This chapter examines crops of cannabis (Cannabis sativa), coca (Erythroxylum spp.), and opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) grown for production of illicit drugs. Cultivation of these plants for drug use has made them targets for interdiction, but their licit cultivation and use as part of cultural and spiritual heritages or for culinary, industrial, medicinal, and ornamental purposes go far back into human history. Whereas cultivation of coca is restricted largely to its native phytogeographic region in South America, opium poppy and cannabis are grown worldwide as licit crops or for illicit drug trade (UNODC 2010a). The biology, cultivation practices, growth conditions, uses, and other information relevant to this report are discussed in this chapter.
Cannabis sativa (including industrial hemp and cannabis herb or marijuana) is a dioecious (having male and female parts in separate plants) annual dicot with distinctly palmate leaves (Figure 3-1). It is frequently found alongside cultivated fields because of the high soil nitrogen content and in disturbed soil. Depending on the cultivar and growing conditions, the number of leaflets per leaf can range from three to 13, and the leaflets are up to 10 cm long. The first pair of leaves (bottom, in opposite arrangement) and the last pair of leaves (top, in alternate arrangement) usually have only one leaflet each.
The height of a mature plant can range from 1 to 5 m, depending on environmental and genetic factors. Male plants are more visibly flowered and are usually taller than female plants; the male flowers have five anthers to disperse pollen and five yellowish tepals. Hanging nearly 30 cm long, the inflorescence of male flowers are multibranched loose clusters (UNODC 2006). The pollen from male flowers is released, and the male plant dies soon after (UNODC 2006). Female plants have smaller leaves, and the flowers are more tightly
packed than flowers on the male plants. Flowering is induced by lengthening dark periods to 11-13 hours to simulate the end of summer and the beginning of autumn (UNODC 2006).
Throughout human history, cannabis has been used for textiles, paper, medicine, and food (Abel 1980). It was originally native to central Asia and historically was cultivated in China, the rest of Asia, and Europe. It has become more widespread, growing in temperate, tropical, and subarctic climates (Duke 1983). Most botanists consider cannabis as a single species, Cannabis sativa, but some (see McPartland and West 1999) consider C. sativa as one of three species in the Cannabaceae family that is used to produce marijuana.
Cultivars of C.sativa that grow more than 6 m in height produce a durable fiber called hemp. The production of hemp predates written history and is thought to have begun in China. Early Chinese texts indicate that hemp was cultivated to make cloth, the stalks were used as fuel, and the seeds were used for oil and food. In the present report, cannabis refers to the plant species, hemp refers to industrial hemp, and marijuana refers to the psychotropic drug (recreational or medical).
By the 16th century, hemp was being cultivated and widely used in Europe for the fiber and for the seeds, which were cooked with grains and eaten. During the 16th and 17th centuries, hemp production made its way to North America and South America. In the United States, hemp production provided weaving fiber for New England Puritans but could not displace the flax already in use. Cultivation spread to Kentucky and other states but did not take a strong hold, particularly as cotton production increased in the South. The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 required all hemp producers to register with the U.S. Department of the Treasury Department; hemp production since then has been negligible in the United States.
Over 400 compounds are found in cannabis, 60 of which are peculiar to cannabis and are called cannabinoids (Turner et al. 1980; UNODC 2006). Cannabinoids exist in the form of carboxylic acids that readily decarboxylate when heated (De Zeeuw et al. 1972; Kimura and Okamoto 1970), in alkaline environments (Grlic and Andrec 1961; Masoud and Doorenboos 1973), and over time (Masoud and Doorenboos 1973; Turner et al. 1973). Ä-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the main cannabinoid that produces the psychoactive effects of cannabis-based products (UNODC 2006).
Cannabis produces a variety of secondary metabolic compounds, including flavonoids (Gellert et al. 1974; Paris et al. 1975), alkanes (Adams and Jones 1973; De Zeeuw et al. 1973; Mobarak et al. 1974a, 1974b), and nitrogenous compounds (Hanus 1975a, 1975b). Terpenes add to the characteristic odor of cannabis (Hood et al. 1973) and are abundant in the plant (Hanus 1975a; Hendricks et al. 1975) and in some of its preparations (such as hashish). Ecological factors and heredity are thought to contribute heavily to the production of these compounds (Fetterman et al. 1971; Small and Beckstead 1973).
There are two major products of illicit cannabis cultivation: resin and herb (marijuana). Resin is the pressed secretion of the cannabis plant, also commonly called hashish or charas in India, whereas the herb refers to the leaves and flowers of the plant (UNODC 2006).
Afghanistan is the largest producer of cannabis resin in the world (UNODC 2010a; see Table 1-1). Morocco has at least 3 times as much land in cultivation, but Afghanistan’s resin yields are 4 times as high per hectare (UNODC 2010a). Cannabis cultivation occurs in 17 of the 34 provinces of Afghanistan on an estimated 10,000-24,000 hectares. Mexico, Paraguay, Colombia, the Netherlands, Bolivia, Canada, and the United States are producers of cannabis herb; Mexico and Paraguay produce the majority (UNODC 2010a).
Cannabis can be cultivated nearly anywhere, including indoors. Seeds are readily obtained from marijuana samples or even by mail order in some countries. Cannabis plants can tolerate suboptimal soils (such as sand) but flourish in
loams that have high nitrogen content (UNODC 2006). The plants need soil that has good drainage; otherwise, the roots will rot. Hardy varieties can withstand freezing temperatures for brief periods, but ideal growing temperatures are 14-27°C (UNODC 2006). The most important environmental factor in the cultivation of cannabis plants is the length and intensity of light to which they are exposed (UNODC 2006). Outdoor growers rely on sunlight, which, depending on location, can vary in length and intensity. Indoor growers, however, have precise control over the light wavelength and intensity to which their plants are exposed; this is particularly important for the first phases of germination and growth.
Cannabis is cultivated in Afghanistan as an annual summer crop. It is usually planted after the winter crops (wheat and opium poppy) are harvested (UNODC 2010b). In the southern region of Afghanistan, there is a large overlap of opium poppy and cannabis cultivation. Mixed cropping is not extremely common, but some farmers plant cannabis alongside other crops, including maize, barley, cotton, peanuts, tobacco, sesame, and vegetables (carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplant). Cannabis provides effective protection from predatory insects, and mixed cropping helps to shield the cannabis cultivation from detection (UNODC 2010b).
Cannabis can be cultivated in several ways. Outdoor cannabis cultivation is usually irrigated and can vary in density of plants; in areas where eradication is a concern, plants are less densely cultivated (UNODC 2006). “Guerilla” cultivation involves growing cannabis on land that does not belong to the grower. This land includes private property and public lands, such as parks (UNODC 2006). In 2003, 200,000 cannabis plants were eradicated from Daniel Boone National Park in Kentucky, and another 400,000 plants are destroyed each year in California parks (DOJ 2005). Public lands in Canada and Colombia also experience illicit cannabis cultivation.
Among the three drug crops considered in the present report, cannabis might be the most difficult to control with mycoherbicides because it is grown more widely in more regions and under wider geographic conditions than coca or opium poppy. A cannabis mycoherbicide should be capable of performing under varied environmental conditions and against several host genotypes. A large amount of cannabis is cultivated indoors, where use of a mycoherbicide would be irrelevant.
Germination is the first step in cultivating cannabis plants. Seeds are sown generally from March to May, and the plants need long daylight hours during this growth period. Germination takes 2-3 weeks, and roughly 36 plants can fit within 1 m2 (UNODC 2006). Cloning is used as an alternative to germinating new plants and has several advantages: duplicating a known productive individual, reducing flowering because a near-mature individual is being planted, and guaranteeing a female plant. The next phase is vegetative growth, during which the cannabis plants will continue to grow and reach mature size (UNODC 2006). During this time, the plants continue to require long daylight hours. As they grow, the plants need more space; once mature, only nine plants will fit within 1 m2 (UNODC 2006). Indoor growers have the advantage of being able to manipulate
the photoperiod to provide longer periods of darkness, which can accelerate the plants’ progress to the flowering stage (UNODC 2006).
High concentrations of cannabinoids build up in the small, mushroomshaped glands called trichomes on the flowers. The trichomes are made up of cellular sacs and must be harvested at the correct time to prevent a drop in the THC concentrations. The harvested flowers are then hung upside down to dry for several days. For resin production, the secretions will be collected from the trichomes when they are wet or after they have dried on the plant (UNODC 2006).
Commercial cultivation of cannabis herb is generally not permitted in most countries. Several countries have a “medical” designation available for cannabis use (but do not provide for commercial production). A patient must carry a medical card or prescription and may possess no more than a specified quantity of the herb. Health Canada, for example, contracts with Prairie Plant Systems Inc. to produce medical marijuana for people licensed to consume it. Alternatively, eligible patients may apply to grow medical marijuana for their own use (Health Canada 2010). The use of mycoherbicides to control the production of cannabis in the United States would not affect any federally legal production, but it would potentially be detrimental to production sites that are licensed by individual states.
Industrial hemp is cultivated in 30 countries. It is harvested for the fiber, seeds, and oil, which can then be made into a variety of products, including clothing, paper, food, and cosmetics. Detailed production data are not readily available on all countries. China is estimated to be one of the largest producers and exporters of hemp products. Most member countries in the European Union (EU) participate in cultivation of industrial hemp on a total of roughly 18,500 hectares (EIHA 2009). France, the United Kingdom, Romania, and Hungary are the largest EU producers, but cultivation also occurs in Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, and Spain (Johnson 2010). Non-EU producers include Russia, Ukraine, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand, India, Japan, Korea, Turkey, Egypt, Chile, and Thailand (Johnson 2010). Canada has licensed 10,856 hectares for hemp cultivation; 90% of the yield is exported to the United States (Brook 2008). Hemp is commonly grown in rotation with other crops, such as corn, soybeans, and wheat (Bosca and Karus 1998; Lotz et. al. 1991).
Hemp cultivation is not illegal in the United States, but it requires a permit from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), given oversight of all cannabis cultivation under the Controlled Substance Act of 1970. Thus far, only research plots have been permitted; no commercial growers have been granted permits. Despite the federal law, nine states have legalized hemp production (Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont,
and West Virginia). North Dakota’s law does not require growers to obtain the DEA permit to gain the state permit (Johnson 2010).
There are as many as 250 species of Erythroxylum in the family Erythroxylaceae, of which about 200 are native to the American tropics (Plowman and Hensold 2004). Two species, E. coca and E. novogranatense, and a number of varieties within them are used for the production of cocaine (Plowman 1979). E. coca is cultivated most commonly and has two varieties, E. coca var. coca and E. coca var. ipadu, which are nearly impossible to distinguish by physical characteristics. E. novogranatense has two subspecies, E. novogranatense var. novogranatense and E. novogranatense var. truxillense (Plowman and Rivier 1983).
Coca plants are small, evergreen shrubs that have reddish-brown bark and small branchlets featuring alternate leaves that are elliptical-obovate (Figure 3-2), 10-18 cm long, and 7.5-10.5 cm wide (Rottman 1998). There are regional variations in leaf structure: the Bolivian plants have larger and more pointed leaves than the Colombian plants. The flowers are small and greenish yellow, and the fruits are red drupes. Although E. novogranatense var. novogranatense and E. novogranatense var. truxillense have higher cocaine alkaloid content than E. coca varieties, they are not the preferred varieties for illicit coca production, because of their high content of cinnamoylcocaines, also referred to as “uncrystallizable cocaine” (Johnson et al. 2003). In addition to varietal differences, coca grown in low-lying areas, such as the Amazon region, tends to produce less cocaine than that grown at higher elevations, on the upper slopes of the Andes (Plowman and Rivier 1983). Since 2004, cultivation of coca in the lower-lying Amazon areas of Colombia has decreased while production on the eastern slopes of the Andes in Peru has increased (UNODC 2010a).
Historically, coca grown in the Andean valleys was for personal or local consumption; during the Inca period, the use of coca was seen as a privilege and was associated with spiritual rites (Gootenberg 2008). The coca leaf is chewed in South America for its nutrients in addition to its stimulatory and hungersuppressing properties (Plowman 1979). During early European colonization (16th century), Spanish land-grant holders took control of coca plantations (Karch 1998).
Pure cocaine alkaloid was first isolated in 1859 (Bennett 1873). The concentration of cocaine in coca leaves ranges from 0.13 to 1.5% (Acock et al. 1996). Cocaine stimulates the central nervous system and can act as an appetite suppressant. A variety of other alkaloids are also found in coca leaves, including methylecgonine cinnamate, tropinone, tropacocaine, cuscohygrine, hygrine, and nicotine (Novak et al. 1984; Johnson 1996). Tropinone is a precursor of atropine, a muscle relaxer and antispasmodic drug. Nicotine is an addictive alkaloid found in tobacco that acts as both a stimulant and a depressant.
Large-scale cultivation of coca for the drug trade appears to have started after World War II (Gootenberg 2008). Today, coca is cultivated in its greatest quantity in Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia (UNODC 2010a; see Table 1-2). Nearly 90% of the cocaine that enters the United States comes from Colombia (U.S. Department of State 2010). Production has decreased in Colombia and increased in Peru over the last 3 years, reducing the gap between the two countries in cultivated hectares (UNODC 2010a). The main growing areas in Colombia are in the departments of Putumayo, Caqueta, Guaviare, and Vaupes. The main growing regions in Bolivia are Yungas de La Paz, Chapare, and Apolo. Cultivation in Peru takes place in northern Peru, including the Upper Huallaga Valley region, and in the valleys of La Convencion and Lares (DEA 1993).
The northern and central regions of the Andes mountain range feature areas with sudden changes in altitude, and the accompanying ecozones vary greatly in topography and environment (OTA 1993). The latitudinal and longitudinal expanse encompassed in these regions—from the low-lying rain forest and desert areas to the uppermost mountain tundra (with snow and ice at the highest altitudes)—provides diverse conditions in which land use, climate, soil, and vegetation vary greatly (OTA 1993; UNODC 2010a). Coca bushes are cultivated in many of these settings in Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia (Figure 3-3).
The northern Andes encompass the region from coastal Colombia south to northern Peru; the coldest areas reach 4,500 m above sea level (OTA 1993). In general, the northern Andes region differs from other regions in that it has higher relative humidity and greater similarity of climate in its western and eastern portions. In the upper altitudes, precipitation is heavy, averaging 400 cm a year. The central Andes extend south from northern Peru into Chile and Argentina. This region features agricultural zones that have diverse environmental
conditions and plateaus at high altitudes (over 3,500 m above sea level), which are not present in the northern Andes (OTA 1993). The western part of the Central Andes has desert-like soils and a relatively dry climate. The eastern regions of the Central Andes feature varied soils (Abruzzesse 1989) and are more similar to the moist woodlands of the northern Andes (with the addition of a dry season). Valleys cut through the high plateaus of this region, descending thousands of meters in relatively short distances.
The production of coca can be detrimental to the surrounding environments. Coca farmers frequently use slash-and-burn techniques, which gravely, perhaps irreparably, damage the environment and ecosystem (UNODC 2008), particularly in the humid Amazonia and the Andes regions, which are rich in biodiversity (Fjeldsa et al. 2005). Deforestation of land contributes to soil erosion and the accompanying loss of soil fertility (OTA 1993). Coca growers also use large quantities of pesticide, and these chemicals are leached from the plants and soil into the surface water and the groundwater (OTA 1990). Processing of coca into cocaine also produces chemical wastes (including sulfuric acid, toluene, hydrochloric acid, and kerosene) that can end up in the water system and cause reduced oxygen, increased pH, and poisoning of fish (OTA 1990).
There is evidence of cultivation in the national parks and protected areas of those nations, which puts vulnerable ecosystems at increased risk (UNODC 2008). In 2007, coca was found in 16 of Colombia’s 51 national parks, where it accounted for 4% of the total coca cultivation in Colombia (UNODC 2008). Some 21% of the total coca cultivation in Bolivia in 2007 occurred in national parks and protected areas, but that was down by 21% from the previous year (UNODC 2008). Eradication has effectively reduced cultivation.
The cultivation of coca often takes place in an agricultural matrix. Fields of coca are interspersed with food crops and scrub habitats (grasses, bushes, and stunted trees), which provide an environment in which the growers can hunt animals to supplement their diets (Fjeldsa et al. 2005). In the Apolo region (Bolivia), cassava (Manihot esculenta) is commonly grown alongside coca so that the same furrows can be used for both crops (UNODC 2008). Alternatively, farmers in Chapare (Bolivia) grow coca under the cover of leguminous trees, taking advantage of the ability of the trees to disguise the coca field and its ability to improve nitrogen content in the soil (UNODC 2008). More advanced technology and agricultural techniques are being used by coca farmers to improve yield, including the use of irrigation, pesticides, and fertilizer (UNODC 2008).
Coca is grown from seeds, which are gathered in December-March from young, 2- to 3-year-old coca plants (DEA 1993). The seeds can be directly planted in the prepared plots, where they are protected from direct sunlight. Once the plants have reached at least 30 cm in height, they are transplanted into a prepared field, usually in the rainy season. Farmers often use cuttings (cloning) to start their growing fields to save time and resources. Plants mature and the leaves are ready to harvest 12-24 months after being transplanted. Coca plants can grow several meters tall but are usually kept pruned down to 1-2 meters for ease of harvesting (DEA 1993). Plants are harvested two to six times a year (DEA 1993; OTA 1993, UNODC 2008). The yield depends on environmental factors (particularly precipitation) and anthropogenic factors (such as farming practices and interdiction efforts).
Processing methods vary by locale. In Colombia, the fresh leaves are immediately processed and the alkaloids extracted, usually by the farmers. In Peru and Bolivia, the leaves are dried (either by sun or by warm air), and the alkaloids
are extracted from the dried leaves. Great care is taken during the drying process to ensure that wet weather does not keep the leaves from drying. Once dried, the leaves are much lighter, and this makes their transport easier. The cocaine content of the dried leaves is fairly stable, but improper handling (for example, in excessive temperature or humidity) can result in the rapid decomposition of cocaine in the leaf.
Coca may be legally cultivated in some countries for traditional purposes. For example, in Bolivia, Law 1008 provides that 12,000 hectares of coca may be cultivated for traditional use, such as chewing, tea, and medicines (UNODC 2008). The law does not define geographic limits for legal cultivation. In 2004, the Chapare region was temporarily authorized to grow 3,200 hectares of coca (UNODC 2008). It has been estimated that under Law 1008, roughly 14,520 metric tons of sun-dried coca leaves were produced in 2007 (UNODC 2008). In contrast with Peru, farmers in Bolivia are permitted to market a specified quantity of coca directly themselves (UNODC 2008).
In 1978, Peru’s government enacted Law 22,095 with the goal of limiting “the traffic of dependence creating drugs, to prevent their inappropriate use, to socially and physically rehabilitate addicts and to reduce coca plantings” (Cotler 1996). Soon after, the Empresa Nacional de Coca (ENACO) was formed. Its main purpose at the time was to secure coca leaves from Peruvian farmers to market to Coca-Cola; as of 2000, the company has stopped using coca to flavor its products (Thoumi 2005). When the law was enacted, 25,148 coca growers registered nearly 18,000 hectares with ENACO; in a 2002 census, only 7,910 active growers were registered (ENACO 2002). ENACO has overseen the licit cultivation of coca in Peru for nearly 35 years. Although detailed estimates of production and demand have not been made available, ENACO assumes 12,000 hectares of licit cultivation in Peru (Thoumi 2005). ENACO purchases coca leaves from farmers and sells them to domestic retailers for resale, as tea or for chewing, and for export to produce pharmaceuticals.
The poppy family, Papaveraceae, contains some 23 genera and roughly 250 species (Grey-Wilson 2000). The Papaver genus, of which opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) is a member, comprises about 70-80 species (Carolan et al. 2006) that are considered “true poppies.” A recent study of the genus Papaver in Kashmir lists nine species, including P. somniferum (Dar et al. 2010). P. somniferum (Figure 3-4) is an annual herb and has pinnately lobed leaves that can appear gray-green or blue-green (Grey-Wilson 2000). Opium poppy is usually
erect and hairless and can stand 50-150 cm tall (Duke 1983; Grey-Wilson 2000). The flowers are white to red to pink-purple and are large and cup-shaped (up to 18 cm across in some cultivated varieties). The capsule is smooth and has various sizes and shapes, depending on cultivar and geography (Veselovskaya 1976). Indian varieties tend to be more oval, and capsules of European poppy are more orbicular, flat, and conical (Levy and Milo 1998). The capsule also features a stigmatic disk that is deeply lobed and has five to 12 (or more) rays (Grey-Wilson 2000). The seeds can range from dark gray, black, or bluish to white and are oily (Duke 1983). When the immature capsule is injured (for example, by lancing or scratching), sap oozes from the capsule. Opium is the gum (dried sap or resin) that contain narcotic alkaloids.
Three poppy varieties are grown for opium production: P. somniferum var. nigrum has oblong, roundish capsules and purple-red flowers and is a wild form of the poppy; P. somniferum var. album is a wild form that has white flowers and roundish ovate capsules; and P. somniferum var. abnormale has oblong or roundish capsules and small red flowers (Finetto 2008).
The cultivation and use of opium poppy date back to the Neolithic Age (Grey-Wilson 2000). Opium has been used since the third millennium BCE as a painkiller and tranquilizer and for social, religious, health, and other purposes in many cultures, countries, and regions (Roman et al. 2005). Recreational use of opium also dates back over 10 centuries; the current worldwide epidemic in the use of opiates began around the beginning of the 20th century (Roman et al. 2005).
The total alkaloid content in opium is 10-20%, and more than 40 alkaloids have been isolated (Schiff 2002). Codeine, morphine, and thebaine are the major narcotic components. Morphine concentration is greatest (8-17%), followed by codeine (0.7-5%) and thebaine (0.1-2.5%) (Schiff 2002). Poppy straw (the dried remains of poppy capsules and upper stalks) accounts for 80% of the morphine and 93% of the thebaine produced globally (Finetto 2008). Manufactured codeine is obtained largely through a semisynthetic process involving morphine and is used to treat mild or moderate pain (Finetto 2008). Although not used directly in any medical therapy, thebaine is a critical starting material for producing other opioids (Finetto 2008). Heroin is synthesized from the natural plant alkaloid morphine. More deaths are related to the use of heroin than to the use of any other illicit narcotic (UNODC 2010c).
Afghanistan leads the world in cultivation of illicit poppy crop and production of opiates (nearly 90% of world production from roughly 123,000 hectares), followed by Myanmar, Mexico, and Colombia (UNODC 2010a, c; see Table 1-3). A major increase in production was seen during the 1970s and was due to the combination of war and increased international demand. Cultivation has continued as farmers in Afghanistan face limited access to markets and have few alternative sources of income (UNODC 2000).
Opium poppy can be cultivated in a variety of environments, although morphine concentration depends on the environmental conditions (Finetto 2008). For maximum yields, the opium poppy must have the required amount of moisture during the appropriate time in the growing cycle and higher temperatures once flowering has occurred (Finetto 2008). Heavy precipitation during the spring or after plants have flowered can lead to decreased yields and to the development of production-inhibiting fungal pathogens (Finetto 2008). In areas that experience heavy rainfall (monsoons), farmers change the growing season to include the winter months and thus avoid excess water (Chouvy 2009).
Alternatively, drought is damaging to opium-poppy production, so moisture must be balanced by precipitation or irrigation (Finetto 2008). Genetic improvement through selective breeding of opium poppy has led to plants that have more morphine, codeine, and thebaine. However, cultivation and production methods have not changed dramatically in hundreds of years. Opium poppy grows best in loamy sand that is high in organic matter. Soils that retain too much water or drain too quickly will affect the production of opium in the capsule and the time it takes for the capsule to mature (Merlin 1984).
Land is commonly cleared to prepare an area for opium-poppy planting. Slash-and-burn is a common practice used to remove vegetation from the land to plant poppy on relatively small plots, generally 0.1-10 hectares (Finetto 2008). During the portion of the year when poppy is not grown, the plots are often used
for food crops (Afghanistan), used for tobacco (Turkey), or alternated with maize (Southeast Asia) by the farmers (Finetto 2008).
Plants are propagated from seed, which is often sown by broadcasting seeds mixed with soil or sand to ensure even distribution. In Thailand, poppy seeds are mixed with lettuce, bean, mustard, and parsley seeds (Finetto 2008). Poppy grown in Lao PDR is most commonly grown at high elevations in mountainous regions (UNODC 2010c). After germination, plants are thinned to optimize plant health.
Opium poppy is usually a spring or winter crop, having been sown in September-March (UNODC 2010c). Multistage cropping—growing poppy in different periods in a single field—is often seen in areas where eradication efforts have occurred (UNODC 2010c). Seeds are sown multiple times in the same field so that harvest of the poppies is staggered. That not only protects the farmer from potential eradication—interdiction sweeps are rarely performed twice on the same plot—but makes harvest more manageable for areas where there is a shortage of labor (UNODC 2010c). Depending on the cultivar, climate, elevation, and sowing date, the crop will be harvestable 120-250 days later. Moisture is a key element in opium production; crops that are irrigated are found to produce more of the desired alkaloids (Finetto 2008). Poppy that is harvested during warm, dry weather is likely to have higher morphine content than that harvested during cool, wet weather. In areas where snowfall occurs, it is most beneficial if the first snow falls before the first frost. The snow protects the poppy; if frost gets to the plants, the farmers risk losing the crop (Finetto 2008).
About 3 months after the seeds are sown, the plants (now waist-high) begin to blossom (Kapoor 1995). The petals fall from the flower in about 3 days; after an additional 10-14 days, the capsules are ready to lance, and harvesting of opium begins (Kapoor 1995). The morphine content decreases as the capsule ripens (Kapoor 1995). Timing and tools vary, but all collection of gum from opium poppies involves using a sharpened, knife-like tool to incise the capsule. The opium sap oozes from the lacerated capsules and is left to dry and harden. The laceration must be precise: if it is too shallow, only a small amount of sap will exude; if it is too deep, the sap will seep into the inner compartment of the capsule (Kapoor 1995). The capsules are scored in this manner several times every 2-3 days. After each cutting, the milky sap that oozes from the capsule is allowed to dry to a sticky, dark gum, which is harvested on the next day. Harvesting of a single plot can take 14-18 days but can take up to 3 weeks if production is exceptionally high. The largest determinant of harvesting time is the available labor force.
Once the capsules have been lanced and all the gum has been collected, they are left in the fields to mature over the next 20-25 days. The fully matured capsules are removed, spread out in plots to dry, and processed to obtain the seeds for the next planting (Kapoor 1995). A 1-hectare plot can produce 60,000-120,000 poppy plants, or 120,000-250,000 capsules. The labor involved in the cultivation of opium poppy is immense; the time and physical effort required to
prepare the fields, weed the plants, and harvest the opium are much greater than for other cash crops or food crops.
About 20 countries cultivate poppy for pharmaceutical use (Chouvy 2009). They include Australia (Tasmania), Austria, China, the Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Hungary, Japan, India, Macedonia, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, South Korea, Spain, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. China, India, South Korea, and Japan produce raw opium; India is the only country that exports raw opium (Mansfield 2001; Bhattacharji 2007; Chouvy 2008), and the other three maintain their supply for domestic medicinal use (Chouvy 2009). The remaining countries cultivate opium poppies that they harvest and dry, producing “poppy straw.” The poppy straw is then processed to produce concentrate of poppy straw, which can be used to extract opioid alkaloids (Chouvy 2009). Tasmanian production fell from 20,000 hectares in 2000 to 10,000 hectares in 2007 (Berkoff 2007); as of 2010, 25,000 hectares of poppy production had been contracted to meet world demand (Sanders 2010).
The production of opium in India is regulated by the Central Bureau of Narcotics (CBN), which licenses growers (Bhattacharji 2007). For the year 2009-2010, roughly 60,800 farmers were licensed to grow opium poppy on about 23,400 hectares (12,200 hectares was actually harvested). The farmers must meet a minimum qualifying yield determined by CBN to be eligible for a license to grow opium poppy in the next year (Bhattacharji 2007). Most of the farmers use plots of 0.1 hectare, but some high-performing growers are permitted to plant on 0.2-hectare plots (Bhattacharji 2007).
Varieties of P. somniferum that are low in opiates are widely grown in Europe and Eurasia for poppy-seed production. Poppy seeds are used in specialty breads and cakes. The major producers of poppy seeds are the Czech Republic (53,623 hectares), Turkey (48,893 hectares), France (10,000 hectares), Hungary (3,928 hectares), Romania (3,100 hectares), Austria (2,186 hectares), Slovakia (1,904 hectares), Croatia (1,642 hectares), and Spain (1,400 hectares) (FAOSTAT 2009). Under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act, Schedule II (2005), P. somniferum is illegal to possess or grow in the United States, except as poppy seed used for culinary purposes. However, cultivation of opium poppy for nonnarcotic use is common in the United States, including for use of dried seed capsules in flower arrangements and for selling Papaver seeds to grow poppies in gardens.