Medicines Leafy Medicines How

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Medicines Leafy Medicines How Powered By Docstoc

    How do we convert
            plants into
 lifesaving medicines?

        Luuk Simons
    Willem Veldman
    Tom Theeuwen

   Mrs. V. Valk   V6c   22-2-2011
Some people say they don’t need them, others can’t live without them; Medicines.
We all know what they are, yet only few understand what they actually do or
where they come from. We found out that many medicines were known to us a
very, very long time ago. In those times we didn’t need any fancy apparatus to
develop them. In fact, many medicines still grow around us, they’re plants! But
how do you get the medicine out of a plant? In some cases it can be done very
easily by simple extractions. In other cases, genetics have to be altered in order to
grow medicinal compounds in e.g. fast growing bacteria to produce masses of the
medicine, in order to provide it worldwide. Here is where other aspects of this
paper are being discussed, how about the commerce, the effects on the body and
the improvement of known plant medicines? This paper will explain it all without
using too much unexplained jargon in order to keep it understandable for

Table of contents

Summary                                          1

Introduction                                     3

International Plants                             4

What’s in it for us                              9

Producing plants                                 11

How do you convert a plant into a medicine?      13

How do these substances help us?                 15

Commercial purposes                              18

Improving medicine                               20

Discussion                                       25

Timetable                                        26

Table of references                              27

                           [A] P. Somniferum

Introduction: Leafy medicines
Can you imagine a world without plants? No, of course you can’t, everyone knows
what plants are, from people living in dry deserts to the nomads in the upper north
of the world. Plants are living organisms forming their own Kingdom called Plantae
    .They play an important role in our life cycle. Using photosynthesis, plants
provide the world with oxygen. They are the most important food source for animal
life. Without plants, there would be no animals, leave alone some strange
exceptions. Without plants or animals, we humans would have nothing to eat. So
all in all we can say that plants make human life possible, and better. Plants are
also good for human life. Everybody loves the smell of flowers and herbs, the
majestic size of trees, the green forests and colourful meadows and more
importantly, the healing effect of some plants on our body. Since time immemorial
humans have used plants against all sorts of human diseases that weren’t people
didn’t even know about. Somehow humans knew about the fact that plants
contained      healing   properties     called
phytochemicals [2], or medicinal compounds.
Phytochemicals are non-nutritive plant
chemicals that have protective or disease
preventative properties. This means that
animals can’t always use these properties as
a food source, but that these properties
protect them against all kind of diseases or
tedious symptoms. Phytochemicals are
nonessential nutrients, meaning that they
are not required by the human body to stay
alive. It is well-known that plants produce             [A] fruits and vegetables
these chemicals to protect themselves but            contain a lot of phytochemicals
recent research shows that they can also
protect humans against diseases [3]. So we can assume that what these ancient
humans used against pains and diseases, were plants containing phytochemicals. Of
course these properties weren’t known to people in those times, so instead
approaching these properties scientifically, they used religion. For modern people,
this has the advantage that many records which contain knowledge of herbal
healing were kept during a very long period of time. One of the oldest series of
records is from the oldest known scientist called Imhotep from Egypt (3000BC) [4].
He described the diagnosis and treatment of 200 diseases. The opium poppy is an
example of a plant that goes back this far. It has been used in many cultures since
4200BC [5]. In 460BC Hippocrates, the Greek father of medicine was born. He began
the scientific study of medicine [6]. About two thousand years later, in 1590, the
first microscope was discovered by Zaccharias Janssen [7]. This meant, that even
before we could see anything that might be the source of a disease, like a virus, a
medicine against it had been already developed by different cultures all over the
world. Because these ancient scientists couldn’t see the source of a disease, they
often prescribed the healing effect to some kind of god or gods. This also explains
why these scientists were known as priests or medicine man. In medieval times,
things were no different. Following the fall of the Roman Empire, knowledge about
medicine wasn’t more than the ancient Greek and Romans knew. Because religion
was so important, science stood still for quite a while. Until the Renaissance,

around 14th up to the 17th century [8], science was finally developing again. During
this period of time many old manuscripts from the Romans and Greeks were used
again in science, meaning that the healing abilities of some plants were
rediscovered. But during this rediscovery and the discovery of phytochemicals,
there has been a moment where scientists discovered that some plants didn’t
actually have any healing effect. Apparently it is true that when people are given a
neutral substance in which they believe, that there is in fact a healing effect. This
is called the placebo effect [9] and should be taken into account when doing
research on the healing work of certain substances. The placebo effect is often
linked to homeopathy. Homeopathy is a system of medicine which involves treating
the individual with the aim of triggering the body's natural system of healing [10].
This is mostly done by treating the patient with certain plants that would help to
overcome certain problems. There are people who believe in this and who are
cured by it and there are people who don’t get cured and are very sceptic about it
Then there are the people who try to find out if it really works. And if it works,
why does it work? There are certainly links between modern day medicines and
ancient ways of curing illnesses with plants or homeopathy. We know that many
medicines have been made out of plants and these have proven to work. That
leaves us with the question:

How do we convert a plant into a lifesaving medicine?

International plants
Some of the most common plants used for medicine, often available in the
supermarket, drug store and even convenience store are: ginseng and Echinacea.
These plants provide energy, health but also immunity.

There are a number of plants used for medicine that specifically target the area of
pain relief. Giant hyssop (Agastache urticifolia) is an analgesic (painkiller) that
grows in sandy soil and places where it can get a lot of sun. An infusion or tea
made of the dried leaves will provide relief from pain, such as rheumatism.

Another pain relieving plant is
creeping      dogwood       (Cornus
Canadensis). You can make a tea
with it using the stems, and, with
the leaves you can treat other
things besides pain, such as: colds,
congestion, coughs and fever.

There are some plants used for
medicine that may surprise you,
and which you may already have
at home. A popular snack and
baking product is the walnut
(Juglans regia) and while the nut
                                                 [A] The Cornus Canadensis
or fruit isn’t the medicinal part,
the leaves, bark and root bark can be used medicinally.

Walnut leaves treat constipation and diarrhoea, as well as coughing and asthma.
The tree bark or root bark is especially useful for removal of diseased or dead skin
tissue when cleaning wounds.

It is very possible that you have Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) in your cupboard. A
simple tea made from thyme leaves discourages the growth of micro-organisms and
has antibacterial properties. It can also be used to treat coughs and it can help to
bring up mucus from your lungs, bronchi and thrachea.

Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) has a variety of uses, although it should be avoided
during pregnancy as it is an abortificant; causing uterine contractions, possibly
leading to miscarriage. Aside from that precaution, a tea made from the leaves is
promotes the creation of urine in the kidneys and it is useful for kidney stones. Not
only does it flush toxins from the blood, but if you sprinkle the tea on a bug bite or
sting it will ease the pain.

The milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) has a milky juice that with daily application has
been known to cause a wart to disappear.

There are a few other common plants used for medicine, such as the great burdock
(Arctium lappa). A poultice of the crushed seeds has successfully been used on
bruises and skin ulcers. But is also an anti-bacterial.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to common plants used for
medicine. But these are a few of the most common plants in our environment. So
which of the plants have a history? For this we will look deeper into ginseng and
the Echinacea species.

                                In the past people would eat roots from the ginseng
                                plants to increase their overall resistance and to
                                increase their sexual desire, but the plants also
                                worked as a drug: increasing physical or mental
                                functions. And their last function is that they were
                                used for treating type II diabetes. The root is most
                                often available in dried form. Ginseng leaf, which
                                is easier to get, was sometimes also used.

[B] Ginseng roots

Nowadays this ingredient may also be found in some popular energy drinks, often
the "tea" varieties; in these products, ginseng is usually present in very small doses
and does not have measurable medicinal effects.

The Echinacea angustifoli belongs to the Echinacea species and was in the past
used a lot purely for its medicinal effects. Echinacea was one of the basic herbs
from the mid 19th century through the early 20th century, and its use was for
snakebite, anthrax, and for relief of pain. In the 1930s Echinacea became popular
in both Europe and America as a herbal medicine. Then people found out the plant
worked well against the cold.

Although Native American tribes didn't use Echinacea to prevent the common cold,
some tribes did use Echinacea to treat some of the symptoms that could be caused
by the common cold such as coughs and sore throats, for headaches and simply

At this time people know it is an immunostimulator, so it stimulates the immune
system and makes you less vulnerable to infections.

But like most drugs from plants, the base of Echinacea is complex, consisting of a
wide variety of chemicals of variable effect and potency. Some chemicals may be
directly antimicrobial, while others may work at stimulating different parts of the
immune system. All species have chemical compounds called phenols (e.g.: a
simple one: (C6H5OH)), which are common to many other plants. Both the phenol
compounds chichoric acid and caftaric acid are present in E. Purpurea, other
phenols include echinacoside which contain glucose, this substance (echinacoside)

is found more within E. angustifolia and E. pallida roots than in other species. So
every plant from the same species has a lot of different substances, the one more
then the other. But for that you can not simply recommend the Echinacea species
to anybody that has for example a sore throat, you must treat this person with the
right plant! [1]

The history of opium

Opium is an extract from seedpods of the
opium poppy, Papaver somniferum. The
poppy plant was cultivated in the ancient
civilisations of    Persia,  Egypt    and
Mesopotamia. Archaeological evidence
suggests that Neanderthal man may have
used the opium poppy over thirty thousand
years ago. But the first known written
reference to the poppy appears in a text
dated around 4,000 BC. The flower was
known as “Hul Gil”; plant of joy. Papaver
somniferum is the only species of Papaver
used to produce opium.

                                                      [C] The Papaver somniferum

                                                 [C] The Papaver Somniferum

Papaver somniferum has long been popular in Europe. Fossil remains of poppy-seed
cake and poppy-pods have been found dating from over 4,000 years ago. Poppy
images appear in Egyptian pictography and Roman sculpture. Throughout Egyptian
civilisation, priest-physicians promoted the household use of opium preparations.
Egyptian pharaohs were entombed with opium artefacts by their side. Opium could
also readily be bought on the street-markets of Rome. By the eighth century AD,
opium use had spread to Arabia, India and China. The Arabs both used opium and
organised its trade.
Later authorities were scarcely less enthusiastic. Physicians commonly believed
that the poppy plant was of divine origin; opium was variously called the Sacred
Anchor Of Life, Milk Of Paradise, the Hand Of God, and Destroyer Of Grief.

Opium was probably the world's first antidepressant. Unlike other pain relieving
substances such as alcohol, opium doesn't impair sensory perception, the intellect
or motor co-ordination.
At lower dosages, opium may be pleasantly stimulating rather than giving you a bad
feeling. In the East, opium was treated as a social drug.

Youngsters were introduced to the pleasures of opiates very early. Overworked
parents thought opium based preparations were a dependable way to keep their
kids happy.

Opium was viewed as a medicine, not a drug to abuse. The medical theory then
didn't allow that one could become addicted to a cure. However, the chemists and
physicians most actively investigating the properties of opium were also its
dedicated consumers, so

Opium was also well known in Chinese antiquity. One 10th century poem celebrates
how the opium poppy can be made into a drink "fit for Buddha". Ancient peoples
either ate parts of the flower or converted them into liquids to drink. But by the
7th century, the Turkish and Islamic cultures of western Asia had discovered that
the most powerful medicinal effects could be obtained by igniting and smoking the
poppy's juices. The widespread use of opium in China dates to tobacco-smoking in
pipes introduced by the Dutch in the 17th century. Whereas Indians ordinarily ate
opium, the Chinese smoked it. The Chinese mixed Indian opium with tobacco, two
products traded by the Dutch. Pipe-smoking was adopted throughout the region.
And as they thought, this resulted in increased opium-smoking, both with and
without tobacco.

But the plant has further uses. Papaver somniferum produces lots of small black
seeds. Poppy-seeds are an ingredient of typical bird-seed and they can also be
ground into flour; used in salad-dressings or added to sauces. Many Americans grew
Papaver somniferum.

Until the nineteenth century, the only opioids used medicinally or recreationally
took the form of crude opium. Opium is a complex chemical cocktail containing
sugars, proteins, fats, water, meconic acid, plant wax, latex, gums, ammonia,
sulphuric and lactic acids, and numerous alkaloids, most notably morphine. The
opioid analgesics are of inestimable value because they reduce or abolish pain
without causing a loss of consciousness. They also relieve coughs, spasms, fevers
and diarrhoea.[2]

What’s in it for us?

There are many different types of plants on this planet. According to botanic
scientists, there are over 1.25 million scientific names of plants representing nearly
300.000 species [1]. Usually we see a plant as a food source for humans or animals,
which are also a food source for us, but there are also other uses. Take for instance
the use of trees in archaeology, gardening as a leisure activity and more
importantly, the use of plants in medicines.

To decide on the use of different
plants, we need to know the
properties of each individual
plant. Usually this learning
develops from generation to
generation, usually from father to
son in smaller communities. But
still research is being done. This
research     works    by   dividing
properties of plants into different
                                                        [A] Plant compounds
categories to make everything

The most important compounds are named as followed [2]: Micro-nutrients, these
substances enable the body to produce enzymes, hormones and other substances
essential for proper growth and development. Examples are iron (Fe), Chloride
(Cl), and Sulphur (S). They are called micro nutrients because they are needed in
only small portions [3][4].

Vitamins are needed for the human body, because we cannot manufacture them at
all or cannot normally manufacture them in sufficient amounts. We obtain enough
vitamins by having a diverse diet. Each vitamin has a different job in our body.
Vitamin A is essential for vision for example [4][5].

[B] Structure of a Vitamin C molecule        [C] Oranges contain a lot of vitamins

Antioxidants can stop certain chemical reactions which involve oxygen. This seems
to be a paradox, because humans live because of chemical reactions. Still, oxygen
in our body can cause certain diseases if it is not stopped in time. There is still a

lot of research being done on antioxidants, but they are believed to stop diseases
like for example Parkinson, Alzheimer disease and Gout [6].

Allergens are substances that a human body might see as ‘foreign’[7]. The body can
react quite heavily with these substances. We say that someone is allergic to a
specific substance or food because of this reaction. It has been investigated that
eight foods account for 90 percent of all food-allergic reactions. They are milk,
eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soya, and wheat [8].

Last but certainly not least there are the medicinal compounds. These can also be
called phytochemicals, which are non-nutritious compounds that can have a healing
affect. We can subdivide medicinal compounds into macromolecules and small
There are a number of medicinal compounds from plants that you come across in
your lifetime. Coffee drinkers drink caffeine which stimulates your body and mind
    . Cigarettes contain nicotine that has both a stimulating and relaxing effect [10].
The foxglove plant contains ‘digoxin’ which is used a lot for the treatment of
various heart conditions [11].

[D] The structure of a morphine molecule.   [E] Latex containing morphine
                                            coming out of a poppy.

These are just a few of the medicinal plant compounds that have an effect on the
human body. Naming them all wouldn’t be relative for this research. Important to
know and remember is that medicinal compounds can be different kind of organic
compound made by certain plants. This means that they contain the element
carbon which is the ‘bone’ of these structures [12]. A very simple example of an
organic compound is methane gas. They have many different effects on the human
body because they can work in many different ways.

Another example, the Opium poppy, Papaver somniferum, is more and more used
for medicinal reasons. Not only does the plant contain water, proteins, fat and
micronutrients such as iron and copper, the latex produced by the plant also has a
painkilling effect on the body. It contains morphine which is a potent opiate
analgesic medication. This means that is can be used as a narcotic and as a
painkilling medicine [14].

                                                                            10 | P a g e
Producing plants
In the introduction we state that medicine made out of plants is already known
even before the first farmers of Mesopotamia, modern day Iraq. Also now in the
present there are many nomadic tribes who still have the knowledge about the
healing property some plants contain. These healing properties of plants can be
very useful to large parts of a population. It is therefore necessary that we don’t
just grow plants for food, but also for medicine.
Perhaps the best known example of growing plants for nutritional as well as
medicinal use is Herbal tea. Although it is also grown for food, many people see it
as a healthy remedy against all kinds of physical complaints. This way of looking at
it is more developed by homeopathy but can also be regarded as medicine.

In the case of tea, there are numerous
plantations across the world, especially in
tropical and sub-tropical climates in South
East Asia [1]. The tea plant, or ‘Camellia
Sinensis’ is grown on large plantations
where the plant can grow a few years till
it can be harvested year after year,
picking the top 2 inches of young plant
shoots called ‘splushes’[1].

In this way the entire world can be
foreseen with tea. Other medicines in the
form of ready plants are also produced in
the same kind of way. You might think that         [A] Tea plantation in southern India
this is only a very small market in the
world of medicine. Especially in the western world Homeopathy and ready plants
are considered useless. Still, Europe as a whole imports one-quarter of the world’s
trade in herbal medicines, around 440,000 metric tons [2]. More than 25% of the
best selling drugs are natural products, often plant derived. In the Andes-region

                                                                            11 | P a g e
medicinal plant markets still exists [3]. Underneath there is a figure of the 12
leading countries of import and export of medicinal and aromatic plant material
from 1991-1998 [4].

Another thing about homeopathy is the rituals that come with it. Many medicinal
plants are not seen as worthy for medicinal use when they are cultivated. The
ritual prescribes that they should be found in the wild nature if they really can be
used for medicinal purposes. This means that not homeopathic medicinal plants
can be cultivated, because there isn’t a market for it. In Botswana for example,
practitioners said that cultivated plants were unacceptable because they would not
contain the power of material collected in the wild [4].

                                                                         12 | P a g e
How do you convert a plant into a medicine?
When a plant is harvested, the most important thing is that the plant has to stay
fresh for as long as possible. This is because if not kept fresh, some plants will lose
their “healing” powers. From the field where the plants are harvested they are
transported to production halls. Ideally these halls are close to the harvest place so
the process can start immediately.

From plant, to solution with medical purposes: extraction

In the old days, people would just chew on the
plant so the substances in it would dissolve into
the saliva and then spit it out to use it
immediately where it was needed. Nowadays this
process is rebooted in a hygienic way but also
improved the quality. To make medicine out of a
plant you have to extract the substances you need
from the plant. This is done by the process:
extraction. Instead of saliva the plants are put
into alcohol and hot water. Of course the mixture
is different for every plant.

                                                      [A] An example of extraction

After this the needed substances are withdrawn from the solution. But the process
can take hours up to 15 days! The substances you receive after this are sometimes
immediately useable. If they are not useable straight away they form the basis for
another medicine.[1]

Some plants have very strong medical substances in it for us. But the main problem
is that harvesting these substances is really expensive. American scientist therefore
studied some plants for a long time and changed the genetic code from some plants
to increase the supply of medical substances.

As we now know getting the medical substances out of the plant is not really an
ideal way of getting a lot of medicine fast. Some scientist tried to reconstruct the
processes that the plant does in a lab, but this failed because they had too little
information about the total genetic code of plants.

So they came up with another idea: why not change the plant itself? They changed
the catharanthus roseus, a plant that provides substances to cure cancer. But with
the genetic code changed it became even more successful.

                                                                              13 | P a g e
The most substances the plant produced were rather rough and unsafe so you had
to put even more time and money in processes to make the substances safe and
ready for usage. But the scientist found the perfect solution. He thought: “the
process: from rough material to usable drug, why can’t we let that happen inside
the plant instead of in the lab”? And that is exactly what he did. He had to change
two enzymes so the plant would produce alkaloids with a chlorine-group instead of
just an alkaloid, which are rough. The alkaloid with a chlorine-group attached are
way easier to change to an usable medicine.

But for doing this he spent a lot of time searching for the particular genes that
contained those two enzymes. After he found them he changed them and
apparently with success.[2]

How do you make powder out of opium?

To get morphine out of opium you have to do some processes as will be described
below. Because of this morphine is an artificial substance: not
natural, but made by humans.

Opium contains about 10% of morphine, in 1925 the first person
found a method to extract this 10% from a dried poppy straw.
In this opium poppy the alkaloids are bound to meconic acid.
The extraction happens with the help of diluted sulphuric acid,
a stronger acid then meconic acid but it won’t react with
alkaloid molecules.


It takes more then one extraction to get all the alkaloids into the solution made.
The solution you have in the end is precipitated with ammonium hydroxide or
sodium carbonate. The final step is to purify and separate morphine from other
opium alkaloids.

An opium poppy contains at least 50 different alkaloids but most of them have a
low concentration. So morphine has the highest percentage of 10%. The production
of opium poppy is mainly in Hungary because there it is legal to have 2 acres of
poppy to produce morphine.

Morphine is a substance that makes you sleepy, but is a very strong pain suppressor
but the biggest disadvantage is addiction. So through history people wanted to find
a drug that had the same effect but was not addictive. In the end they came up
with heroin, which seemed to be even more addictive… [3][4]

                                                                        14 | P a g e
How do these substances help us?

The main substances that help us are:

        1. Micro-nutrients
        2. anti-oxidants

Micronutrients include:

                                              [A] Food that contains micronutrients

   •   vitamins, which are organic compounds (made from carbon)
   •   Minerals which are inorganic (not made from carbon). [1]

Micro-nutrients from food can help maintain the oxygen balance in your brain. They
can help beneficial oxygen reach your brain as well as combat the highly-reactive
forms of oxygen called free radicals.[2]

For instance, iron is a micronutrient. It helps to produce hemoglobin, the oxygen-
carrying component of red blood cells. As cells carry oxygen to all parts of our
body, iron is critical for development and for physical activity in all humans. Folic
acid is also an important micronutrient. It is necessary for the production of new
cells; folic acid promotes the healthy early development of the spine, spinal cord,
skull and brain. Giving young children vitamin A to reduce the chance they become
blind or giving them zinc to treat diarrhea, along with oral rehydration salts, can
help boost their immune systems, help them fight infections, recover from illnesses
fast and even save their lives. Iodized salt projects help protect newborns from
mental impairment and iron (often coupled with folic acid) for mums can help
them be stronger during pregnancy and childbirth and is essential for cognitive
development in growing fetuses.

Quality, varied diets usually take care of most vitamin and mineral deficiencies
and, if we still lack some of the micro-nutrients we can benefit from fortified foods
and we can buy supplements to help boost those micronutrients we're missing.[3]

Vitamins are vital for our body, we can make just a few vitamins ourselves, but
most of them not. Because they are vital for us doesn’t mean we can replace our
normal food with it. They have no calories, proteins, fats, minerals, carbohydrates
or other nutrients.[4]

                                                                              15 | P a g e
Some examples of what vitamins do:

   •   energize our metabolism
   •   regulate our metabolism
   •   help form blood clots when we bleed
   •   enable cell growth
   •   help us see in colour instead of black and

                                                      [B] Fruits that contain vitamins

There are certain vitamins that will speed up our metabolism. These are vitamin C
and vitamin B. These vitamins can be found in the food we eat. Foods like
vegetables and fruits are loaded with vitamins.[5]

Another vitamin that is essential for us is vitamin K. Our blood contains red blood
cells and blood cell fragments, called platelets, which circulate in a liquid called
blood plasma. In addition to blood cells and platelets, your blood also contains a
number of substances called clotting factors. When you damage a blood vessel,
these clotting factors allow platelets to stick together and form a blood clot at the
site of blood vessel damage. This blood clot stops bleeding and allows the wound to
heal. Vitamin K ensures that the clotting factors in your blood work properly.[6]

So every vitamin has its own function, and you need one more then the other. But
discussing all of them with all their functions is not necessary.

Antioxidants, as their very name suggests, are those substances that have the
ability to neutralize the damaging effects of the physiological process of oxidation
in the tissues. Antioxidants are inclusive of nutrients (such as vitamins and
minerals) as well as enzymes (like proteins). By offsetting the harmful effects of
oxidation, they help the body prevent a number of chronic diseases as cancer,
heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer's disease, Rheumatoid arthritis, and cataracts.

To understand better how antioxidants work, you have to know what free radicals
are. Free radicals are chemically active atoms in the body that are charged. So
they have a lack or surplus of electrons. There for they are quite unstable. But as
they move around in our body they try to “grab” or “donate” electrons to make
even more free radicals. This results in that they take away or donate electrons
from/to “healthy” atoms so that these become damaged. This can even lead to
DNA being damaged and as said above, you can eventually die if free radicals move
through your body. It is almost impossible to avoid free radicals so we have to
neutralize them. How? Antioxidants!

                                                                              16 | P a g e
Antioxidants neutralize free radicals and block the process of oxidation in turn.
This procedure leads to oxidation of antioxidants as well, which makes it necessary
for us to replenish our antioxidant resources on a constant basis. There are two
different ways that antioxidants can work.

When free radicals move free through our body they only increase themselves. If
this isn’t stopped bad things happen. So this is where antioxidants come in, like
beta-carotene and vitamins C and E. They terminate the process by breaking the
chain and leading to the creation of a stabilized radical. In other words,
antioxidants help stop the generation of more unstable products inside the body.

Enzymes like superoxide dismutase, catalase and glutathione peroxidase reduce the
rate of chain initiation. They hunt for, and neutralize, the chain-initiating free
radicals. With this, they prevent an oxidation chain from ever setting in motion.
Antioxidant enzymes can also stabilize transition metal radicals, such as copper and
iron, and thus prevent oxidation. As the oxidation process does not take place, the
body is saved from its harmful effects, which manifest themselves in the form of
various chronic diseases. [7]

How does the substance in opium affect our body?

The main substance in opium that affects our central nervous system is morphine.
If you become sick from opium it is most likely because of the morphine in it.
Morphine binds to a certain receptor and activates it by that. As mentioned before
the substances is highly addictive.[8]

Morphine floods a group of receptors in the brain and spinal column that take in
endorphins (a group of substances that promote well being and relieve pain) and
Enkephalins (brain chemicals that reduce your pain). Biologists think that
endorphins and enkephalins work together naturally to dull pain or to ease anxiety
when someone is hurt or close to death. Morphine replaces these natural
molecules, and in a much greater quantity than the body can supply. Pain signals
surging from an injury or a cancerous tumour cannot relay their messages to the
brain because morphine has blocked the receptors that register the pain, while
rewarding the receptors that enhance pleasure. Patients may still hurt, but the
pain will not bother them as much, and they will be able to concentrate on other

                                                                         17 | P a g e
Commercial purposes

In order to provide the world with medicine there needs to be an industry. In the
case of large scale production of medicine, we call it the pharmaceutical industry.
This type of industry already dates back to the medieval Islamic world and later it
found its way to Europe[1]. Much later, especially the discovery of some drugs lead
to the rise of this industry in Europe and the drug stores that come with it.
Discoveries like penicillin and insulin in the beginning of the twentieth century
made large scale production of these drugs possible and it is therefore that many
of today’s mayor pharmaceutical companies were founded back then [1].
Later the advancing technology during and after the two world wars made the large
scale production of even more different drugs possible.
Usually the discoveries of new drugs were and often still are based on traditional
medicine. Another method is to understand the way the sickness works, and then
create a medicine against it using chemistry. Often plant based medicines are used
for this type of new medicine [2].
When these researches have been done,
mostly in research centre or universities,
the pharmaceutical industry can further
develop these newly discovered medicines.
This developing can be roughly divided up
into two parts.
The most difficult part of this development
is to get the drug on the market. In order
to protect the public health governments
have made many rules and laws concerning
the medicines. This is also a reason for why     [A] Medicines are often tested on animals
developing a medicine takes so long. The
drug must be tested thoroughly to make sure there are no harmful side-effects left
    . The other part of developing has more to do with the word ‘industry’ in
pharmaceutical industry. Just like all the other industries in the world, the
pharmaceutical industry has to make a profit out of what it is doing. So before it
starts to develop a drug, it needs to be sure that it can make money out of it. This
is also a reason for why drugs for rare diseases are less developed, there is simply
no money in it.
This ‘industrial’ part of the pharmaceutical industry does have an upside as well,
although it is not so good for the companies themselves.
When a medicine is developed and brought on the market, it is pretty easy for
other companies to copy this drug although it is patented, which makes it illegal to
directly copy it, depending on the kind of patent. Still other companies often
manage to bring comparable drugs on the market. These drugs are called ‘me-too
drugs’ which have been developed slightly different than the original drug [4]. This
different way of development can mean that the drugs can be made better, e.g.
less side-effects, and cheaper. Especially in countries with no or too expensive
health care, this can be a solution to many problems among the population in that
specific country.

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Opium from the opium poppy is one of the oldest known drugs to mankind. It
contains the anaesthetic drug morphine, used for taking away heavy pain. Unlike
modern day developed drugs, morphine was available from markets and grocers
during the 1800s. Later on the drug was more restricted because of its addictive
qualities and the damage it did among the heavy users [5].
During that same period more and better development started and after morphine
was first isolated in 1805, it took about 120 years to determine the molecular
structure of the drug [5].
Later on this development led to controllable drug use among many countries in
the world. Morphine is no longer available for everyone and the side effects and
health risks are now better known to doctors and other physicians.
On the other hand there is the development of Heroin, also made out of opium
from the opium poppy. This drug is much less developed and highly illegal in most
countries. Still the addictive quality of the drug harms many people across the

                                  [C] Morphine, also known as Laudanum in the 1800s
                                       was available from grocers and markets
[B] Also Heroin was freely
available till 1925 [6].

                                                                             19 | P a g e
Improving medicine

The world is developing at a rapid pace. Less Economically Developed Countries
(LEDC’s) start becoming Newly Developing Countries (NIC’s) and NIC’s start
becoming More Economically Developed Countries (MEDC’s)[1]. Development would
mean an increase of wealth; in general it is, although each advantage has its
disadvantage, the developing world also creates major problems.

As the development of the world continuous, more people will want the “modern
healthcare”. The amount of people living below poverty line is enormous; 1,6
billion people earn less than a dollar a day[2]. So imagine that every one of those
people gets used to a paracetamol. This would mean an increase of 25%, which in
terms of the pharmaceutical industry is enormous. Although more people wanting
their products, means more money, so the pharmaceutical industry would try to
adapt, which means expanding the resources. Expanding those resources could
result in social oppositions, geographical limits and political restrictions. So it
would likely result in huge shortages.

A totally different problem will be the constant threat of new diseases, which we
aren’t familiar with. In order to threat the new diseases, we will use plants or parts
of it. Diseases like Alzheimer’s are splendid examples of this, because a substance
called galantamine[3], gained from daffodils, are possible new medicines. Also
diseases like aids and malaria might find their cure in a plant which has been
around us for thousands of years.
The production of those new medicines is costly, so maybe we can use an everyday
medicine with almost the same effect, only changing something in the genetics of
the producing plant. This process is called ennobling. Ennobling allows a shorter
production process, which means fewer costs. Again this would result in shortages;
something we don’t want to.

Possible solutions
To tackle the problem of shortages, scientists try to improve the quality-quantity
relation. Today a major problem is the exact amount of medicine the industry is
able to refine out of a resource. As soon
as they increase the quantity, the quality
will drop.

As said before; opium contains about
between 6 and 18 % of morphine, and is
produced by the opium poppy called P.
Somniferum. This plant is believed to
have evolved from a wild strain, Papaver
setigerum, which grows in coastal areas
of the Mediterranean Sea. Through
centuries of cultivation and breeding for
opium, the species somniferum evolved.
Today, P. somniferum is the only species
                                                    [A] poppy straws and seeds
of Papaver used to produce opium[4].

                                                                             20 | P a g e
Opium contains morphine, codeine, noscapine, papaverine, and thebaine. All but
thebaine are used clinically as analgesics to reduce pain without a loss of
consciousness. Thebaine is without analgesic effect but is of great pharmaceutical
value due to its use in the production of semisynthetic opioid morphine analogues
such as oxycodone (Percodan), dihydromorphenone (Dilaudid), and hydrocodone
Although the dry weight of morphine out of opium is said to be not more than 18 %,
the P. Somniferum plants, which are used for the pharmaceutical production,
produce up to 26 % morphine[5]. Those varieties produce higher amounts of
codeine, noscapine, papaverine and morphine. Although the Norman strain of P.
Somniferum, that is produced in Tasmania contains only 0.04% of morphine, but
has much higher amounts of thebaine, which is for some purposes in the
pharmaceutical industry much more suitable.

Also the ideal spacing between plants has a certain quality-quantity relation. The
ideal spacing between plants is believed to be 20 to 40 centimeters, or about eight
to twelve plants per square meter, although some researchers in northern Thailand
have reported as many as 18 plants per square meter. Although these places are
said to produce much less quality guaranteed extracts.

There is a global deficit of expensive morphine; even the rich countries like
Germany and Italy have huge shortages. In fact 80 percent of all medicinal
morphine is used in the six richest countries in the world[6].

So if the world gets more developed, the interest in opium will grow enormously.
As said, if farmers want to increase the amount of opium produced, the quality will
drop quite significantly.
The pharmaceutical industry will lose interest in the products, as soon as the
quality (the percentages of, for example, morphine in the opium) gets below a
certain percentage. So the only possible way to maintain the good quality morphine
is to increase the area on which P. Somniferum is produced.

Although the common figure, in which the food situation within 50 years is shown,
says that if the world keeps on developing like it is doing wright now, we will need
an area three times as large as the globe to produce enough food! So space will be

                        [B] Area needed to produce enough food
                                                                         21 | P a g e
The four biggest ways in which people are trying to tackle this problem are:
   - Ennobling plants in such a way they have a higher quality.
   - Synthetically medicines.
   - Using mammals to produce medicine.
   - Turning illegal farms, legal.

The first way, ennobling plants, is in fact the faster and more in controllable way
of the evolution.
As said before, P. somniferum is evolved out of P. setigerum. By evolution nature
developed the species P. somniferum and the human found out that this species
had the ability in a certain way to ease pain.
Certain companies, with the goal to improve plants in a certain way, created a
certain strain of plants which produced 26% morphine. This happened by the
crossing of plants with certain characteristics.

For example when you want a good tasting
and good looking tomato. You cross a
tomato with good taste, but some bad
characteristics, with a tomato which is good
looking, but have some other bad
characteristics. If you make sure those are
the only ones which cross with each other
and there are a lot of different plants with
the same characteristics, it might happen
that the result is a seed which might result
in a tomato which tastes good and is good
This method is used a lot and has resulted in
almost every fruit or vegetable you eat.
This method is also used for the production
of medicine, although it is very costly.        [C] Tomato supremo cherry red F1

Another way is using mammals for the production of medicine. Some scientist
found that mice were able to produce morphine after being injected with a
precursor of morphine. A few hours after this injection, they found ready-to-use
morphine in the urine.
A precursor is a compound that kicks off a certain reaction, in which the precursor
will from another compound, which in this case is the morphine.
Scientist believed already that mammals had the ability to produce these sorts of
compounds, but lacked the precursors.
This shows that it is certain that mice are able to produce morphine, which is quite
remarkable, because the chances in nature that two different species have the
ability to produce the substance morphine are very low.
So for some medicines this would be a chance for success, although it might be
very costly and inefficient [7].

                                                                            22 | P a g e
Not only mammals can be used to produce certain medicines, also bacteria can be
used; with the help of a restriction enzyme.
A restriction enzyme is an
enzyme that cuts double-
stranded or single stranded
DNA at specific recognition
nucleotide sequences known
as restriction sites. Such
enzymes, found in bacteria,
are thought to have evolved
to     provide    a     defense
mechanism against invading
viruses. Inside a bacterial
host, the restriction enzymes
selectively cut up foreign DNA
in     a     process     called                   [D] restriction enzyme
restriction.    This    process
forms the restriction modification system. To cut the DNA, a restriction enzyme
makes two incisions, once through each sugar-phosphate backbone of the DNA
double helix.
As this is done, a strange piece of DNA is added to the bacteria, which is typical for
the production of certain enzymes. As a result there might live some bacteria,
which start producing the enzyme of which you gave the genetic code [8].

Another way, which might be less obvious, is turning illegal opium production into
legal opium production.
An example of this is the idea of Sensil Counsil, which involved the enormous
production of opium in southern Afghanistan. In the figures is shown that
Afghanistan doesn’t produce a gram of morphine[9]. This production of opium is
illegal and all turned into heroine. Which is mainly done by the Taliban.
So in the interest of the world the Sensil Counsil came with the idea to turn this
production legal and therefor into more morphine, which the world needs so badly.
As a figure of how bad the world needs morphine, the EU has put 250 million aside
to turn this illegal business legal.

Some other researchers and farmers found that in choosing a field to grow P.
somniferum, soil quality and acidity are critical factors. In Southeast Asia, westerly
orientations are typically preferred to optimize sun exposure. Most fields are on
mountain slopes at elevations of 1,000 meters or more above sea level. Slope
gradients of 20 degrees to 40 degrees are considered best for drainage of rain

During the first two months, the opium poppies may be damaged or stunted by
nature through the lack of adequate sunshine, excessive rainfall, insects, worms,
hail storms, early frost, or trampling by animals. The third month of growth does
not require as much care as the first two months. Three to four months after
planting, from late December to early February, the opium poppies are in full
bloom. Mature plants range between three to five feet in height. Most opium poppy
varieties in Southeast Asia produce three to five mature pods per plant. A typical
                                                                           23 | P a g e
opium poppy field has 60,000 to 120,000 poppy plants per hectare, with a range of
120,000 to 275,000 opium-producing pods. The actual opium yield will depend
largely on weather conditions and the precautions taken by individual farmers to
safeguard the crop. The farmer and his family generally move into the field for the
final two weeks, setting up a small field hut on the edge of the opium poppy field.

The dried opium weight yield per hectare of poppies ranges from eight to fifteen
kilograms, which is highly dependable of the conditions said before. So P.
Somniferum is a plant which really needs care and can’t just be left alone for a
couple of months. Also the site where they grow has to be quite ideal in order to
produce maximum output.

So it is obvious that we need to search on for plants that have maximum output,
plants that need less care and therefor can be produced on a larger scale. Although
this would be a short term solution.
Long term solutions wouldn’t involve the same methods used today, they would
involve bacteria or mammals or ways which scientist are about to find out,
because, as we said, land will be rare in in the future.

                                                                        24 | P a g e
Now we know what medicines are, how they are produced, in what way they
influence our body and how we will produce medicine in the future, so we now all
the answers to the question “How do we convert a plant into a lifesaving

But there are still a lot of questions left, which involve medicine. For example how
the morphine is used to cure patients, because they are used in very different
forms. All those forms have different functions and also sometimes compounds of
morphine are synthesised into other forms; why would this be helpful.

Another subject could be interesting; what other ways, of which most people
haven’t heard yet, can be used to produce medicine. Although this would require
information which you won’t find within a few clicks on the internet or in any older
book. So that could be an interesting search.

A problem which we encountered is that no site or book explains processes totally,
mainly because this information is very valuable for the pharmaceutical industry,
so if we would can our hands on such information it would result in more and
better explained processes.

                                                                         25 | P a g e
Table of references



International plants



                                                                      26 | P a g e
What’s in it for us?

[2]Presentation Arjen Schots (tutor at Wageningen university)
[9] http://www.bomi-1-

[A] Presentation Arjen Schots (tutor at Wageningen university)

Producing medicine

[3]   Presentation Arjen Schots (tutor at Wageningen university)


Medicine out of plants

[4] EPN Chemie overall sk vwo deel 3; Peter Franken, Ed Korver, Joris Schouten,
    Bertie Spillane, Yvonne Veldema. Hoofdstuk 19.6 Bladzijde 137 “het ontwerp
    van medicijnen”


                                                                       27 | P a g e

The body and medicine



                                                                      28 | P a g e
Commercial purposes



Improving medicine

[B] self-made

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