Mutagens produced by the pyrolysis of opium and its alkaloids as possible risk factors in cancer of the bladder and oesophagus

Carcinogenesis. 1982;3(5):577-85. doi: 10.1093/carcin/3.5.577.


Samples of opium pipe scrapings (opium dross, called sukhteh locally), but not of crude opium, collected in an area with a high incidence of oesophageal cancer in north-east Iran, were shown to contain pro-mutagens, producing mostly frameshift mutations in Salmonella typhimurium strains TA1538 and TA98 after metabolic activation. Pyrolysis of opium and of its major alkaloid, morphine, yielded smoke condensates with mutagenic activities 10 and 100 times higher, respectively, than that of the sukhteh samples tested. Heterocyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and primary aromatic amines present at different concentrations in these three pyrolysates are considered to be the major active principles. Opium addiction has been implicated as a risk factor in bladder cancer in humans and the ingestion of opium pyrolysates, in conjunction with dietary deficiencies, may be related to the high incidence of oesophageal cancer in north-east Iran, although causality has not been established.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Alkaloids / toxicity*
  • Animals
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / chemically induced*
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Hot Temperature
  • Humans
  • Iran
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Mutagenicity Tests
  • Mutagens
  • Opium / toxicity*
  • Papaver
  • Plants, Medicinal
  • Rats
  • Risk
  • Salmonella typhimurium / drug effects
  • Salmonella typhimurium / genetics
  • Smoke
  • Urinary Bladder Neoplasms / chemically induced*


  • Alkaloids
  • Mutagens
  • Smoke
  • Opium