What drug may have been detected had Dorothy’s and the Cowardly Lion’s urine been tested as they entered Emerald City?

Morphine, as long as we let L. Frank Baum get away with a little poetic license. In the 1939 movie classic The Wizard of Oz, the Wicked Witch of the West conjures up a poppy field in front of the Emerald City to prevent Dorothy, the Lion, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow from entering. As the four wander through the field, Dorothy and the Lion mysteriously fall asleep, succumbing to the vapours released by the poppies. The Tin Man and the Scarecrow, not possessed of human or animal biology, are unaffected. Poppies really can be associated with sleep; indeed, the Latin botanical name of the flower, Papaver somniferum, translates as “sleep-bringing poppy.” But smelling poppies is not enough to bring on sleep, as the active components are not volatile. Ingestion or injection of “opiates,” is required. Opiates are biologically active compounds extracted from opium, the dried latex that exudes from an incision made in the seed pods of the plant before these blossom into flowers. Morphine is the major opiate, but codeine, thebaine, papaverine and noscapine are also present. Small amounts of opium can also be found in the seeds of the plant. While not enough to produce any sort of a physiological effect, they can yield a positive urine test. Had Dorothy consumed a few poppy seed bagels, she could have run into some legal problems in Emerald City.

Morphine is the proverbial double edged sword! It can induce sleep, but at the wrong dose, it can induce sleep permanently. However, it is an extremely effective pain killer, produced for medical use by pharmaceutical companies mostly in Australia, Turkey and India. Unfortunately morphine can also induce euphoria, an artificial feeling of well-being that comes with a steep price tag. Addiction! Extracted from poppies grown illegally, mostly in Afghanistan, opium is a social curse. The smoke-filled opium dens of the nineteenth century may be gone, but morphine and its synthetic derivative heroin are widely available street drugs, their use connected with crime and disease. Sadly, in the real world there is no Good Witch of the South to destroy the poppies’ narcotic power with a magical snowfall. Victims of opium do not easily extricate themselves from the clutches of the drug to skip towards a happy future.

 

Joe Schwarcz

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