suter at VAX.MPIZ-KOELN.MPG.dbp.de suter at VAX.MPIZ-KOELN.MPG.dbp.de
Fri Sep 25 09:34:42 EST 1992

Subj:	opium

bob wildfong wrote:

+In article <9226716.24624 at mulga.cs.mu.OZ.AU> wadley at mullauna.cs.mu.OZ.AU
+ (Gregory Robert Wadley) writes:
+>I'm having real trouble finding this in the literature,
+>so any tips or pointers would be appreciated:
+>(1) Opium would appear to be something that _encourages_ animals to eat
+>    poppies.  So what is the advantage of containing opium?
+>(2) Or does opium have some other purpose, and only incidentally is narcotic?
+>(3) Is it reasonable to say that plants like the poppy, tobacco etc, are
+>    "taking advantage" of human's desire for the substances they contain,
+>    in the sense that there are more of them, because we cultivate them?
+I don't think it's possible to relate the evolution of opium with their
+cultivation, since opium poppies evolved long before humans began cultivating
+It is true that poppies, tobacco, hemp (as well as corn, beans and kiwis)
+are far more numerous than they would have been had they not been cultivated.
+You could argue that their usefulness to us is a survival advantage, but
+I would hesitate to say that the plants are using us.  As I said above, the
+qualities which make these plants useful evolved a long time before we could
+have used them, so it was not a case of interdependent co-evolution.

another comment is that as soon as humans would stop 'cultivating' corn fields,
they would rapidly been overgrown with other plants. for thousands of years
we have selected plants for the qualities we like, not for their ability to
survive in the wild. 
+>(4) I read somewhere that opium is a _defence_ against predation, as it mucks
+>    around with the predator's nervous system. Is this so?
+A person/animal on opium is vulnerable to attack by other people/animals.
+So any person/animal which developed a taste for opium poppies would
+be at a disadvantage.
+Now, I don't know what a poppy's main predators are.  Probably bugs(?)
+And I don't know whether or not insects are affected by opium the
+same way we are.

it is my understanding that eating the poppies in large amounts does not mean
that you will recieve a 'high'... it will probably kill you !

+>(5) Is it only humans that are attracted to opium use? Alternatively, does the
+>    narcotic effect not occur when the pods are eaten raw by an animal?
+>    (ie do the pods have to be processed or cooked in some way?)
+>(6) Do other plants contain opium? How common are psychoactive substances
+>    in plants?
+As far as I know, opium is only found in poppies.
+I can think of a few other plants with strange properties: jimsonweed,
+wormwood (_Artemisia absinthium_).
+I have no statistics on this, but I'd hazard a guess that the fraction of
+species of plants growing in NE North America (wild and cultivated) which have
+psychoactive effects is only on the order of 1% or so.

does anybody know what opiates are ? why does the plant produce them, what are 
their characteristics ?


Clemens Suter-Crazzolara, PhD
Max-Planck-Institut fuer Zuechtungsforschung
Abteilung Genetische Grundlagen der Zuechtungsforschung
Carl-von-Linne Weg 10
5000 Koeln 30
Tel. xx49-221-5062.221           fax. xx49-221-5062.21
suter at vax.mpiz-koeln.mpg.dbp.de
       all job offers should include a self-addressed, stamped envelope

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