Opium

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History of Opium Opium is a narcotic drug prepared from the juice of the opium poppy, Pa paver somniferum, a plant probably indigenous in the south of Europe and western Asia, but now so widely cultivated that its original habitat is uncertain. The medicinal properties of the juice have been recognized from a very early period. It was known to Theophrastus and appears in his time to have consisted of an extract of the whole plant, since Dioscorides, about A.D. 77, draws a distinction between it and an extract of the entire herb derived from the capsules alone. From the 1st to the 12th century the opium of Asia Minor appears to have been the only kind known in commerce. In the 13th century opium is mentioned by Simon Januensis, physician to Pope Nicholas IV., while meconium was still in use. In the 16th century opium is mentioned by Pyres (1516) as a production of the kingdom in Bengal, and of Malwai. Its introduction into India appears to have been connected with the spread of Islam. The opium monopoly was the property of the Great Mogul of Persia and was regularly sold. In the 17th century Kaempfer describes the various kinds of opium prepared in Persia, and states that the best sorts were flavoured with spices and called theriaka. These preparations were held in great estimation during the middle ages, and probably supplied to a large extent the place of the pure drug. Opium is said to have been introduced into China by the Arabs probably in the 13th century, and it was originally used there as a medicine. In a Chinese Herbal compiled before 1700 both the plant and its juice are described, together with the mode of collecting it, and in the General History of the Southern Provinces of Yunnan, revised and republished in 1736, opium is noticed as a common product. The first edict prohibiting opium smoking was issued by the emperor Yung Cheng in 1729. Up to that date the amount imported did not exceed 200 chests, and was usually brought from India by junks as a return cargo. In the year 1757 the monopoly of opium cultivation in India passed into the hands of the East India Company through the victory of Clive at Plassey. Up to 1773 the trade with China had been in the hands of the Portuguese, but in that year the East India Company took the trade under their own charge.

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