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The Power of the Poppy

Harnessing Nature's Most Dangerous Plant Ally

Published by Park Street Press
Distributed by Simon & Schuster



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About The Book

A comprehensive look at the inspiring, healing, and addictive powers of the Opium Poppy and its derivatives throughout history

• Covers the history, risks, and benefits of opium, morphine, oxycodone, methadone, and fentanyl

• Provides techniques of cultivation, extraction, and safe consumption as well as methods for overcoming addiction and staying “clean”

• Profiles 11 famous users, including Thomas de Quincey, William S. Burroughs, Lou Reed, and DJ Screw

Few plant allies have a history as long and well-documented as Papaver somniferum, the celebrated and infamous opium poppy. For thousands of years people around the world have been unable to resist the poppy’s siren song of intoxicating pleasure, pain relief, and visionary states--so much so that this potent plant has literally adapted itself to human civilization: in increasing its intoxicating properties, it came to rely solely on humankind for its propagation.

From 6,000-year-old poppy seeds found in archaeological digs in Europe to the black tar heroin factories of South America and the modern “War on Drugs,” Kenaz Filan explores the history of this enduring plant and its many derivatives--including opium, morphine, oxycodone, methadone, and fentanyl--as well as its symbiotic relationship with humans as medicine, food, intoxicant, and visionary tool. Profiling 11 famous users including Thomas de Quincey, William S. Burroughs, Lou Reed, and DJ Screw, Filan examines how opium and other poppy derivatives inspired them as well as the high price it exacted for its inspiration. Covering techniques of cultivation, extraction, and safe consumption along with methods for overcoming addiction and staying “clean,” this book offers a sensible approach to the poppy that recognizes the plant not as a crop to be harvested or eradicated but as a living, sentient ally that can offer healing or harm and must be approached with respect and caution.


Chapter 14


Today we have isolated Papaver somniferum’s active chemicals. We have also used them as precursors and inspiration for our own new painkillers. Many of our experiments tried to take the addictive sting out of opium. To date we’ve had little luck with that; despite the efforts of our best chemical minds, Poppy still demands her bargain. The substances we have brewed with her and in her honor have as many uses and dangers as the mother alkaloids that first attracted humanity’s attention. We have found no real substitute for the painkilling properties of morphine or other poppy-derived alkaloids, no chemical that gives us the poppy’s benefits without extracting its price of addiction. Even as we go to war with Poppy, we are forced to do business with her.

In 1960 Paul Janssen, a Belgian biochemist and founder of Janssen Pharmaceutical, first synthesized fentanyl. He expected the compound to show analgesic properties similar to other synthetic opioids like meperidine or methadone. What he got was something that was far more potent. Animal tests conducted by the Janssen Pharmaceutical research group showed that the analgesic potency of fentanyl was 470 times that of morphine.

Fentanyl quickly became a favorite among anesthesiologists. It is far less likely to cause histamine reactions in patients and can cause a deep, complete sedation with a comparatively small dose. Then, in 1990, Janssen introduced a new delivery system--the Duragesic patch. The Duragesic patch allows for a controlled dose of fentanyl. The fentanyl is mixed in a gel/hydrocellulose matrix then delivered at a consistent rate through the skin through a sophisticated membrane.

The patch could provide relief for patients who were unable to swallow pills and could be scaled up to meet the demands of even the most severely ill cancer patients. Marketed through Janssen’s primary shareholder and American partner, Johnson & Johnson, Duragesic patches became a billion dollar business, used not only to treat cancer but also for arthritis, neuropathy, and other chronic pain conditions. Fentanyl lollipops and lozenges provided quick relief for breakthrough pain: while fentanyl is largely broken down in the stomach, it is quickly and efficiently absorbed through the cheek and gum membranes.

But Duragesic patches also found a ready audience among the users of street drugs. Today recreational users cut open the patches and smoke the gel or apply multiple patches; a few enthusiastic if self-destructive souls have even tried to extract the fentanyl and inject it. On December 15, 2005, forty-four-year-old Jacqueline Young died in bed at the Greenwood, Indiana, hotel where she was living. She was wearing two pain patches and had applied heating pads to accelerate the delivery of fentanyl. On March 21, 2006, police arrived at the home of Anna Layton of Shelbyville, Tennessee, to tell her about her son’s death, only to find her dead. Both mother and son had eaten and injected fentanyl from patches. Toxicology reports showed Anna Layton had nearly fifteen times the lethal dose of fentanyl in her system, and her son had nearly three times the lethal dose. In 2004, fentanyl patch abuse was found to be responsible for 115 deaths in Florida alone.

Fentanyl is intended only for users who are already opiate-tolerant, typically patients who have been on pain medication for long periods of time. Those with less tolerance can easily experience fatal respiratory depression. Even those who are used to painkillers need to approach fentanyl with care. If the membrane is damaged, an excessive quantity of the drug could leak onto the skin, and combining fentanyl with other depressants like alcohol or benzodiazepines can be deadly.

Fentanyl has long been popular among junkies as “China White,” heroin of legendary, sometimes lethal, potency. Many street chemists have attempted to brew their own fentanyl. While relatively complicated, the synthesis is not beyond most bright graduate students.

MPTP and the “Junkie Statues”

In 1976 Barry Kidston, a young graduate student in Bethesda, Maryland, was hospitalized with symptoms of severe Parkinson’s disease. When treated with levodopa, the standard treatment for Parkinson’s, he regained some of his mobility. It was then revealed that Kidston, a chemist, had been brewing and injecting the synthetic opiate 1-methyl-4-phenyl-4-propionoxy-piperidine (MPPP) for several months. Two years later, Kidston’s psychopharmacology career ended as he died of a cocaine overdose. An autopsy revealed a substantial loss of dopamine-producing cells in the substantia nigra part of his brain, a hallmark of Parkinson’s disease.

Then, in July of 1982, a forty-two-year-old named George Carillo arrived at the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose, California. Carillo was literally frozen like a statue in a bent, twisted position. Neurologists suspected catatonic schizophrenia; psychologists were certain it was a neurological disorder. Then a neurologist in Watsonville, some thirty miles away, reported a case of two brothers in their twenties, both addicts, who showed advanced symptoms of Parkinson’s. Alerts were issued warning of a new batch of bad heroin on the streets. Ultimately seven addicts would come down with these alarming symptoms.

A sample of this tainted heroin was analyzed: one of the toxicologists who examined it recalled reading about an unusual case of Parkinson’s in Psychiatry Research. William Langston, the neurologist who first treated Carillo, looked up the paper, which dealt with the Kidston case. He found that Kidston had prepared his synthesis based on a 1947 paper by Albert Ziering, a researcher at the Hoffmann-La Roche pharmaceutical company.

But when he went to the Stanford University library to check The Journal of Organic Chemistry in which it had appeared, he discovered that Ziering’s paper had been cut out. It was clear now that some enterprising college chemist was cooking up MPPP and selling it as heroin. It was equally clear that he, like Kidston, had made a mistake in his recipe. Further study of MPPP revealed that if Ziering’s original synthesis was not followed exactly, a contaminant called MPTP was produced--and when injected into monkeys, MPTP triggered symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease.

About The Author

Kenaz Filan (Houngan Coquille du Mer) was initiated in Société la Belle Venus in March 2003 after 10 years of solitary service to the lwa. Filan is the author of The Haitian Vodou Handbook, Vodou Love Magic, and Vodou Money Magic and coauthor of Drawing Down the Spirits. A frequent contributor to PanGaia, Planet Magazine, and Widdershins, Filan is the former managing editor of newWitch magazine and lives in Short Hills, New Jersey.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Park Street Press (February 23, 2011)
  • Length: 320 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781594773990

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Raves and Reviews

“Kenaz Filan’s well-researched compilation of Poppy’s history, uses, constituents, derivatives, and personal accounts will more than inform you about this powerful plant--it will invite you to deeply consider the price one pays for such a potent ally.”

– Pam Montgomery, herbalist and author of Plant Spirit Healing

“Like cannabis, the poppy is an ancient medicinal plant, both revered and maligned. Kenaz Filan performs a crucial service in educating us about its history, both agricultural and cultural, and examining its potential for healing and harm. Most importantly, the author offers hope and heart to those struggling with addiction.”

– Julie Holland, editor of Ecstasy: The Complete Guide and The Pot Book: A Complete Guide to Cannabis

The Power of the Poppy offers a frank and precise analysis of the mystical, chemical, and social aspects of a plant that has fascinated humans for millennia. Readers will gain the data they need to make informed decisions.”

– Elizabeth Barrette, author of Composing Magic

“An eminently readable book, this examination of the poppy's contribution to humankind, for both good and ill, belongs on every shelf. Written in a beguiling, conversational tone that kept this reader reading late into the night. . . An open-eyed, unbiased and realistic examination of the history of the poppy and its products, this book will appear to a broad range of readers. They will not be disappointed.”

– Marlene Y. Satter, ForeWord Magazine, March 2011

The Power of the Poppy elucidates the many ways the histories of man and poppy are intertwined and it’s full of interesting tidbits along the way. . . If you have an interest in opium and its role in human affairs, The Power of the Poppy will be both entertaining and enlightening.”

–, May 2011

The Power of the Poppy is truly a magnificent book. It is essential reading for anyone interested in the history of psychoactives, the drug war, or a personal relationship with powerful plant allies.”

– Stephen Harrod Buhner, author of The Secret Teachings of Plants

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