First of all, it seems like the
information about opium cultivation and preparation and other
chemistry came from a 1993 Department of Justice publication that was
sponsored by DEA.
That booklet is, I understand, out-of-print, and will not be
reprinted. It is an amazing document because it essentially tells you
all you really need to know about opium poppies, opium, and the basic
procedures for extraction and conversion of morphine to heroin.
I can also tell you that a USDA scientist named Mary Acock, was
involved in the larger project that produced the book. It's my opinion
that, had any of those government dudes thought about it for more than
a few minutes, they never would have published it in the first place.
It is simply too full of "dangerous" information.
- Jim Hogshire
Opium is the name for the latex produced within the seed pods of the
opium poppy, Papaver somniferum. The plant is believed to have
evolved from a wild strain, Papaver setigerum, which grows in
coastal areas of the Mediterranean Sea. Through centuries of
cultivation and breeding for opium, the species somniferum
evolved. Today, P. somniferum is the only species of Papaver
used to produce opium. Opium contains morphine, codeine, noscapine,
papaverine, and thebaine. All but thebaine are used clinically as
analgesics to reduce pain without a loss of consciousness. Thebaine is
without analgesic effect but is of great pharmaceutical value due to
its use in the production of semisynthetic opioid morphine analogues
such as oxycodone (Percodan), dihydromorphenone (Dilaudid), and
The psychological effects of opium may have been known to the ancient
Sumerians (circa 4,000 B.C.) whose symbol for poppy was hul,
"joy" and gil, "plant". The plant was known in Europe at least
4,000 years ago as evidenced by fossil remains of poppy seed cake and
poppy pods found in the Neolithic Swiss Lake Dwellings. Opium was
probably consumed by the ancient Egyptians and was known to the Greeks
as well. Our word opium is derived from the Greek. The poppy is also
referred to in Homer's works the Iliad and the Odyssey (850 B.C.).
Hippocrates (460-357 B.C.) prescribed drinking the juice of the white
poppy mixed with the seed of nettle.
The opium poppy probably reached China about the fourth century A.D.
through Arab traders who advocated its use for medicinal purposes. In
Chinese literature, there are earlier references to its use. The noted
Chinese surgeon Hua To of the Three Kingdoms (220-264 A.D.) used opium
preparations and Cannabis indica for his patients to swallow
before undergoing major surgery.
The beginning of widespread opium use in China is associated with the
introduction of tobacco smoking in pipes by Dutch from Java in the
17th century. The Chinese mixed Indian opium with the tobacco, two
products that were being traded by the Dutch. This practice was
adopted throughout the region and predictably resulted in increased
opium smoking, both with and without tobacco.
By the late-1700s the British East India Company controlled the prime
Indian poppy growing regions and dominated the Asian opium trade. By
1800, they had a monopoly on opium; controlling supply and setting
In 1805, the German pharmacist Friedrich W. SertYrner isolated and
described the principal alkaloid and powerful active ingredient in
opium. He named it morphium after Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams.
We know it today as morphine. This event was soon followed by the
discovery of other alkaloids of opium: codeine in 1832 and papaverine
in 1848. By the 1850s these pure alkaloids, rather than the earlier
crude opium preparations, were being commonly prescribed for the
relief of pain, cough, and diarrhea. This period also saw the
invention and introduction of the hypodermic syringe.
By the late eighteenth century opium was being heavily used in China
as a recreational drug. The Imperial court had banned its use and
importation but large quantities were still being smuggled into China.
In 1839 the Qing Emperor ordered his minister Lin Zexu to address the
opium problem. Lin petitioned Queen Victoria for help but was ignored.
In reaction, the emperor confiscated 20,000 barrels of opium and
detained some foreign traders. The British retaliated by attacking the
port city of Canton. Thus the First Opium War began. The Chinese were
defeated and the Treaty of Nanjing was signed in 1842. The British
required that the opium trade be allowed to continue, that the Chinese
pay a large settlement, and that the Chinese cede Hong Kong to the
British Empire. The Second Opium War began and ended in 1856 over
western demands that opium markets be expanded. The Chinese were again
defeated and opium importation to China was legalized.
In the United States during the 19th century, opium preparations and
"patent medicines" containing opium extract such as paregoric
(camphorated tincture of opium) and laudanum (deodorized opium
tincture) became widely available and quite popular. In the 1860s
morphine was used extensively pre- and post-operatively as a
painkiller for wounded soldiers during the Civil War. Civil War
physicians frequently dispensed opiates. In 1866 the Secretary of War
stated that during the war the Union Army was issued 10 million opium
pills, over 2,840,000 ounces of other opiate preparations (such as
laudanum or paregoric), and almost 30,000 ounces of morphine sulphate.
The inevitable result was opium addiction, called the "army disease"
or the "soldier's disease." These opium and morphine addiction
problems prompted a scientific search for potent but nonaddictive
painkillers. In the 1870s, chemists synthesized a supposedly
non-addictive, substitute for morphine by acetylating morphine. In
1898 the Bayer pharmaceutical company of Germany was the first to make
available this new drug, 3,6-diacetylmorphine, in large quantities
under the trademarked brand name Heroin. 3,6-diacetylmorphine is two
to three times more potent than morphine. Most of the increase is due
to its increased lipid solubility, which provides enhanced and rapid
central nervous system penetration.
Heroin was initially used with much success as a superior cough
suppressant for patients with (then incurable) tuberculosis.
Tuberculosis patients continued to die, but without the tortuous
coughing and pain. A second use of heroin was to combat morphine ad
diction - just as morphine was originally used to combat opium
addiction. Soon after its introduction, however, Heroin was recognized
as having narcotic and addictive properties far exceeding those of
In December 1914, the United States Congress passed the Harrison
Narcotics Act which called for control of each phase of the
preparation and distribution of medicinal opium, morphine, heroin,
cocaine, and any new derivative that could be shown to have similar
properties. It made illegal the possession of these controlled
substances. The restrictions in the Harrison Act were most recently
redefined by the Federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970. The Act
lists as a Schedule II Controlled Substance opium and its derivatives
and all parts of the P. somniferum plant except the seed.
The first period of large scale heroin smuggling into the United
States since its prohibition occurred during the years 1967 through
1971. Turkish opium was processed into heroin in France and then
smuggled into New York.
In the mid-1970s Mexican brown heroin appeared. It was sold at a lower
price than European heroin and became readily available in the West
and Midwest. By the mid-1980s the U.S. heroin market was being
supplied from three regions: Mexico, Southwest Asia (Pakistan,
Afghanistan, Turkey, Lebanon), and Southeast Asia (Burma, Laos,
Thailand). Soon thereafter, South American heroin from Columbia
In 1997, Southeast Asia still accounts for well over half of the
world's opium production. It is estimated that the region has the
capacity to produce over 200 metric tons of heroin annually. Although
much of it is consumed in Asia, thousands of kilograms of Southeast
Asian heroin enter the United States each year.
The chemical structure of opiates is very similar to that of naturally
produced compounds called endorphins and enkephalins. These compounds
are derived from an amino acid pituitary hormone called
beta-lipotropin which when released is cleaved to form met-enkephalin,
gamma-endorphin, and beta-endorphin. Opiate molecules, due to their
similar structure, engage many of the endorphins' nerve-receptor sites
in the brain's pleasure centers and bring about similar analgesic
effects. In the human body, a pain stimulus usually excites an
immediate protective reaction followed by the release of endorphins to
relieve discomfort and reward the mental learning process. Opiates
mimic high levels of endorphins to produce intense euphoria and a
heightened state of well-being. Regular use results in increased
tolerance and the need for greater quantities of the drug. Profound
physical and psychological dependence results from regular use and
rapid cessation brings about withdrawal sickness.
In addition to the pleasure/pain centers, there is also a
concentration of opiate receptors in the respiratory center of the
brain. Opiates have an inhibiting effect on these cells and in the
case of an overdose, respiration can come to a complete halt. Opiates
also inhibit sensitivity to the impulse to cough.
A third location for these receptors is in the brain's vomiting
center. Opiate use causes nausea and vomiting. Tolerance for this
effect is built up very quickly. Opiates effect the digestive system
by inhibiting intestinal peristalsis. Long before they were used as
painkillers, opiates were used to control diarrhea.
The opium poppy, Papaver somniferum, is an annual plant. From a
very small round seed, it grows, flowers, and bears fruit (seed pods)
only once. The entire growth cycle for most varieties of this plant
takes about 120 days. The seeds of P. somniferum can be distinguished
from other species by the appearance of a fine secondary fishnet
reticulation within the spaces of the coarse reticulation found all
over their surface. When compared with other Papaver species, P.
somniferum plants will have their leaves arranged along the stem of
the plant, rather than basal leaves, and the leaves and stem will be
"glabrous" (hairless). The tiny seeds germinate quickly, given warmth
and sufficient moisture. Sprouts appear in fourteen to twenty-one
days. In less than six weeks the young plant has grown four large
leaves and resembles a small cabbage in appearance. The lobed, dentate
leaves are glaucous green with a dull gray or blue tint.
Within sixty days, the plant will grow from one to two feet in height,
with one primary, long, smooth stem. The upper portion of this stem is
without leaves and is the "peduncle". One or more secondary stems,
called "tillers", may grow from the main stem of the plant. Single
poppy plants in Southeast Asia often have one or more tillers.
As the plant grows tall, the main stem and each tiller terminates in a
flower bud. During the development of the bud, the peduncle portion of
the stem elongates and forms a distinctive "hook" which causes the bud
to be turned upside down. As the flower develops, the peduncle
straightens and the buds point upward. A day or two after the buds
first point upward, the two outer segments of the bud, called
"sepals", fall away, exposing the flower petals.
Opium poppies generally flower after about ninety days of growth and
continue to flower for two to three weeks. The exposed flower blossom
is at first crushed and crinkled, but the petals soon expand and
become smooth in the sun. Opium poppy flowers have four petals. The
petals may be single or double and may be white, pink, reddish purple,
crimson red, or variegated. The petals last for two to four days and
then drop to reveal a small, round, green fruit which continues to
develop. These fruits or pods (also called "seedpods", "capsules,"
"bulbs," or "poppy heads") are either oblate, elongated, or globular
and mature to about the size of a chicken egg. The oblate-shaped pods
are more common in Southeast Asia.
The main stem of a fully-matured P. somniferum plant can range
between two to five feet in height. The green leaves are oblong,
toothed and lobed and are between four to fifteen inches in diameter
at maturity. The mature leaves have no commercial value except for use
as animal fodder.
Only the pod portion of the plant can produce opium alkaloids. The
skin of the poppy pod encloses the wall of the pod ovary. The ovary
wall consists of an outer, middle, and inner layer. The plant's latex
(opium) is produced within the ovary wall and drains into the middle
layer through a system of vessels and tubes within the pod. The cells
of the middle layer secrete more than 95 percent of the opium when the
pod is scored and harvested.
Cultivators in Mainland Southeast Asia tap the opium from each pod
while it remains on the plant. After the opium is scraped, the pods
are cut from the stem and allowed to dry. Once dry, the pods are cut
open and the seeds are removed and dried in the sun before storing for
the following year's planting. An alternative method of collecting
planting seeds is to collect them from intentionally unscored pods,
because scoring may diminish the quality of the seeds. Aside from
being used as planting seed, the poppy seeds may also be used in
cooking and in the manufacture of paints and perfumes. Poppy seed oil
is straw-yellow in color, odorless, and has a pleasant, almond-like
taste. The opium poppy grows best in temperate, warm climates with low
humidity. It requires only a moderate amount of water before and
during the early stages of growth. In addition, it is a "long day"
photo-responsive plant. As such, it requires long days and short
nights before it will develop flowers. The opium poppy plant can be
grown in a variety of soils; clay, sandy loam, sandy, and sandy clay,
but it responds best to sandy loam soil. This type of soil has good
moisture-retentive and nutrient-retentive properties, is easily
cultivated, and has a favorable structure for root development. Clay
soil types are hard and difficult to pulverize into a good soil
texture. The roots of a young poppy plant cannot readily penetrate
clay soils, and growth is inhibited. Sandy soil, by contrast, does not
retain sufficient water or nutrients for proper growth of the plant.
Excessive moisture or extremely arid conditions will adversely affect
the poppy plant's growth and reduce the alkaloid content. Poppy plants
can become waterlogged and die after a heavy rainfall in poorly
drained soil. Heavy rainfall in the second and third months of growth
can leach alkaloids from the plant and spoil the opium harvest. Dull,
rainy, or cloudy weather during this critical growth period may reduce
both the quantity and the quality of the alkaloid content.
Opium poppies were widely grown as an ornamental plant and for seeds
in the United States until the possession of this plant was declared
illegal in the Opium Poppy Control Act of 1942. New generations of
plants from the self-sown seed of these original poppies can still be
seen in many old ornamental gardens.
The major legal opium poppy growing areas in the world today are in
government-regulated opium farms in India, Turkey and Tasmania,
Australia. The major illegal growing areas are in the highlands of
Mainland Southeast Asia, specifically Burma (Myanmar), Laos, and
Thailand, as well as the adjacent areas of southern China and
northwestern Vietnam. The area is known as the "Golden Triangle". In
Southwest Asia, opium poppies are grown in Pakistan, Iran, and
Afghanistan. Opium poppy is also grown in Lebanon, Guatemala, Colombia
The highlands of Mainland Southeast Asia, at elevations of 800 meters
or more above sea level, are prime poppy growing areas. Generally
speaking, these poppy-farming areas do not require irrigation,
fertilizer, or insecticides for successful opium yields.
Most of the opium poppies of Southeast Asia are grown in Burma
(Myanmar), specifically in the Wa and Kokang areas which are in the
northeastern quadrant of the Shan State of Burma. Laos is the
second-largest illicit opium-producing country in Southeast Asia and
third-largest in the world.
In Laos, poppy is cultivated extensively in Houaphan and Xiangkhoang
Provinces, as well as the six other northern provinces: Bokeo,
Louangnamtha, Louangphabang, Oudomxai, Phongsali and Xaignabouli.
Poppy is also grown in many of the remote, mountainous areas of
northern Thailand, particularly in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Mae Hong
Son, Nan and Tak Provinces.
In China, opium poppies are cultivated by ethnic minority groups in
the mountainous frontier regions of Yunnan Province, particularly
along the border area with Burma's Kachin and Shan States. Son La
Province, situated between China and Laos, is a major opium poppy
cultivation area in Vietnam, as are Lai Chau and Nghe An Provinces.
It is noteworthy that the dominant ethnic groups of Mainland Southeast
Asia are not poppy cultivators. The Burmans and Shan of Burma, the Lao
of Laos, the Thai of Thailand, the Han Chinese of Yunnan, China, and
the Vietnamese of Vietnam are lowlanders and do not traditionally
cultivate opium poppies. Rather, it is the ethnic minority highlander
groups, such as the Wa, Pa-0, Palaung, Lahu, Lisu, Hmong, and Akha who
grow poppies in the highlands of the countries of Southeast Asia.
A typical nuclear family of Mainland Southeast Asian highlanders
ranges between five and ten persons, including two to five adults. An
average household of poppy farmers can cultivate and harvest about one
acre of opium poppy per year. Most of the better fields can support
opium poppy cultivation for ten years or more without fertilization,
irrigation, or insecticides, before the soil is depleted and new
fields must be cleared. In choosing a field to grow opium poppy, soil
quality and acidity are critical factors and experienced poppy farmers
choose their fields carefully. In Southeast Asia, westerly
orientations are typically preferred to optimize sun exposure. Most
fields are on mountain slopes at elevations of 1,000 meters (3,000
feet) or more above sea level. Slope gradients of 20 degrees to 40
degrees are considered best for drainage of rain water.
In Mainland Southeast Asia, virgin land is prepared by cutting and
piling all brush, vines and small trees in the field during March, at
the end of the dry season. After allowing the brush to dry in the hot
sun for several days, the field is set afire. This method, called
"slash-and burn" or "swidden" agriculture, is commonly practiced by
dry field farmers - both highland and lowland - throughout Mainland
Southeast Asia in order to ready the land for a variety of field
crops. The slash-and-burn method is also used to clear fields for
poppy cultivation. Before the rainy season in April, fields by the
hundreds of thousands all over the region are set ablaze. A fog-like
yellow haze hangs over the area for weeks, reducing visibility for
hundreds of miles. In the mountains, the dense haze blocks out the sun
and stings the eyes.
A typical highlander family will plant an area of two or three rai
in opium poppy (2.53 rai is equivalent to one acre). In August
or September, toward the end of the rainy season, highland farmers in
Southeast Asia prepare fields selected for opium poppy planting. By
this time, the ash resulting from the burn-off of the previous dry
season has settled into the soil, providing additional nutrients,
especially potash. The soil is turned with long-handled hoes after it
is softened by the rains. The farmers then break up the large clumps
of soil. Weeds and stones are tossed aside and the ground is leveled
Traditionally, most highland and upland farmers in Southeast Asia do
not use fertilizer for any of their crops, including the opium poppy,
but in recent years opium poppy farmers have started using both
natural and chemical fertilizers to increase opium poppy yields.
Chicken manure, human feces or the regions' abundant bat droppings are
often mixed into the planting soil before the opium poppy seed is
The planting must be completed by the end of October in order to take
advantage of the region's "long days" in November and December.
The opium poppy seed can be sown several ways: broadcast (tossed by
hand); or fix-dropped by hand into shallow holes dug with a
metal-tipped dibble stick. About one pound of opium poppy seed is
needed to sow one acre of land. The seeds may be white, yellow,
coffee-color, gray, black, or blue. Seed color is not related to the
color of the flower petals. Beans, cabbages, cotton, parsley, spinach,
squash and tobacco are crops typically planted with the opium poppy.
These crops neither help nor hinder the cultivation of the opium
poppy, but are planted for personal consumption or as a cash crop.
In the highlands of Southeast Asia, it is a common practice to plant
maize and opium poppies in the same fields each year. The maize keeps
down excessive weeds and provides feed for the farmer's pigs and
ponies. It is grown from April to August. After harvesting the maize,
and with the stalks still standing in the fields, the ground is weeded
and pulverized. Just before the end of the rainy season, in successive
sowings throughout September and October, the poppy seed is broadcast
among the maize stalks. These stalks can protect young opium poppy
plants from heavy rains.
The opium poppy plants form leaves in the first growth stage, called
the "cabbage" or "lettuce" stage. After a month of growth, when the
opium poppy is about a foot high, some of the plants are removed
(called "thinning") to allow the other plants more room to grow. The
ideal spacing between plants is believed to be 20 to 40 centimeters,
or about eight to twelve plants per square meter, although some
researchers in northern Thailand have reported as many as 18 plants
per square meter.
During the first two months, the opium poppies may be damaged or
stunted by nature through the lack of adequate sunshine, excessive
rainfall, insects, worms, hail storms, early frost, or trampling by
animals. The third month of growth does not require as much care as
the first two months. Three to four months after planting, from late
December to early February, the opium poppies are in full bloom.
Mature plants range between three to five feet in height. Most opium
poppy varieties in Southeast Asia produce three to five mature pods
per plant. A typical opium poppy field has 60,000 to 120,000 poppy
plants per hectare, with a range of 120,000 to 275,000 opium-producing
pods. The actual opium yield will depend largely on weather conditions
and the precautions taken by individual farmers to safeguard the crop.
The farmer and his family generally move into the field for the final
two weeks, setting up a small field hut on the edge of the opium poppy
The scoring of the pods (also called "lancing," "incising," or
"tapping") begins about two weeks after the flower petals fall from
the pods. The farmer examines the pod and the tiny crown portion on
the top of the pod very carefully before scoring.
The grayish-green pod will become a dark green color as it matures and
it will swell in size. If the points of the pod's crown are standing
straight out or are curved upward, the pod is ready to be scored. If
the crown's points turn downward, the pod is not yet fully matured.
Not all the plants in a field will be ready for scoring at the same
time and each pod can be tapped more than once.
A set of three or four small blades of iron, glass, or glass splinters
bound tightly together on a wooden handle is used to score two or
three sides of the pod in a vertical direction. If the blades cut too
deep into the wall of the pod, the opium will flow too quickly and
will drip to the ground. If the incisions are too shallow, the flow
will be too slow and the opium will harden in the pods. A depth of
about one millimeter is desired for the incision.
Using a blade-tool designed to cut to that depth, scoring ideally
starts in late afternoon so the white raw opium latex can ooze out and
slowly coagulate on the surface of the pod overnight. If the scoring
begins too early in the afternoon, the sun will cause the opium to
coagulate over the incision and block the flow. Raw opium oxidizes,
darkens and thickens in the cool night air. Early the next morning,
the opium gum is scraped from the surface of the pods with a
short-handled, flat, iron blade three to four inches wide.
Opium harvesters work their way backwards across the field scoring the
lower, mature pods before the taller pods, in order to avoid brushing
up against the sticky pods. The pods continue to produce opium for
several days. Farmers will return to these plants - sometimes up to
five or six times - to gather additional opium until the pod is
totally depleted. The opium is collected in a container which hangs
from the farmer's neck or waist.
The opium yield from a single pod varies greatly, ranging from 10 to
100 milligrams of opium per pod. The average yield per pod is about 80
milligrams. The dried opium weight yield per hectare of poppies ranges
from eight to fifteen kilograms.
As the farmers gather the opium, they will commonly tag the larger or
more productive pods with colored string or yarn. These pods will
later be cut from their stems, cut open, dried in the sun and their
seeds used for the following year's planting.
The wet opium gum collected from the pods contains a relatively high
percentage of water and needs to be dried for several days.
High-quality raw opium will be brown (rather than black) in color and
will retain its sticky texture. Experienced opium traders can quickly
determine if the opium has been adulterated with tree sap, sand, or
other such materials. Raw opium in Burma, Laos and Thailand is usually
sun-dried, weighed in a standard 1.6 kilogram quantity (called a
"viss" in Burma; a "choi" in Laos and Thailand), wrapped in banana
leaf or plastic and then stored until ready to sell, trade, or smoke.
While opium smoking is common among most adult opium poppy farmers,
heavy addiction is generally limited to the older, male farmers. The
average yearly consumption of cooked opium per smoker is estimated to
be 1.6 kilograms.
A typical opium poppy farmer household in Southeast Asia will collect
2 to 5 choi or viss (3 to 9 kilograms) of opium from a year's harvest
of a one-acre field. That opium will be dried, wrapped and stacked on
a shelf by February or March. If the opium has been properly dried, it
can be stored indefinitely. Excessive moisture and heat can cause the
opium to deteriorate but, once dried, opium is relatively stable. In
fact, as opium dries and becomes less pliable, its value increases due
to the decrease in water weight per kilogram.
Before opium is smoked, it is usually "cooked". Uncooked opium
contains moisture, as well as soil, leaves, twigs, and other
impurities which diminish the quality of the final product. The raw
opium collected from the opium poppy pods is placed in an open cooking
pot of boiling water where the sticky globs of opium alkaloids quickly
dissolve. Soil, twigs, plant scrapings, etc., remain undissolved. The
solution is then strained through cheesecloth to remove these
impurities. The clear brown liquid that remains is opium in solution,
sometimes called "liquid opium". This liquid is then re-heated over a
low flame until the water is driven off into the air as steam leaving
a thick dark brown paste. This paste is called "prepared", "cooked",
or "smoking" opium. It is dried in the sun until it has a putty-like
consistency. The net weight of the cooked opium is generally only
eighty percent that of the original raw opium. Thus, cooked opium is
more pure than its original, raw form, and has a higher monetary
Cooked opium is suitable for smoking or eating by opium users.
Traditionally there is only one group of opium poppy farmers, the
Hmong, who prefer not to cook their opium before smoking. Most other
ethnic groups, including Chinese opium addicts, prefer smoking cooked
opium. If the opium is to be sold to traders for use in morphine or
heroin laboratories, it is not necessary to cook it first. The
laboratory operators generally use 55-gallon oil drums or huge cooking
vats to dissolve the raw opium before beginning the morphine
Raw or cooked opium contains more than thirty-five different
alkaloids, including morphine, which accounts for approximately ten
percent of the total raw opium weight. Heroin manufacturers must first
extract the morphine from the opium before converting the morphine to
heroin. The extraction is a simple process, requiring only a few
chemicals and a supply of water. Since the morphine base is about
one-tenth the weight and volume of raw opium, it is desirable to
reduce the opium to morphine before transporting the product any great
distance. Morphine is sometimes extracted from opium in small
clandestine "laboratories" which may be set up near the opium poppy
The process of extracting morphine from opium involves dissolving
opium in hot water, adding lime to precipitate the non-morphine
alkaloids and then adding ammonium chloride to precipitate the
morphine from the solution. An empty oil drum and some cooking pots
are all that is needed.
The following is a step-by-step description of morphine extraction in
a typical Southeast Asian laboratory:
1. An empty 55-gallon oil drum is placed on bricks about a foot above
the ground and a fire is built under the drum. Thirty gallons of water
are added to the drum and brought to a boil. Ten to fifteen kilograms
of raw opium are added to the boiling water.
2. With stirring, the raw opium eventually dissolves in the boiling
water, while soil, leaves, twigs, and other non-soluble materials
float in the solution. Most of these materials are scooped out of the
clear brown "liquid opium" solution.
3. Slaked lime (calcium hydroxide), or more often a readily available
chemical fertilizer with a high content of lime, is added to the
solution. The lime converts the water insoluble morphine into the
water soluble calcium morphenate. The other opium alkaloids do not
react with the lime to form soluble calcium salts. Codeine is slightly
water soluble and gets carried over with the calcium morphenate in the
liquid. For the most part, the other alkaloids become part of the
residual sediment "sludge" that comes to rest on the bottom of the oil
4. As the solution cools, and after the insolubles precipitate out,
the morphine solution is scooped from the drum and poured through a
filter of some kind. Burlap rice sacks are often used as filters. They
are later squeezed in a press to remove most of the solution from the
wet sacks. The solution is then poured into large cooking pots and
re-heated, but not boiled.
5. Ammonium chloride is added to the heated calcium morphenate
solution to adjust the alkalinity to a pH of 8 to 9, and the solution
is then allowed to cool. Within one or two hours, the morphine base
and the unextracted codeine base precipitate out of the solution and
settle to the bottom of the cooking pot.
6. The solution is then poured off through cloth filters. Any solid
morphine base chunks in the solution will remain on the cloth. The
morphine base is removed from both the cooking pot and from the filter
cloths, wrapped and squeezed in cloth, and then dried in the sun. When
dry, the crude morphine base is a coffee-colored powder.
7. This "crude" morphine base, commonly known by the Chinese term
p'i-tzu throughout Southeast Asia, may be further purified by
dissolving it in hydrochloric acid, adding activated charcoal,
re-heating and re-filtering. The solution is filtered several more
times, and the morphine (morphine hydrochloride) is then dried in the
8. Morphine hydrochloride (still tainted with codeine hydrochloride)
is usually formed into small brick-sized blocks in a press and wrapped
in paper or cloth. The most common block size is 2 inches by 4 inches
by 5 inches weighing about 1.3 kilograms (3 lbs). The bricks are then
dried for transport to heroin processing laboratories.
Approximately 13 kilograms of opium, from one hectare of opium
poppies, are needed to produce each morphine block of this size. The
morphine blocks are bundled and packed for transport to heroin
laboratories by human couriers or by pack animals. Pack mules are able
to carry 100-kilogram payloads over 200 miles of rugged mountain
trails in less than three weeks.
The conversion of morphine hydrochloride to heroin base is a
relatively simple and inexpensive procedure. The necessary chemicals
are readily available industrial chemicals. The equipment is very
basic and quite portable. Heroin conversion laboratories are generally
located in isolated, rural areas due to the telltale odors of the
lab's chemicals. Acetic anhydride, in particular, is a key chemical
with the easily identified very pungent odor of pickles.
Heroin synthesis is a two-step process which generally requires twelve
to fourteen hours to complete. Heroin base is the intermediate
product. Typically, morphine hydrochloride bricks are pulverized and
the dried powder is then placed in an enamel or stainless steel rice
cooking pot. The liquid acetic anhydride is then added. The pot lid is
tied or clamped on, with a damp towel used for a gasket. The pot is
carefully heated for about two hours, below boiling, at a constant
temperature of 185 degrees Fahrenheit. It is never allowed to boil or
to become so hot as to vent fumes. It is agitated by tilting and
swirling until all of the morphine has dissolved. Acetic anhydride
reacts with the morphine to form diacetylmorphine (heroin). This
acetylation process will work either with morphine hydrochloride or
p'i-tzu (crude morphine base).
When cooking is completed, the pot is cooled and opened. The morphine
and the acetic anhydride have now become chemically bonded, creating
an impure form of diacetylmorphine (heroin). Water is added at three
times the volume of acetic anhydride and the mixture is stirred.
Activated charcoal is added and mixed by stirring and the mixture is
then filtered to remove colored impurities. Solids remaining on the
filter are discarded. Sodium carbonate, used at 2.5 pounds per pound
of morphine, is dissolved in hot water and added slowly to the liquid
until effervescence stops. This precipitates the heroin base which is
then filtered and dried by heating in a steam bath for an hour. For
each pound of morphine, about 11 ounces of crude heroin base is
formed. The heroin base may be dried, packed and transported to a
heroin refining laboratory or it may be purified further and/or
converted to heroin hydrochloride, a water-soluble salt form of
heroin, at the same site.
Southeast Asian heroin base is an intermediate product which can be
further converted to either a smoking form (Heroin No. 3) or an
injectable form (Heroin No. 4).
(Smoking Heroin, heroin hydrochloride)
To make heroin No. 3, the crude base is mixed with hydrochloric acid
resulting in heroin hydrochloride. Adulterants including caffeine are
added after this conversion. For each kilogram of crude heroin base
about one kilogram of caffeine is used. Various "flavorings" such as
quinine hydrochloride or strychnine hydrochloride may be added in 7
gram or 14 gram increments. Next, the wet paste mix is stirred to
dryness over the steam bath. The resulting dry Heroin No. 3 will be in
the form of coarse lumps. These are crushed and passed through a #8 to
#10 mesh sieve, and the grains (pieces) are then packaged for sale.
The entire process takes about eight hours and requires only minimal
skill. While extra attention to stirring is required to assure
dryness, one man can prepare a one-kilogram block of Heroin No. 3
during this time.
To the heroin base mixture in the pot, water is added at three times
the volume of acetic anhydride and mixed by stirring. A small amount
of chloroform is added. The mixture is stirred and then allowed to
stand for twenty minutes. Doing so precipitates highly-colored
impurities and a red, greasy liquid. The water layer is carefully
poured off and saved in a clean pot, leaving the red grease in the
pot. In a clean pot, activated charcoal is stirred into the aqueous
solution and is filtered to remove solid impurities. The decolorizing
effects of the charcoal, combined with the chloroform treatment, will
leave a light yellow solution. The use of charcoal is repeated one or
more times, until the solution is colorless.
Approximately 1.1 kilograms of sodium carbonate per 0.5 kilogram of
morphine is dissolved in hot water and added slowly to the mixture
until the effervescence stops. This precipitates the heroin base which
is then filtered and dried by heating on a steam bath. The heroin base
is heated until dryness is complete, an imperative for the preparation
of Heroin No.4. The powder should be very white at this stage. If not
white, the base is redissolved in diluted acid, treated repeatedly
with activated charcoal, reprecipitated and dried. The ultimate purity
and color of the resulting heroin hydrochloride depends largely on the
quality of the heroin base.
The following optional steps are sometimes taken by skilled heroin
chemists to increase quality.
For each pound of heroin base 1,100 milliliters of ethyl alcohol is
heated to boiling. The heroin base is added and stirred until
completely dissolved. The heated solution is then quickly filtered
through a Büchner funnel that has been preheated and poured into a
heated flask. This hot filtration removes the traces of sodium
carbonate that remained in the base. The solution is quickly cooled in
an ice bath, where it becomes very thick; like ice cream. The
substance is put into a pan and set in a large refrigerator. A fan is
set to blow across the pan to cause slow evaporation of the alcohol
while the paste crystallizes. After several hours, it is
vacuum-filtered. The filtrate, pure ethyl alcohol, is re-used. The
solid material, "alcohol morphine base", is actually recrystallized
The heroin product, either heroin base or recrystallized heroin base,
is weighed. For each pound of solid product, 3,000 milliliters of
ethyl alcohol, 3,000 milliliters of ether, and 102 milliliters of
concentrated hydrochloric acid are measured out. The solid is
dissolved by heating with one-third of the alcohol and one-half of the
acid. Another one-third of the acid is added and mixed by stirring.
Next, acid is added slowly, drop by drop, until the product is
completely converted to the hydrochloride. Two methods of testing this
end product may be used. Either a drop of solution evaporates on a
clean glass plate, leaving no trace of cloudiness in the residue, or a
drop of the solution placed on Congo red paper causes the paper to
Once the acid is added, the remaining alcohol is stirred in. Half of
the ether is then added with stirring and the mixture is allowed to
stand for fifteen minutes. It must be examined with great care since
it is extremely volatile and flammable. Once the first small crystals
are detected, the remaining ether is added at once. The vessel is
stirred, covered and allowed to stand for twenty minutes to one hour.
The mixture becomes nearly solid after an hour. At this point, it is
filtered and the solids are collected on clean filter paper. The paper
is wrapped around the crystals and placed on wooden trays, usually
over lime rock, to dry. When the crystals of pure heroin hydrochloride
are dry, they are packaged. Batches of 5 to 10 kilograms are commonly
made at one time, the largest batch being an estimated 20 kilograms.
Chemicals used to isolate morphine from opium include ammonium
chloride, calcium carbonate (limestone), and calcium hydroxide (slaked
lime). The precursor chemical normally used in the conversion of
morphine to heroin is acetic anhydride. Chemical reagents used in the
conversion process include sodium carbonate and activated charcoal.
Chemical solvents needed are chloroform, ethyl alcohol (ethanol),
ethyl ether and acetone. Other chemicals may be substituted for these
preferred chemicals, but most or all of these preferred chemicals are
readily available through smugglers and suppliers.
Necessary laboratory equipment includes measuring cups, funnels,
filter paper, litmus paper and a stainless steel pot. Only the most
sophisticated heroin labs use glass flasks, propane gas ovens, Bunsen
burners, vacuum pumps, autoclaves, electric blenders, venting hoods,
centrifuges, reflux condensers, electric drying ovens and elaborate
exhaust systems. Portable, gasoline-powered generators are often used
at clandestine heroin conversion laboratories used to power various
Corrections to the text by
Common Misconception Numero Uno appears in Pakker's history of opium.
It is the dreaded "soldier's disease"...
In the 1860s morphine was used extensively pre- and
post-operatively as a painkiller for wounded soldiers during the
Civil War...The inevitable result was opium addiction, called the
'army disease' or the 'soldier's disease'.
This is an example of anti-drug propaganda which sounds so damned
*possible* few ever question it. And it has worked well for the Drug
Warriors from the beginning, which was just a few years before the
Harrison act was passed. In fact, this yarn was invented to portray
opium and morphine as so powerful and so addicting that it could take
over the soul of anyone, even against their will.
But on Cliff Schaeffer's Site there is an essay about "soldier's
disease" that does question the story and, lo and behold, it's not
No doubt, opium was used very extensively in during the Civil War, and
before and after it, too. But there is just no documentation of any
mass addiction and the phrase "soldier's disease" or its variants
didn't appear for something like 40 years after the war.
I think the essay is called "The Mythical Roots of US drug policy."
Another slight error I think is worth correcting is what Pakker says
about the Harrison Act:
"In December 1914, the United States Congress passed the Harrison
Narcotics Act which called for control of each phase of the
preparation and distribution of medicinal opium, morphine, heroin,
cocaine, and any new derivative that could be shown to have
similar properties. It made illegal the possession of these
The Harrison Act wasn't that bad. It did *not* outlaw heroin, for
instance. That didn't happen until 1923. And it didn't make possession
of opium, opiates or cocaine illegal but pretended to be a tax measure
only. The first time it was challenged, in 1916, the Supreme Court
knocked it down in a 7-3 vote. Writing for the majority Justice O.W.
Holmes acted outraged that the government would try to make criminals
out of the majority of American citizens who all had some form of
opium in their homes. If Congress were trying to legislate morals by
this law with its "coating of constitutionality" coming from its
supposed power to tax, they had another think coming.
What's kind of scary is that in 1919, the Supreme court heard two
other cases in which the law was upheld. Between 1916 and 1919 some of
the judges had changed but it still wouldn't account for the 5-4 vote
in favor of the government and (very strangely) overturning its own
opinion so quickly -- something the Supremes just hate to do.
But, looking at the rosters it becomes apparent that *Holmes changed
his mind*. I have still not completely verified this, but it sure
looks like it. I can't figure out why in the hell he would do this,
As for the part about "any new derivative" with similar properties,
etc. is also not correct. That really didn't happen until 1986 with
the Analog Substances Act.
Earlier versions of the "Harrison Act" outlawed caffeine, too. So I
guess we can count ourselves lucky.
BTW, the poppy plant itself was outlawed in 1943 by the "Poppy Control
Act" and then it was "repealed" in 1972 when the congress jerks
realized the new Controlled Substances Act was sufficient to make them
And Pakker is right about what's illegal. Papaver somniferum is
illegal. Every part of the plant is illegal *except the seeds*. As
soon as the seed sprouts, it seems to me, the thing is illegal.
Do not, repeat, do not, believe in Harper's author and human jackal
Michael Pollan's carefully constructed "innocent gardene" defense
because it will not work in front of a real-life judge. With all
drugs, "mens rea" or "bad intent" is supposed.
OK, I gotta go now. Till later,