Uses. Although thebaine is listed as a depressant in this book because the substance is an opiate, the substance is an unusual opiate lacking many effects seen in drugs of that class—and indeed sometimes seems more like a stimulant. Thebaine is one of the chemicals found in opium and in a poppy plant called Papaver bracteatum. Trace amounts are manufactured in brains of cows and presumably in brains of other mammals, and scientists suspect that mammals transform thebaine into morphine. Animal studies show that thebaine possesses mild ability to relieve pain and can lower pulse rate and blood pressure, but the drug has no medical use. Instead, its value is that other drugs can be produced from it: buprenorphine, codeine, etorphine, hydrocodone, nalbuphine, oxycodone, and oxymorphone. Opiate manufacturing creates waste products from which thebaine can be reclaimed, thereby allowing fuller use of an opium harvest. Thebaine in urine is considered evidence that a person testing positive for opiates has ingested a poppy seed food instead of an illicit drug.
Drawbacks. Tests with a variety of animal species, including human beings, show that thebaine can produce convulsions. That effect is so typical that two researchers have described thebaine as more a poison than a medicine. Compared to morphine, a much smaller dose of thebaine can be fatal.
Abuse factors. Experiments with monkeys indicate that thebaine has less addiction potential than codeine, but results were inconclusive about whether thebaine produces dependence. A World Health Organization advisory committee concluded that high doses of thebaine do produce dependence in monkeys, but the committee doubted that drug abusers could take high-enough doses to produce dependence. Only faint evidence of dependence developed in a canine study, and rat research produced no dependence at all. Some researchers have expressed uncertainty about whether dependence develops with thebaine itself or with breakdown products formed from thebaine through body chemistry. The same researchers declared that thebaine's ability to cause dependence is less than codeine's. One dog experiment yielded unclear evidence of tolerance, evidence that has not been supported by other work. Cross-tolerance with morphine has not been found in monkeys. Drug interactions. In rats thebaine boosts caffeine's effects. Cancer. Not enough scientific information to report.
Pregnancy. After pregnant hamsters received thebaine their offspring had more birth defects than normal, and such defects did not appear if the hamsters first received various drugs known to reduce opiate effects. A thebaine dose sufficient to cause birth defects in hamsters tended to kill the pregnant females, so not much has been determined about the drug's potential to cause hamster malformations.
Additional scientific information may be found in:
Halbach, H., et al. "The Dependence Potential of Thebaine." Bulletin on Narcotics 32, no. 1 (1980): 45-54.
Waclawski, E.R., and R. Aldridge. "Occupational Dermatitis from Thebaine and Codeine." Contact Dermatitis 33 (1995): 51. Woods, J.H., C.R. Schuster, and C.R. Hartel. "Behavioral Effects of Thebaine in the
Rhesus Monkey." Pharmacology, Biochemistry, and Behavior 14 (1981): 805-9. Yanagita, T., et al. "Dependence Potential of Drotebanol, Codeine and Thebaine Tested in Rhesus Monkeys." Bulletin on Narcotics 29, no. 1 (1977): 33-46.
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