M. Julyan, M. Dircksen


The use of papaver somniferum (from the Latin fero ferre = ‘tobear/bring’ and somnium = ‘sleep’) as a narcotic, goes backto the 13th century BC. The works of ancient authors such asDioscorides, Celsus, Galen, Theophrastus and Pliny the Elderprovide us with detailed information about the morphology of theplant, its processing and the administration of the drug.1 Theseauthors make it clear that opium was mainly employed as anodyneand narcotic but they also documented its use as a drug inthe treatment of a variety of ailments, either as one of manyingredients in a medicinal recipe or as the main ingredient.Modern botanical and pharmaceutical analysis of the plant and itsactive ingredients provide us with some surprising conclusionsregarding its effectiveness in the treatment of the medical conditionsfor which it was prescribed in the 1st and 2nd century.

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