Epimorph - Chemistry - Production

Production

In the opium poppy the alkaloids are bound to meconic acid. The method is to extract from the crushed plant with diluted sulfuric acid, which is a stronger acid than meconic acid, but not so strong to react with alkaloid molecules. The extraction is performed in many steps (one amount of crushed plant is at least six to ten times extracted, so practically every alkaloid goes into the solution). From the solution obtained at the last extraction step, the alkaloids are precipitated by either ammonium hydroxide or sodium carbonate. The last step is purifying and separating morphine from other opium alkaloids. The somewhat similar Gregory process was developed in the United Kingdom during the Second World War, which begins with stewing the entire plant, in most cases save the roots and leaves, in plain or mildly acidified water, then proceeding through steps of concentration, extraction, and purification of alkaloids. Other methods of processing poppy straw use steam, one or more of several types of alcohol, or other organic solvents.

The poppy straw methods predominate in Continental Europe and the British Commonwealth, with the latex method in most common use in India. The latex method can involve either vertical or horizontal slicing of the unripe pods with a two-to five-bladed knife with a guard developed specifically for this purpose to the depth of a fraction of a millimetre and scoring of the pods can be done up to five times. An alternative latex method sometimes used in China in the past is to cut off the poppy heads, run a large needle through them, and collect the dried latex 24 to 48 hours later.

Opium poppy contains at least 50 different alkaloids, but most of them are of very low concentration. Morphine is the principal alkaloid in raw opium and constitutes ~8-19% of opium by dry weight (depending on growing conditions). Some purpose-developed strains of poppy now produce opium that is up to 26 percent morphine by weight. A rough rule of thumb to determine the morphine content of pulverised dried poppy straw is to divide the percentage expected for the strain or crop via the latex method by eight or an empirically determined factor, which is often in the range of 5 to 15. The Norman strain of P. Somniferum, also developed in Tasmania, produces down to 0.04 percent morphine but with much higher amounts of thebaine and oripavine, which can be used to synthesise semi-synthetic opioids as well as other drugs like stimulants, emetics, opioid antagonists, anticholinergics, and smooth-muscle agents.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Hungary supplied nearly 60% of Europe's total medication-purpose morphine production. To this day, poppy farming is legal in Hungary, but poppy farms are limited by law to 2 acres (8,100 m2). It is also legal to sell dried poppy in flower shops for use in floral arrangements.

It was announced in 1973 that a team at the National Institutes of Health in the United States had developed a method for total synthesis of morphine, codeine, and thebaine using coal tar as a starting material. A shortage in codeine-hydrocodone class cough suppressants (all of which can be made from morphine in one or more steps, as well as from codeine or thebaine) was the initial reason for the research.

Most morphine produced for pharmaceutical use around the world is actually converted into codeine as the concentration of the latter in both raw opium and poppy straw is much lower than that of morphine; in most countries, the usage of codeine (both as end-product and precursor) is at least equal or greater than that of morphine on a weight basis and codeine is by far the most commonly used opioid in the world. While strains of poppies have been engineered to produce much higher yields of the other useful opioid pharmaceutical precursors thebaine and oripavine, no known strain of P. somniferum will produce more codeine than morphine under most or all possible conditions. In general, the poppy straw process of producing opioid alkaloids yields more codeine but an equal or somewhat smaller thebaine yield.

Read more about this topic:  Epimorph, Chemistry

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