Is There Opium in Poppy Seed Bagels?

Posted by Eric Troy on 16 Nov 2016 22:05

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Have you ever heard stories of someone testing positive for opiates and almost losing their job, or perhaps getting in trouble with their probation officer? Yet, they swear they never touched any drugs! How could this have happened? Then, it turns out they had been eating a poppy seed bagel every day or gorging on lemon-poppy cupcakes. Those poppy seeds contain opiates! Who'd have thought it? Aren't commercially available poppy seeds made to grow without producing opium?

In a word, no. The poppy seeds you eat on baked foods come from the exact same plants used to produce opiate drugs like heroin. The seeds you find on a bagel, or in a cupcake or muffin, or that you buy at the grocery store do contain certain alkaloids that are collectively known as opium or opium alkaloids. These alkaloids are concentrated to produce narcotic opiate drugs like morphine and codeine. However, the other parts of the poppy plant contain much higher concentrations of opiates than poppy seeds. Most of the opium is found in the latex from the outer covering of the seeds, rather than the seeds themselves.

There are usually not enough opiates in poppy seeds to produce a narcotic effect. However, seeds from different parts of the world can contain quite differing concentrations. For instance, Australian poppy seeds contain up to 40 times higher concentration of morphine than Dutch or Turkish poppy seeds.

Can Poppy Seeds Make You Fail a Drug Test?

So, are the stories true? Have people eaten poppy seeds and then tested positive for opiates on routine drug tests? In fact, it is true. Positive opiate screening and the presences of confirmed codeine or morphine have been found after consumption of poppy seed containing food. This usually occurs after the habitual consumption of poppy seeds for several days or weeks. One poppy seed bagel is not likely to make you fail a drug test.

Due to the varying concentration of opium alkaloids in poppy seeds, two people can eat the same relative amount of poppy seeds and yet one person might test positive for several thousand nanograms of opiate while the other person's test comes back "none detected."

poppy seeds contain opium
poppy seeds contain opium

Should You Avoid Poppy Seeds If You Are Subject to Random Drug Tests?

Seinfeld fans may remember the episode (Season 7, Episode 16 "The Shower Head") where Elaine tested positive for opium, only to find out that the opium was coming from the poppy seeds in the poppy seed muffins she loved eating so much.

If you have a job that requires you to undergo routine drug screening, then you should not make a habit of eating any foods which contain poppy seeds. You do not need to completely abstain from them, but you certainly should not eat them every day, or even several times a week. You never know how much opiate you could be getting!

Poppy Seeds and Health

Although eating poppy seeds is not likely to get you high, or to help with pain, some poppy seeds have been found to contain such a high concentration of morphine or codeine that, if you eat them regularly, your health could be adversely affected. The range of concentration is quite high. Poppy seeds can contain 5-60 mg/kg of morphine and 5-50 mg/kg of codeine. Very high levels are sometimes detected, exceeding acceptable daily intake. However, such dangerous levels are quite rare and the biggest problem with opiates from poppy seeds is distinguishing between levels in the blood from drug abuse as opposed to legitimate foods.

Poppy seed tea, however, since it contains much a much higher opiate amount, could not only make you test positive for opiates but it could even cause an opium addiction!

Can Poppy Plants Be Grown in the United States?

If you are wondering where all the poppy seeds on your bagels come from, they are not from the U.S. The growing of poppy plants (Papaver somniferum) in the United States. The import of poppy seeds from other countries, however, is not banned. Morphine and other pharmaceuticals requiring poppy come from plants imported mostly from India and Turkey.

1. Dasgupta, Amitava. A Health Educator's Guide to Understanding Drugs of Abuse Testing. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett, 2010.
2. Dasgupta, Amitava. Beating Drug Tests and Defending Positive Results: A Toxicologist's Perspective. New York: Humana, 2010.
3. Motarjemi, Yasmine, Gerald G. Moy, and Ewan CD Todd. Encyclopedia of Food Safety. Amsterdam: Elsevier, Academic, 2014.

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