The possible illegal use of opium as an intoxicant and apprehensions about farming of opium poppy are worrying law enforcement agencies in Kerala.
This follows intelligence inputs that some migrant labourers may be smuggling in ganja from northern parts of the country and some others are using opium.
For the first time, the State Excise Department has come out with an advertisement seeking information from the general public on opium poppy farming. It has appointed a nodal officer to collect information on farming. The Additional Excise Commission (Enforcement) will coordinate the intelligence gathering exercise.
Opium is obtained from the fruit of opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) before it ripens. Longitudinal incisions are made on the fruit wall to collect the milky white latex. The dried latex, which turns black, contains the alkaline morphine, and is processed to produce heroin.
According to a senior functionary of the Excise Department, opium poppy farming is mostly confined to States such as Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan and there is no information on its farming in South India. However, there were intelligence inputs stating that the practice of using opium could be there among some migrant workers. Hence, the public notice, he said.
There were also intelligence alerts that there could be attempts to smuggle in narcotic substances, including ganja, from States such as Assam, Bihar and Northeastern States. The advertisement, released eight days ago, had not yielded any results till now, he said.
Sujana Balan, Associate Professor of Pharmacology in the Nangelil Ayurveda College at Kothamangalam, said opium poppy plants required cold climate to grow. Though there was no known cultivation of plants with white flowers in Kerala, a hybrid variety of the species with lilac flowers could survive in the high ranges of the State such as Munnar. The hybrid variety also contained equal amount of morphine, she said.
Opium induces sleep and is considered as the best analgesic. In Ayurveda, both opium and ganja are included in Madakari group.