A Quest Diagnostics study helps to answer the question: Can eating poppy seeds produce a positive drug test for a job applicant or employee? A woman tested positive for opiates on a drug test because she had poppy seeds. Find out about the connection between poppy seeds and drug tests. Can poppy seeds cause a positive anti-doping drug test? How does eating poppy seeds cause a failed drug test. Can you test positive after eating poppy seeds?
Challenging the poppy seed defense
The “poppy seed defense” or the claim that ingesting poppy seeds is the reason for a failed drug test has long been used to challenge drug test results. A Seinfeld episode brought it into the mainstream with a story line where Elaine Benes tests positive for opium on her company’s urine drug test and blames the result on her favorite breakfast, a poppy seed muffin.
In 2011, MythBusters, a Discovery Channel television program, told viewers that the myth was “definitely true” as producers ate poppy seed bread and bagels and then generated a positive result on an instant urine drug test. To date, there is limited research published about the impact of poppy seed consumption and opiate drug test results in controlled studies in alternative matrices such as oral fluid.
Poppy seeds & drug tests
We know poppy seeds contain opiates – specifically morphine and codeine. Ultimately, what employers want to understand from drug testing experts is: Can eating poppy seeds produce a positive drug test for a job applicant or employee?
Article in the Journal of Analytical Toxicology
In an article published in the October 2015 Society of Forensic Toxicologists (SOFT) Special Issue of the Journal of Analytical Toxicology, scientists from Quest Diagnostics compared the impact of the consumption of raw poppy seeds and a poppy containing food product on urine and oral fluid drug tests. For individuals performing safety-sensitive duties as well as other workers subject to routine drug testing for opiates, it is important to distinguish between dietary poppy seed ingestion and non-prescribed opiate or heroin abuse.
Study authors determined morphine and codeine concentrations using laboratory-based urine and oral fluid drug screening and confirmation methodologies after study participants ate a Ukrainian-style poppy seed roll and raw poppy seeds. By ingesting cooked and raw poppy seeds and then measuring drug concentrations over a series of intervals ranging from 15 minutes to 20 hours, the study showed a distinction between the source of poppy seeds ingested (i.e. raw or prepared) and the amount of time morphine and codeine were detected in both urine and oral fluid matrices.
Download the full article from the Journal of Analytical Toxicology.
What the research tells us
“The research tells us that it is possible to test positive on a drug test for morphine – even less so for codeine – after eating poppy seed-containing products. A unique characteristic of this study is that it compared the consumption of approximately the same amount of poppy seeds in both a prepared food item and as raw seeds and included the collection of both urine and oral fluid specimens. Unlike urine, the likelihood is much lower in oral fluid. Not surprisingly, most of the positive test findings and longest detection window resulted from ingestion of the large quantity of raw poppy seeds in a very short period of time prior to specimen collection. In fact, many of the study participants found such an amount of raw seeds to be extremely unpalatable. The results from this study suggest that there is less of a ‘poppy seed defense’ from a donor who completes an oral fluid drug test after casual dietary poppy seed consumption rather than a urine test because of the shorter detection window of oral fluid,” said Dr. Kimberly Samano.
Study authors include Dr. Kimberly L. Samano, Randal E. Clouette, Barbara J. Rowland, and Dr. Barry Sample.
Yes, Poppy-Seed Bagels Really Can Make You Fail a Drug Test. Here’s Why, and How Much You Have to Eat
A new mother’s traumatizing experience sheds light on the urban legend.
You’ve probably heard the old wives’ tale: Don’t eat a poppy-seed bagel if you might need a drug test in the near future. But is there any real truth to this crazy-sounding rumor? One new mom found out the hard way—at pretty much the worst possible time—that, in fact, there is.
WBAL TV reported this week that back in April, Maryland resident Elizabeth Eden went into labor and was admitted to St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson to deliver her daughter. But before she gave birth, her doctors informed her that she’d tested positive for opioids. Per hospital policy, the mom-to-be had also been reported to state officials.
Eden had eaten a poppy-seed bagel for breakfast that morning, and she remembered learning in health class that this could potentially trigger a false positive drug test result. But the hospital had already set the wheels in motion: Because of her test result, Eden’s daughter had to stay in the hospital for five days after she was born, while a caseworker was assigned to conduct a home checkup. “It was traumatizing,” Eden said.
This type of misunderstanding is pretty surprising, but it’s also not the first time something like this has happened. Here’s a quick look at the history of—and the science behind—this unfortunate side effect.
Why do poppy seeds affect drug tests?
It may seem like this popular baked-good flavoring has nothing to do with illicit and addictive opioid drugs like morphine, codeine, and heroin. But actually, they all come from the same place: the poppy plant.
While poppy seeds used in food are produced legally, they can still contain the same chemicals that show up on drug tests for opioid substances. This has been documented several times in medical literature. In a 1997 case report in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, for example, a patient tested positive for a morphine-like drug, even though she swore she wasn’t taking any drugs her doctor hadn’t prescribed.
When asked to describe her diet, the patient stated that “her bagel preference was cinnamon raisin, but if cinnamon raisin was not available, her second preference was for poppy-seed bagels.” Unsure as to whether this would alter her drug test results, the patient’s doctors performed an experiment: They asked her not to have any poppy-seed bagels for two weeks, then they tested her urine before and after she ate half of one in their office.
The tests confirmed it: The patient’s urine tests were negative for morphine before she ate the bagel, but positive—with a concentration of 446 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL)—two hours afterward. Five hours after eating the bagel, her morphine level had decreased to a still detectable 336 ng/mL. Her doctors concluded that urine “may remain positive from 24 to 48 hours after ingestion,” depending on the test used.
Other research has shown that just a teaspoon of poppy seeds can raise opioid levels to 1,200 ng/mL. That’s under the 2,000 ng/mL federal limit set by the Department of Health and Human Services in 1998 for a positive drug test—but St. Joseph Medical Center still uses an older limit of just 300 ng/ml. Hospital staff told WBAL TV that they keep their threshold low to be sure they identify as many drug mis-users as possible.
Eden is not alone in her experience of being falsely categorized as a drug abuser. In fact, she’s not even the first new mom who had her child taken away—temporarily—after failing a post-poppy seed drug test: The same thing happened to two other women in 2013 and 2014. A jail guard in New York who was recently fired for failing a drug test has evoked the “poppy-seed bagel defense,” and a similar storyline was even featured on the television show Seinfeld.
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So, can poppy seeds get you high?
As far as scientific research goes, there’s no evidence that eating poppy seeds can actually get a person high. In one 1992 study, the Oregon State Police Crime Library evaluated seven people who’d eaten 25 grams of poppy seeds (baked into bundt cakes) for signs of opioid impairment–but found none.
There have, however, been a few reported instances of people becoming addicted to poppy seeds: In 1994, doctors wrote in the Medical Journal of Australia that a 51-year-old patient with chronic pain “noticed a growing fondness for poppy seed noodles” and subsequently began buying packets of seeds alone.
The patient told doctors that she would fill her mouth with the seeds and suck them until they were dry, and that she would get a “tingling sensation in her body, followed by a feeling of euphoria.” Eventually, she was eating the seeds five or six times a day, “and became restless if she extended the time between ingestions.”
More recently, a 2010 case report in Drug and Alcohol Review discussed an 82-year-old woman in India who had become dependent on poppy-seed tea over the past 55 years. She was brought in for treatment when access to the tea became difficult following new legal restrictions.
How worried should you be about eating poppy seeds?
Those reports of dependence are extreme cases, of course—not something that would happen from eating one poppy-seed bagel, or even eating them on a regular basis. But it is smart to be aware that even a tiny amount of those seeds can still cause a drug test to come back positive, even if you don’t have any symptoms of opioid use.
After the misunderstanding at St. Joseph Medical Center was cleared up, the state closed Eden’s case file and allowed her baby to come home. But the new mom is hoping the hospital will change its testing threshold so the same thing doesn’t happen to other unlucky patients.
Judith Pratt Rossiter, MD, chief of obstetrics and gynecology at St. Joseph, told WBAL TV that doctors generally have not educated patients about the potential side effect of poppy-seed bagels, “and it’s a really good point that people probably should know” about it.
Perhaps the best advice we’ve seen on this topic is from Boston Medical Center’s Jack Maypole, MD, in a 2013 article for the National Institute of Drug Abuse for Teens: “To all you poppy seed lovers out there,” he wrote: “They can be a tasty treat in favorite foods, but may be one to avoid before undergoing drug testing.”
Do Poppy Seeds Make You Test Positive For Weed
While poppy seeds don’t actually contain morphine, the seeds can become coated by, or absorb, opium extract during harvesting. Opium is the milky substance that is extracted along with the poppy seeds from the seed pod of the opium poppy after all the petals have fallen off.
The opium is composed of roughly 12 percent morphine, which is a narcotic that is prohibited in-competition. According to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Prohibited List, morphine is a threshold substance, meaning that WADA-accredited laboratories determine if a sample is positive for morphine when the level of morphine in the urine is greater than *1.3 micrograms/mL.
Can the morphine from poppy seeds be detected in a sample?
Research shows that morphine and codeine can sometimes be detected in the urine up to 48 hours after ingestion of poppy seeds from some pastries, such as bagels, muffins, and cakes (see reference one for a free article on this topic).
Even though most of the opium is removed from the poppy seeds during processing (usually more than 90%), in some cases, the seeds sold for use in foods still have a significant amount of opium – and thus morphine – on them. The amount of morphine residue left on the seeds depends on how well the poppy seeds are cleaned and processed, which varies depending on the country the seeds are from and how and when they were harvested.
Can athletes eat poppy seeds without testing positive?
USADA cannot predict the amount of poppy seeds you can eat and remain below the testing threshold set by WADA. **In most cases, consumption of poppy seeds in foods will not cause a positive doping test.
However, it may be possible to exceed the morphine threshold by eating foods with poppy seeds and USADA can’t predict how long morphine or morphine metabolites from poppy seeds will stay in your system. The most conservative approach would be to avoid poppy seeds a few days before and during competitions.
Thevis M, Opfermann G, Schänzer W. Urinary Concentrations of Morphine and Codeine After Consumption of Poppy Seeds. J Anal Toxicol (January-February 2003) 27(1): 53-56 . URL: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=morphine%20and%20codeine%20on%20poppy%20seeds%20thevis
Lachenmeier DW, Sproll C, Musshoff F. Poppy seed foods and opiate drug testing—where are we today? Ther Drug Monitor. 2010 Feb; 32(1): 11-18.
Moeller MR, Hammer K, Engel O. Poppy seed consumption and toxicological analysis of blood and urine samples. Forensic Sci Int. 2004 Jun 16; 143(2-3): 183-186.