Plant Rant: Jim Duke on Thebaine of Iran

8 May 2012, Jim Duke writes on Papaver bracteatum ~ Thebaine Poppy

Though this beautiful ephemeral poppy is more appropriately known as the Great Scarlet Poppy, I reminisce about it as the Persian Poppy, as I spent nearly a month circling around Iran, mapping out where it occurred. A long story, back before the Ayatollahs took over the government from the Shah of Iran. The story starts in the US at an FAO meeting with several US government agencies, including the DEA, and the USDA. They strategized that if we replaced commercial Opium Poppy crops with Great Scarlet Poppy crops, there would be less diversion into the illicit heroin market. The opium is the major, if not the only plant that produces two major medicinal alkaloids, codeine and morphine, both of which can easily be converted to illicit heroin. Codeine is a leading antitussive alkaloid (to combat cough) and morphine is a leading analgesic (to combat pain).

[[As my neuropathy worsens dues to sacroilialgia, scoliosis, spondylosis,and stenosis, and all that s..., I find myself taking more and more analgesics. Mrs. Duke finds great relief from a quarter pill of percoset (a morphine related compound) and a glass of wine. At 83, that sounds better to me than a very complex, expensive and dangerous spinal operation that two doctors have told me is the only way to correct my spinal problems An order of magnitude more doctors lead me to believe, that at age 83 such an operation is more likely to cripple than correct me. Just this lovely spring week, my chiropractress said that at my age quality of life and freedom from pain should be my major objectives, rather than intrusive invasive operations. Having seen Mrs. Duke almost killed by iatrogenic sequelae to a usually simple pacemaker insertion, I confess to fear of the iatrogenic results of overprescribed operations. Thus I may be seeking the magic of morphia more that the surgeons scapel to facilitate the pain-reduced passage of my last decade]]

Back to that DEA/FAO/USDA meeting in the early 70s. . I was invited in the presence of many luminaries by some Iranian chemists to go to Iran and collect 20 pounds of seed of this interesting poppy species, seed that might help America in its elusive war on narcotics. The theory being, by growing the thebaine poppy, Papaver bracteatum, we would be producing more thebaine which would be more difficult for illicit interests to covert to heroin. Thebaine is actually an antagonist to heroin and morphine. Thebaine, like naltrexone, might help the withdrawal of innocent babies borne to heroin addicts. All sounds very good, even looks good on paper. So it was not too long before Jim Duke landed in Tehran to begin a frustrating month long stay.

During my first days there, in Tehran, my counterparts belatedly said I would need to get clearance to collect any seed since in fact, trafficking in narcotic materials could be a capital offense, punishable by death. Hmm. Why had that not been mentioned in front of the FAO?. Why indeed? Turns out that my counterpart was selling the seeds for extremely lucrative prices. My seed collections might undercut his sales. External FAO officials advised me not to collect anything until we had written permission. So the FAO official agreed that until permission were attained, I could productively pass the time by field studies of the distribution of the species in Iran, mapping it out so that I could efficiently return to collect seed after permits had been arranged. I was given a vehicle and an Iranian driver (incidentally a Bahai minority) for my studies, and we drove north thru the mountains towards the Turkish border, studying this persian poppy along the way. I even saw natives harvesting the latex in the field much as Turks harvest opium poppy in Turkey.

But my permit never came thru. Alas I came home with no seed of the Great Scarlet Poppy some 40 years ago. I do not know for a fact that it is illegal to grow the beautiful great scarlet poppy  here. I would if I could, if it were legal. I know it is illegal to grow the opium poppy, We do have the oriental poppy in the Green Farmacy Garden. But I dare not try the opium poppy, addictive personality that I am. Best stick to the quarter percoset and white wine, both legal, so far, and admire my legal oriental and california poppies.

FROM USDA Phytochemical Database (Badly Needs Updating from PubMed)

Three Narcotic Alkaloids (Illegal to Grow)

CODEINE: Analgesic 97 mg/kg orl mus, 22.5 orl rat BBE; 0.1% morphine PR14:401; Anesthetic; Anticoryzic; Antidiarrheic M29; Antitussive 2.2 mg/kg orl dog, 42 mg kg orl gpg BBE; Antiviral V&D; Emetic 5 mg/kg orl dog BBE; Myotonic WOI; Narcotic M11; Respirasedative WOI; Sedative LRN-Dec90; Spasmolytic JBH; Spinodepressant 20 mg/kg orl dog BBE

MORPHINE: Allergenic 1 ppm M&R508; Analgesic 5-20 mg/4 hrs/ivn orl scu/man M29, 50 mg/kg orl mus BBE; Anorectic PR14:401; Antibradykinin 1.1 mg/kg scu rat BBE; Antidiuretic PH2; Antigonadotrophic KCH; Antiperistaltic M11; Antitetanic M29; Antitussive M11; Anxiolytic WOI; Bradycardic PR14:401; Cardiovascular 1.1 scu rat BBE; Catatonic 18 ipr , 125 scu rat, 500 orl rat BBE; Constipative PR14:401; Convulsant 160 mg/kg scu rat; Dermatitigenic M&R508; DIAphoretic WOI; Euphoric PH2; Gastrosedative JBH; Hypothermic PR14:401; Myotonic WOI; Narcotic M11; Neurotoxic RJH; Respirodepressant PH2; Sedative PP2; LRN-Dec90; Spasmolytic JBH; Stimulant;LD=1-10 mg man” JBH

THEBAINE: Analgesic JBH; Anodyne 1/6 morphine FEL; Antipolio EMP5:221; Antiviral EMP5:221; CNS-Stimulant; Convulsant M11; X9988096 Hypnotic FEL; Narcotic JBH;

A sampling of the profusion of blooms in the Green Farmacy Garden this week:

Silybum marianum, Milk thistle

Matricaria recutita, German chamomile

Valeriana officinalis, Valerian

Acorus calamus, Sweet flag

Allium unifolium, One leaf onion

Tradescantia virginiana, Virginia spiderwort

Dioscorea sp., Wild yam

Chamaelirium luteum, False unicorn root

Vicia faba, Fava bean

Magnolia tripetala, Umbrella tree

Nerodia sipedon, Northern water snake ~ in the rocks of the waterfall

]

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3 Responses to Plant Rant: Jim Duke on Thebaine of Iran

  1. You have accomplished so much with your lives. You are awe-inspiring! The things that you’ve seen and done seem ‘Indiana Jones’-ish and beyond. You inspire me to make more of my life! Now that I’ve found your website, I will return often. You have fired up my imagination! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

  2. Dora Lane says:

    Thanks for the great story and the beautiful pics. It is sad that research is stymied by laws and dogma that do not recognize the amazing benefits of plants for everyone on this planet. We can only hope saner policies take root (haha). Thanks for your great work :-)

  3. DBains says:

    What a beautiful read…thank you.

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