Saturday, September 29, 2012

Morphine and Codeine content of Poppy Seeds


    I came across this story posted on DrugWarRant.com by Pete Guither, the article is from Nature.  Outcry over jailed Russian Chemist

Some highlights:

     "In September 2011, the defence attorneys of Sergey Shilov, a Russian businessman under investigation by the Russian Federal Drug Control Service (FDCS), asked her to provide an expert opinion on the amount of opiates that could possibly be extracted from 42 metric tonnes of food poppy seeds that Shilov had imported from Spain in 2010."


     "On the basis of gas-chromatography and mass-spectrometry measurements of samples analysed in her lab, Zelenina calculated the overall morphine and codeine content in the poppy-seed consignment in question to be 0.00069% and 0.00049%, respectively. In such low concentrations, opiates can only be identified or extracted in well-equipped analytical chemistry labs, she wrote."


     So a Russian businessman imported 42 metric tonnes of poppy seeds from Spain.  Poppy seeds are a legal grey area in the US as well as Russia.  Technically they are legal as long as they don't have any of the narcotic alkaloids found in opium.  Supposedly the seeds do not contain any morphine or codeine, but do contain some trace residues when they are separated from the pods.  The seed pod contains the latex from which opium is harvested.  As part of the defense analytical chemist Olga Zelenina was contracted to provide expert testimony on the feasibility of extracting opiates from the seeds.

     How much morphine and codeine is in 42 metric tonnes of poppy seed?  This is actually easy to calculate by multiplying 42,000 Kg by 0.0000069 and 0.0000049.  Doing the math you find that 42 metric tonnes of seed has a total morphine content of 289.8g and 205.8g of codeine.  However you would not be able to extract all the alkaloids from the seeds.  Natural products chemistry is notorious for having low yields.  But lets ignore that for a second and assume that you can extract and purify 100% of the narcotic alkaloids.

     According to this article from the Beckley Foundation [Link] the international price of poppy seeds are $4,600 a tonne.  Therefore 42 tonnes of seed would cost $193,200.  This gives us a cost of $666.67 per gram of morphine and $938.78 per gram of codeine, again assuming yields of 100%.  This is much higher than the black market price of morphine or heroin.  Poppy seeds are just not a viable source of opiates, at least for human consumption, though they may have an effect on some small animals.

     The result of Zelenina's report apparently angered the Russian drug warriors.  On August 15th she was arrested and charged with "aiding and abetting attempted drug trafficking by an organized group."  I guess scientific integrity is another victim of the international drug war.

2 comments:

  1. Plants and their chemicals should be free for everyone to use. Lack of knowledge is the problem.

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  2. WHY does the government care if i Ingest Drugs or any other thing ? when they clearly don't care if I get Poisoned from chemicals found all around me in the foods I eat the clothes I wear , the water I drink and bath in , the emissions from internal combustion engines , the carpets in my Home , the paint on my walls , .......
    the List goes on and on and ON !

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