You scoff a few poppy seed bagels and then take a routine workplace drug test later in the afternoon. Including previously reported cases, there are now at least 19 U.S. deaths associated with poppy seeds in the literature. 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?
Mythbusters: Poppy Seeds
Y ou scoff a few poppy seed bagels and then take a routine workplace drug test later in the afternoon. The result comes back positive for opiates, and you realise your choice of lunch has put you under suspicion of having a heroin habit. Sounds far-fetched? Mythbusters investigates the surprisingly potent poppy seed effect.
It might seem unlikely that eating a few slices of poppy seed cake or a couple of bagels with a poppy seed topping could be enough to make a non-drug user get red flagged in a drug test. But in fact it’s well documented that eating poppy seeds, which are commonly used in muffins, bread and bagels, can be enough to trigger a positive reading for the opiate morphine.
It’s not an urban myth; it’s a scientific fact. On its website, the government-owned Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) confirms that morphine can be present in a urine sample when poppy seeds have been consumed, but it says they would usually have to be eaten within 12 to 24 hours of the sample being collected.
Because poppy seeds come from the seed pods of opium plants, they can be contaminated with opium milk, which contains morphine. Before they’re used as an ingredient in baking, the seeds are cleaned and processed but are still likely to contain traces of opiate residue. It’s not a high enough concentration for someone to feel any morphine-like effects, but it can be enough to cause a positive result on a sensitive test.
Workplace drug testing is becoming commonplace, particularly for people who operate heavy machinery such as large diggers or work in professions where their performance has a bearing on public safety, such as airline pilots or bus drivers.
Someone who eats a bagel or bread containing poppy seeds in the morning and is tested later in the day will have lower levels of morphine in their urine than someone who is abusing opiate drugs. To prevent ‘false’ positive screening results caused by poppy seed ingestion the United States Federal Government has raised the workplace testing threshold for opiates from 0.3 micrograms per millilitre to 2 micrograms per millilitre, and the US military has even higher levels. But in New Zealand and Australia, the current workplace testing standard is still set at the 0.3 microgram level.
With this threshold, someone who eats a couple of poppy seed muffins in the morning would probably test positive a few hours later. Toxicologist Grant Moore, who works for Canterbury Health Laboratories (CHL), which carries out workplace drug tests for organisations around the country, says an internal project he was involved with showed even eating one slice of a poppy seed cake (which contained three-quarters of a cup of poppy seeds) could cause a positive urine test result for opiates. Other food sources such as poppy seed crackers and poppy seed bread led to similar results.
There are reports of cases internationally where workers have lost their jobs after failing a workplace drug test because of their penchant for poppy seed cakes or bagels. In 1990, an American Police officer from St Louis was suspended after a random drug test came back positive for opiate use. He had eaten four poppy seed bagels the day before. He successfully argued the result was caused by diet, not drugs, and was later reinstated. Moore can’t imagine that scenario happening here and says the lower threshold hasn’t been a real problem.
“Cases of false positives caused by poppy seed ingestion shouldn’t happen if full testing is carried out properly.”
Before they provide a urine sample for testing, people are asked to fill out a form that asks whether they have eaten poppy seeds or taken any medication such as Panadeine, which is codeine based. Because of the known effect of poppy seeds on morphine levels, a note will be made on a test report that a positive result could be linked to dietary exposure. If this happens, further confirmation testing is carried out to help distinguish between illicit heroin use and innocent poppy seed consumption. This is done by testing for the presence of a unique heroin metabolite called monoacetylmorphine (MAM).
“If you do have a workplace screen and it is not negative, it must go on for further confirmation,” Moore says.
Mythbusters’ advice to poppy seed fans is clear – it’s safest to avoid eating them before taking a drug test if you want to keep things simple.
Opioid exposure associated with poppy consumption reported to poison control centers and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
Including previously reported cases, there are now at least 19 U.S. deaths associated with poppy seeds in the literature. Authors recommend that practitioners working in opioid treatment and recovery be alert to use of poppy to treat pain and symptoms of withdrawal.
- Eva Greenthal , Peter Lurie & Suzanne Doyon (2021): Opioid exposure associated with poppy consumption reported to poison control centers and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Clinical Toxicology, DOI: 10.1080/15563650.2020.1866766
Other Emerging Trends
CDC Health Advisory: Increases in Availability of Cannabis Products Containing Delta-8 THC and Reported Cases of Adverse Events
September 20, 2021 | CDC Alert on the Increased availability of cannabis products containing delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and the potential for adverse events
COVID-19 is an Emerging, Rapidly Evolving Situation
CDC and FDA Issue Updates on Vaping-Related Health Issues
September 12, 2019 | The CDC and FDA have posted important information for consumers related to recent deaths and illnesses that could be linked to vaping.
U.S. Surgeon General Warning on Marijuana Use in Adolescence and During Pregnancy
August 30, 2019 | The U.S. Surgeon General has issued a warning about the potential health risks of marijuana use in adolescence and during pregnancy.
FDA Special Announcement: Reports of Seizures After Using Nicotine Vaping Devices
April 4, 2019 | The FDA has become aware that some people who use e-cigarettes have experienced seizures, with most reports involving youth or young adult users.
Poppy Seed Marijuana
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.