is not absolute in so far as producers of poppy seed may take into account the proceeds of the straw. Moreover,: the areas planted for poppies often vary greatly from fluctuations in the price of poppy seed.

The 1948 Yearbook of Food and Agricultural Statistics of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (Washington, 1949) and the International Yearbook of Agricultural Statistics, 1941-42 to .1945-46, International Institute of Agriculture and Bureau of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (Rome, 1947) give the figures for the production of poppy seed in countries not producing opium, shown in the following table.

A recent article from SEMPA laboratories, published as a United Nations document (ST/SOA/SER.K/11), used the term pavots. Although the League of Nations documents frequently used the terms paille de pavot and "poppy straw", the term used for the 1939 draft of a proposed convention dealing with the production of raw materials was plante de pavot or "poppy plant" (O.C./Confidential/46 ( b));and references to the material in the i939 Minutes of the Advisory. Committee were indexed as Plante seche de pavot and as "Dry poppy plant". The term pavot is used in French law (see, e.g., Article 38 of the Decree No. 48-1805 of 19 November 1948 ( Journal Officiel of 28 November 1948) ).

Table I

Production of Poppy Seed in various countries

 

Years (except as otherwise noted)

 

1945

1946

1947

Country

Areaf

Productiong

Areaf

Productiong

Areaf

Productiong

Austriaa
4,016 2,600 3,851 2,660 4,557 2,950
Czechoslovakia
30,000 15,900 30,100 12,300 28,500 9,300
France
22,037 11,700 8,173 5,100 5,468 2,900
Germany:
           
Bizone
11,000b
11,700 11,000 7,500 13,000 7,300
French Zone
3,000c
3,100     3,740 1,700
Saar
    92 50 149 100
Soviet Zone
32,000b
31,000        
Hungaryd
4,585 1,900 3,762 1,700 5,179 2,300
  (12,497)   (12,809)   (10,934)  
Netherlands
2,433 1,800 6,540 5,600 5,771 5,000
Romaniae
1,290 700 588 100    
Swedend
(1,926) 900 (259)   (75)  
Switzerland
1,313 1,500 409 400 252 300

a The years are 1942, 1943 and 1944.

b The figures here are an average for 1942-1944.

c The figures here are for 1934-1938.

d The figures in parentheses refer to areas devoted to mixed crops, including poppy.

e The years are 1944 and 1945.

f Given in hectares.

g Given in metric tons.

The yield per hectare differs greatly from country to country and often from year to year. However, a fair average seems to be 675 kg. of poppy seed per hectare, and about two-thirds as great a weight of dry capsule chaff, or 450 kg. per hectare. About 3 kg. of morphine is a good practical yield per ton of capsule chaff. The last figure may often be reduced by rain and in this case the morphine production may be low even when the crop of poppy seed has been entirely satisfactory.

From the foregoing figures (taking approximate averages) the following table II may be made of potential morphine production.

Table II

Average area and production of poppy seed, potential production of capsule chaff and potential manufacture of morphine in various countries

Country

Area (hectares)

Poppy seed (tons)

Capsule chaff (tons)a

Morphine (kg.)

Austria
4,100 2,700 1,800 5,400
Czechoslovakia
29,500 12,500 8,300 24,900
France
11,900 6,500 4,300 12,900
Germany (Western)
15,000 11,300 7,500 22,500
Germany (Eastern)
32,000 31,000 20,700 62,100
Hungary
4,500b
2,000c
1,300 3,900
Netherlands
4,900 4,100 2,700 8, 100
Poland
4,500d
3,000 2,000 6,000
Sweden
(750)e
300 200 600
Switzerland
600 700 500 1,500
Romania
900 400 300 900
TOTALS
107,900f
74,500 49,600 148,800

a Calculated from the reported poppy seed production, except in the case of Poland.

b Area devoted exclusively to poppies.

c Total seed production reported.

d This figure is cited by Addens in "The Distribution of Opium Cultivation and the Trade in Opium" as the area devoted to poppy cultivation (for poppy seed) in Poland in 1937.

e Area of mixed cultivation, including poppies.

f Excluding areas of mixed cultivation.

III. ACTUAL MANUFACTURE OF MORPHINE FROM POPPY STRAW

The post-war manufacture of morphine from poppy straw has decreased greatly in France and Switzerland, finally being abandoned in the latter country and in the Netherlands. On the other hand, it has increased in Germany and Hungary and has been begun, on more than an experimental scale, in Argentina. The detailed statistics are readily available in documents E/OB/7 and E/OB/8 of the Permanent Central Opium Board.

The most recent year for which complete statistics are available is 1950. It may be of interest to compare the manufacture in that year with the potential by-product manufacture as calculated from the average figures for poppy seed in earlier years (generally 1945-1947).

Table III

Country

Potential manufacture indicated by earlier statistics (kg.)

Actual manufacture in 1950 (kg.)

Argentina
--
500
Austria
5,400
--
Czechoslovakia
24,900 812
France
12,900 769
Germany
84,600 4,619
Hungary
3,900 4,522
Netherlands
8,100
--
Poland
6,000 441
Sweden
600
--
Switzerland
1,500
--
Romania
900
--
TOTALS
143,400 11,663

The "potential" manufacture is by no means an absolute maximum. For instance, Hungary has expanded poppy cultivation and its actual extraction of morphine already surpasses the "potential" manufacture of previous years.

Table IV

PRODUCTION OF POPPY SEED IN VARIOUS COUNTRIES NOT PRODUCING OPIUM

 

1948

1949

1950

1951

1952

 
Area (hectares)
Austria
1,460 1,591 1,695 1,645
--
Czechoslovakia
20,497
--
--
--
--
France
4,413 3,407 2,258 2,000 1,300
Germany (Western)
14,100 9,800 3,100 3,047 1,957
Hungary
15,200
--
--
--
--
Netherlands
4,190 2,254 3,520 5,408
--
Switzerland
180 133 44 40
--
 
Production (metric tons)
Austria
985 1,118 1,172 1,052
--
Czechoslovakia
13,252
--
--
--
--
France
3,040 2,027 1,671 1,100 890
Germany (Western)
10,700 8,700 3,000 3,187 1,929
Hungarya
 
 
 
 
 
Netherlands
2,912
2,666 2,950 4,633
--
Switzerland
200 200 100 100
--

aProduction not reported.

IV.CONCLUSIONS

The manufacture of morphine from poppy straw is essentially a by-product industry. It is therefore limited more or less by the extent of the cultivation of poppies for poppy seed. However, the area of this cultivation might be expanded in certain cases, taking both the production of poppy seed and the extraction of morphine into consideration. Without any expansion of poppy cultivation, a number of European countries could greatly increase their morphine manufacture from poppy straw, if there were sufficient incentive to do so. The actual extraction of morphine from this source is probably only about 10 per cent of the potential manufacture. Under present economic conditions there is no indication that poppy straw is likely to replace opium as a principal source of morphine for medical purposes. In some countries the manufacture from poppy straw has increased greatly over 1946-1947, while some other countries have returned to opium and have allowed their manufacture from poppy straw to decline or end. On the whole there has been a substantial increase from 1947 to 1951, but only in about the same proportion as for utilization of raw opium.