How to Smoke Opium in Tehran

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Despite aggressive antidrug policies, the Islamic Republic has a fairly large drug-using community, with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimating that the country has 1.2 million drug-dependent users, as writer Roland Brown reports in .  From crystal meth to crack, Iran's drug users have an ample supply, but Azad, Brown's guide to the  Islamic Republic's opiate underground, says that opium is "Iran's oldest and most entrenched drug."

Above, an opium pipe is warmed on a brazier of coals in Shiraz, Iran. The pipe must be warned in order to vaporize the solid opium.

Roland Brown


"Pills," or portions of hardened opium resin, sit ready for use. Globally, illegal opium is often converted into heroin, which is significantly stronger, less bulky, and therefore easier to smuggle. 


An opium pipe is warmed on a brazier in Shiraz, Iran. Portions of opium are placed in the ceramic bulb at the end and will vaporize at high heat. Opium is not socially acceptable in most parts of the country, but in some areas it is associated with local culture. "Traditionally, when a girl gets married in [the south-eastern province of Kerman], among the things she's expected to take to her husband is an elaborate set for preparing opium, even though it's illegal," Brown was told.


The opium in the ceramic bulb at the end of the pipe will vaporize when a hot coal is applied to it.


An opium pipe rests on a specially-designed case. According to Azad and Mani, the components of opium pipes are sold separately, under the table, in Shiraz's bazaars.

Because of the amount of paraphernalia required, and Iran's successes in curtailing opium trafficking, the drug is becoming more expensive, and young people are turning to chemical highs, including "shisha," or crystal meth.  


A hot coal is applied to the ceramic bulb containing the opium. The user inhales the vapour.


The pipe is shared between users. Some famous opium users in Persian history include the poet Hafez, who wrote, "A wound from you is worthier than salve from others/Your poison, sweeter than the opium they render."

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