Power of the Poppy: A Book Review

January 12, 2012 at 11:30 am (Chronic Pain, Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

Since I mentioned “Power of the Poppy” in my post, “Mistress Poppy“, and also because I love Kenaz Filan’s work, I decided to post my thoughts on this interesting tome dedicated to the awesome power, and incredibly real danger, of P. Somniferum, otherwise knows as the Poppy plant.

I was both impressed and disappointed at the same time, if that’s possible.

I found hir amount of historical and medical research on the uses of opium and it’s extracts entertaining and informative, if a little dry at points. It’s a big topic to cover, as P. somniferum is used to make everything from heroin to Vicodin, from opium to codeine. There’s a lot of history, from almost prehistoric medicine men to modern day addiction, but Kenaz finds a way to weave it altogether in a solid narrative. I feel like I know more about opiates than my pain management doctor does, at least anthropologically speaking.

It’s not easy to write a book about one of the most powerful addicting substances in the world from a harm reduction viewpoint – that is, Kenaz never endorses or condemns the use of various opiates – instead, zie clearly attempts to state both the wonderful effects of the drug, and the legal and physical consequences from it’s possession and use. I mean, I assume the author of such a book would have to understand that most of the people attracted to it’s subject matter are either already using some form of opiates already, or are keenly interested to try. So instead of preaching pure abstinence and overemphasizing the legal restrictions on it’s use, zie addresses those issues with enough emphasis to make it clear that there are risks involved, without judgement on those who decide to walk that path. Zie even addresses the needle issue by stating that clean needles are the best bet, but if you must resort to a used needle, zie gives you ways to reduce (not eliminate) the risk of HIV and Hepatitis transmission.

I mentioned to Ninja, as I was reading the book, that I learned more about the drugs I take (oxycodone, and OxyContin) from this book than I did from the doctor who prescribed it to me. I would advise persons on long-term opiate therapy to read this book; although at times Kenaz writes from the assumption/attitude that everyone who uses opiates is doing so illegally or purely for entertainment purposes, zie does share valuable information about the various forms of legally prescribed opiates, both their history and their current use. I specifically appreciated the part where zie made a clear distinction between addiction and physical dependance, something that most laymen miss. (Addicts continue to use, even when there are dire life consequences ; people with a physical dependance have bodies that have adapted to the presence of the opiate and therefore need it for both continued well-being and to stave off withdrawal, but once they stop using it, they don’t fixate on it’s use.)

I created an experience around reading this book that I would recommend to others. There is a section called Acolytes, that details the life and times of several famous opiate users. Most of them were entertainers or artists of some sort, and so I would stop for a moment, search the Internet for media related to the person, and integrate that into my experience of the book. For the musicians, like Charlie Parker and Layne Stanely, I played their music in the background while I read their chapters. I watched the movie “Man with the Golden Arm”, which was heavily referenced in Nelson Algren’s chapter, as well as “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” during the O’Neill chapter. It would be neat if there was a website that collected these resources as an addendum to the book. (I found the majority of these things available on YouTube.)

Where my disappointment came in, was that as a fellow spirit worker, I had really hoped there would have been more spiritual information about the spirit ally of Poppy. It gets a passing mention now and again, but there isn’t even a chapter dedicated to those who wish to work with Her in any sort of real sense. I know that Kenaz has worked with Her as a real Spirit Ally, and I would have loved to read a little bit about hir experiences in doing so. I’ll admit; I read the book looking for this part, and when it didn’t show up, I was let down a bit. I get that the book is likely more marketable without all that woo-woo shit, but this is Kenaz Filan, author of the Voodou Love Magic book. I don’t think hir fan base would have been disappointed with a little woo.

In addition, although I admit that zie did address the addictive qualities of these drugs, I felt that the descriptions of what it’s like to come off of them and the withdrawal involved was a bit tame. As someone who went from using 100mcg Fentanyl patches for 3 years who detoxed down to nothing in three months, I can attest that opiate withdrawal is a horrifying experience not to be minimized in any way. If I had known how bad it was going to be to come off of Fentanyl, I would have never agreed to its use. I feel like whether a person is thinking about the recreational or therapeutic use of these substances (including Methadone), you should be fully aware that kicking the habit is a terrible, body-wracking experience you will never forget.

Overall, it was an enjoyable read. I’d recommend it to people who work with sacred plants, those who are already involved with or interested in opiate use, those who are on long-term opiate therapy, and those who are generally interested in how medicines/drugs evolve over time. It’s a whole lot of book for someone who just wants to find out how to make poppy tea, although the instructions are in there.

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1 Comment

  1. Kate said,

    Less from a woo- or spiritual perspective, but have you read Jill Jonnes’ “Hep-Cats, Narcs & Pipe Dreams: The History of America’s Romance With Illicit Drugs?” Part of the arc of the history is how so many things that became drugs of abuse started as treatments for other drugs of abuse.

    I’m definitely interested in reading “Poppy.”

    I the multi-media experience, supplementing the book with music and film, sounds like an excellent addition to the overall experience, I’ll be trying that!

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