What Are the Effects of Smoking Opium?

Poppy heads
Opium has some negative effects on the body. (Image: vencavolrab/iStock/Getty Images)

Opium is the raw, gummy tar harvested from opium poppies. It is a schedule 2 drug in the United States, meaning that it has a medical use but also has a high potential for abuse that can lead to physical and psychological dependence. Opium is the organic source of all opiates and contains morphine, codeine, thebaine and papaverine. People generally smoke opium to eliminate pain or experience a euphoric high, both of which are due to a significant increase in endorphins.

Heart Damage

Smoking opium can cause serious long-term damage to the heart. The chemical constituents of opium can affect oxygen levels, blood circulation and cholesterol levels. In a study published in the November 2008 issue of Lipids in Health and Disease, Dr. Sedigheh Asgary and associates found that opium was significantly linked to cardiovascular disease. In addition, they found that the heart disease was worst when opium was smoked compared to other routes of administration. This may be due to the rapid release of endorphins through immediate lung absorption. Opium is also often mixed with tobacco, which can further cause heart disease.

Sexual Dysfunction

Opium acts as a central nervous system depressant, slowing down nearly all processes in the body, including heart rate, breathing and sexual stimulation. Opium smokers may experience decreased sensitivity during intercourse due to reduced blood flow. Inability to achieve a sustained erection may occur in some users. In the April 2008 issue of Pain Treatment Topics, Dr. Stephen Colameco states that using opiates can cause sexual dysfunction in both men and women. This is due to a significant reduction in testosterone and estrogen production, both essential for sexual health. In addition, he observes that male users can experience erectile dysfunction, while women can experience irregular menstrual cycles and hot flashes.

Constipation

Smoking opium can also cause constipation. Opiates are so effective at causing constipation that they are often used to treat severe diarrhea, such as dysentery. Smoking opium activates the Mu-2 opioid receptors within the intestinal tract. This causes the gastrointestinal tract to become virtually paralyzed. In the August 2006 issue of Pain Treatment Topics, Dr. Clyde Goodheart and associates report that opioids induce constipation by interfering with intestinal tone and contractility, delaying transit time, increasing fecal dehydration and increasing anal sphincter contraction. These combined effects disrupt normal defecation cycles, cause dry, hard stool and require significant muscle contraction effort to effectively eliminate feces from the body.

Sleep Disturbances

Smoking opium may cause sleep disturbances like insomnia and irregular dreaming cycles. Opiates block adenosine, a neurotransmitter essential for the regulation and initiation of sleep. In the December 2009 issue of Anesthesiology, Dr. Max Kelz and associates explain that opiates cause sleep disturbances because they activate both the sleep and wakefulness centers in the brain. As adenosine is inhibited, the opiate user is stuck in a state of limbo between being asleep and fully awake.

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