Matthew Leigh Embleton

Musician, Composer, Producer, Language and History Enthusiast, and Author

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A Brief History of Opium: Mythology, Culture, Medicine, Trade, and Conflict

Ideas about the origin of humankind's relationship with the opium poppy are complex and varied, and the further back in time we look, the more hypotheses and speculation we find filling in the gaps. Perhaps this strangest and most mysterious of plants has the power to vividly inspire the imagination as much in the study of its history, as with the generation of Romantic Pœts who believed that its extracts stimulated their imagination to write a new genre of pœtry filled with visual imagery. From ancient civilisations of the Neolithic period to the present day, the opium poppy (Papaver Somniferum) has a fascinating history, from iconic associations with the dark symbolism of trance, sleep, dreams, and death in Greco-Roman mythology, to the search for ever stronger pain relief without the dangers of addiction in modern medicine. Since its discovery and identification as a powerful painkiller in ancient medical texts, to the battlefields of the American Civil War, 'God's Own Medicine' has been both a blessing and a curse for humankind. The growth and profitability of the opium trade has caused wars, and funded others. It has relieved pain for some, but been the cause of pain and suffering for others. Its illicit recreational use, subsequent addiction, and complex issues of war and politics have plagued humankind to this day.

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