A note on the morphine content of lanced poppy capsules purchased as "dried flowers"





Author: J. G. BRUHN , U. NYMAN
Pages: 41 to 44
Creation Date: 1981/01/01

A note on the morphine content of lanced poppy capsules purchased as "dried flowers"

Department of Toxicology, Karolinska lnstitutet, Stockholm, Sweden U. NYMAN
The Swedish Seed Association, Svalöv, Sweden


Four opium poppy capsules, without seeds, which had already been used for opium production by lancing were analysed for their morphine content using a spectrophotometric method. The capsules were found to contain between 0.15 to 0.34 per cent of morphine.


According to the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, poppy straw means "all parts (except the seeds) of the opium poppy, after mowing" [article 1, para 1 (r)]. In international trade, poppy straw generally consists of the dry, ripened capsules of the opium poppy, Papaver somniferum L. and circa 10-20 cm of the attached stem. In capsules not lanced to produce opium, the morphine content varies from 0.28 to 0.7 per cent [1 - 3].

Since Kabay patented his process for extracting alkaloids from poppy straw in the 1930s [ 4] , this raw material has become increasingly important as an alternative to opium for the production of morphine and other opiates. Several countries today rely on domestic poppy straw alone for this purpose.

Poppy straw is a bulky raw material, the use of which greatly reduces the risk of narcotic substances finding their way into illicit channels. Specific international control measures also apply to poppy straw. Article 25 of the Single Convention requires that the manufacture of drugs from poppy straw be adequately controlled. A separate import certificate or export authorization is required for each quantity of poppy straw to be imported or exported, and statistical information on the import and export, as well as the utilization of poppy straw for the manufacture of drugs, must be prepared quarterly and submitted to the International Narcotics Control Board.

However, poppy straw is not under international control as a narcotic drug. Schedule 1 of the Single Convention only lists "concentrate of poppy straw", defined as "the material arising when poppy straw has entered into a process for the concentration of its alkaloids, when such material is made available in trade". In recent years, the demand for codeine has led to a considerable international trade in poppy straw.

We now wish to report the discovery of imported poppy straw with lanced capsules in two different outlets for "dried flowers" in Stockholm. The capsules were free from seeds, 3.5 - 5 cm in diameter and had been lanced vertically with an instrument having 3 - 4 blades. Each capsule had been lanced 2 - 5 times, and the exuded latex had been scraped off (figures 1 and 2). This fashion of lancing poppy capsules has been reported by several opium-producing countries [ 5] . Because poppy straw could be illicitly utilized as a source of morphine, or "morphine base" [ 6] four capsules were analyzed for their morphine content using a spectrophotometric method [ 7] .

Figures 1 and 2 Lanced poppy capsules purchased in Stockholm. Spring 1979

Full size image: 61 kB, Figures 1 and 2 Lanced poppy capsules purchased in Stockholm. Spring 1979

The capsules were found to contain between 0.15 - 0.34 per cent morphine, and the content is thus comparable to that obtained from capsules produced in Sweden [ 2] , in spite of the fact that the capsules had already been utilized for opium production. Evidently, poppy straw with lanced capsules is not an exhausted raw material. Suggestions have actually been put forward to install a factory in India for the processing of lanced capsules, and morphine yields from 0.2 - 3 per cent have been reported [ 8] , although the latter figure apparently is in error [ cf.3].

Large-scale illicit extraction of alkaloids from poppy straw is unlikely. The processing facilities required would make it easy to detect [ 1] , and it would not seem to be economically feasible from a trafficking point of view. However, addiction to poppy-heads has been described in the literature [ 9] , and the death of a three-year-old child after the ingestion of unripe poppy capsules has been recorded [ 10] .

Lanced poppy capsules with a morphine content of industrial interest were thus found commercially available in Stockholm as "dried flowers". This material had obviously bypassed international drug control measures.


Financial support from the Swedish Medical Research Council is gratefully acknowledged.



W. Küssner, "Poppy straw: a problem of international narcotics control", Bulletin on Narcotics, vol. 13, No. 2 (1961), pp. 1--6.


U. Nyman and B. Hansson, "Morphine content variation in Papaver somniferum L. as affected by the presence of some isoquinoline alkaloids" Hereditas, vol. 88, 1978, pp. 17- 26.


United Nations Narcotics Laboratory, "Research to increase codeine production II, Report of an expert group" (MNAR/9/1976), Pullman and Corvallis, United States, 1976.


J. Kabay. Hungarian invention patent No. 109788, Class IV h (2) of 1 May 1934.


A.D. Krikorian and M. C. Ledbetter, "Some observations on the cultivation of opium poppy (Papaver somniferum L.) for its latex", Botanical Review vol. 41, 1975, pp. 30- 103.


A. Hanson and J.-E. Lindgren, "Analysis of 'morphine base'" Archives of Toxicology, vol. 31, 1973. pp. 1 -6.


U. Nyman and O. Hall. "Breedine of oil poppy (Papaver somniferum) for low content or' morphine", Hereditas, vol. 76, 1974, pp. 49-54.


V. S. Ramanathan and C. Ramachandran, "Opium poppy: cultivation, collection of opium, improvement and utilization for medical purposes", in Cultivation and Utilization of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants, C. K. Atal and B. M. Kapur, eds. (Regional Research Laboratory, Jammu-Tawi, 1977).


M. Glatt and M. Hossain, "Addiction to poppy heads in England", British Medical Journal, 13 July 1963, p. 102.


F. K ósa and E. Virágos-Kis, "Tod eines dreijährigen Kindes nach dem Genuβ von unreifen Mohnkapseln", Zacchia, vol. 5, 1969, pp. 604-610.