Positive Opioid Tests After Eating Poppy Seeds

poppy seeds

Story at-a-glance -

  • Drug testing after eating poppy seeds may result in a positive test, creating obstacles to employment and troubles in family life
  • While not enough to cause intoxication, the amount of morphine-like chemical left on the seed will depend on the country in which the seeds are harvested, processed and cleaned
  • Poppy flowers, a symbol of remembrance, may grow as weeds on agricultural land and bloom between mid-June and October; each flower may produce up to 60,000 seeds, which do not form until the flower begins to die
  • Poppy seeds add a nutrient-dense, interesting crunch to your meal and may be used to help treat dandruff, as a topical option for inflammation and moisturizing and to reduce eczema

By Dr. Mercola

Despite a growing opioid and heroin addiction problem in America, some are calling for the dissolution of pre-employment drug testing. Much of the current pre-employment testing was initiated in the 1980s when employers adopted a drug-free workplace policy under strong recommendations from the federal government.1

Some schools, hospitals and places of employment continue to require testing, which includes random, return to duty and follow-up testing.2 These tests may vary depending upon the specimen being collected, including urine, hair, saliva or sweat, which may be tested for marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines and opioids.

Studies have suggested those who use illegal drugs and are employed full-time or part-time are more likely to change jobs frequently, be less productive, file a workman's compensation claim or be frequently late or absent from work.3

One of the most common reasons employers implement testing programs are to deter employees from abusing alcohol and drugs, thus reducing accidents and benefit payouts from workman compensation plans.4

However, not all positive drug tests are the result of drug use, as one new mother from Maryland found out while going into labor with her daughter.5 While she described her ordeal as "traumatizing," it is not unique.

Some Poppy Seeds Contaminated With Opiates

Elizabeth Eden had eaten a poppy seed bagel in the morning. Going into labor later in the day, she was routinely tested for opiates and the test came back positive.6 She told her doctor about eating the poppy seed bagel and ask to be retested, but the request was denied.

While it may sound like an old wives' tale, poppy seeds can make you fail a drug test, as both peer-reviewed scientific studies7 and experiments done by journalists8 have found. As poppy seeds are derived from the same plant from which opioids are derived, they sometimes contain traces of morphine, an opioid measured during drug tests.

Although poppy seeds do not contain morphine or heroin, they may be tainted with morphine chemicals from the plant during the harvesting process. Processing may remove some of the residue but it's common for traces to remain. While there is not enough to have an intoxicating effect, there is enough to throw off a drug test depending upon the standard level used.9

The amount of residue on the seeds will vary depending upon the country in which they were grown, the harvesting and cleaning process and other factors. This makes it difficult to predict how many poppy seeds you need to eat in order to get a false positive. However, several people have been surprised by positive drug tests after eating a single poppy seed bagel, muffin or other pastry.10

Positive Drug Test After Eating Poppy Seeds May Have Dire Consequences

As a result of Eden's doctor denying a drug retest, her newborn daughter was required to stay in the hospital for five days and a caseworker was assigned to monitor Eden, after which the case was closed.11 In January 2016, Eleazar Paz, a New York City jail guard, was suspended after he failed a random urine test.12 Lab technicians measured 522 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL) of morphine and 358 ng/mL of codeine.

Paz had expert testimony from a toxicologist reporting the result13 "could only be explained by eating poppy seed bagels because the quantities of the drugs were inconsistent with heroin or individual morphine and cocaine ingestion."

Paz passed subsequent drug tests and his case went to court. While the judge recommended disciplinary action against the guard be dismissed, the Department of Corrections fired him anyway.14

A lawsuit in 2010 filed on behalf of a woman whose 3-day-old daughter was removed by child welfare officials for five days after a failed drug test following a poppy seed bagel, resulted in a settlement of $143,500.15 A similar lawsuit, during which a newborn baby boy spent 75 days in foster care, resulted in a $160,000 settlement.

As athletes are not allowed to use these drugs, they are routinely tested before and during competitions. According to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which is responsible for testing athletes:16

"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."

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Testing Threshold Raised to Reduce Poppy Seed Mishaps

In 1998 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services increased the federal cutoff level for a positive result from 300 ng/mL to 2,000 ng/mL of morphine. This was done to avoid false positive results.17 Today, most organizations use 2,000 ng/mL and above, as recommended by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.18

In some instances, the more stringent testing specifications are used when officials are interested in detecting drug use in a high risk situation, such as prior to giving birth.19 Although federal testing levels are set to 2,000 ng/mL, state correctional facilities may choose to use the lower standard. A notice in the Federal Register explained the reason for the change:20

"These levels were selected in an attempt to provide the greatest opportunity to identify anyone who may have used heroin; however, at the 300 ng/mL level, many who have not used heroin but had taken a prescribed codeine or morphine medication or eaten normal dietary amounts of poppy seeds have also tested positive."

In spite of evidence to the contrary, the New York City Department of Correction fired Officer Paz and told the New York Post:21 "There is no real evidence that a few poppy seeds can make you fail a drug test." The State Department of Corrections was unwilling to recognize tested levels below 500 ng/mL likely resulted from eating foods with poppy seed, but the Federal Bureau of Prisons requires inmates to promise not to eat foods with poppy seeds:22

"'It has been determined that consumption of poppy seeds may cause a positive drug test which may result in disciplinary action,' the application form given to prisoners reads. 'As a condition of my participation in community programs, I will not consume any poppy seeds or items containing poppy seeds.'"

What Are Poppy Seeds?

While it may not be wise to eat foods with poppy seeds before a drug test, the seeds are not illegal in the U.S., will not cause intoxication, and are tasty and full of health benefits. The poppy flower is one of the first wildflowers to be found in disturbed ground and was identified within battle zones of the first World War, which were originally cornfields.23

American humanitarian Moina Michael developed the idea of making the small red flower a symbol of remembrance. Interestingly, large poppy fields are featured in the film and book version of "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz."24 The flowers bloom from mid-June through October and are frequently found as weeds on agricultural land.

Poppy seeds can remain active in the soil for eight years and the average plant can contain from 10,000 to 60,000 seeds. The seeds are kidney-shaped and around 1 millimeter in length. Historically, they were used in medicine and are associated with superstitions, such as turning invisible.25 Although legal in the U.S., selling or eating poppy seeds in Saudi Arabia or Singapore can result in punishment or arrest.

The seeds are a good source of manganese and calcium and rarely cause allergies. There is an indication cooking may wipe out more than half of the morphine and codeine attached to the seed. Soaking the seeds for five minutes first and then discarding the water may help eliminate even more.26 They also offer an impressive array of nutritional benefits including:

Helps prevent heart disorders — Each serving contains a sizable amount of linoleic acid, an omega-6 fat offering protection against heart disease.27 However, it should be noted your body requires a healthy balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fats to maintain good heart health.

Supports bone maintenance and development — Poppy seeds contain both iron and phosphorus, minerals essential for the maintenance of muscles and bones.28

Prevents constipation and other digestive problems — Poppy seeds have high amounts of dietary fiber, which aids in preventing constipation and other digestive issues.29

Enhances brain function — Calcium, iron and magnesium are minerals needed by the body to regulate brain activity and the development of neurons. They also aid in the production of neurotransmitters.30

Assists in red blood cell production — An abundance of copper and iron in poppy seeds improves red blood cell formation, which helps in the prevention of anemia and other blood-related conditions.31

Helps sleeplessness — Taking a teaspoon of poppy seed oil before going to bed has been observed to help ease the symptoms of insomnia by promoting relaxation.32

Using Poppy Seeds at Home

Although more commonly known as a garnish or filling for buns (sometimes as an alternative to sesame seeds), bagels and other breakfast pastries, poppy seeds can also be used medicinally to treat other conditions. You can use poppy seeds as:33

  • A topical solution for eczema and inflammation — Poppy seeds have anti-inflammatory compounds that may reduce itchiness. Make a thick paste by pounding the seeds and then adding a few drops of lime juice. Apply this solution to the affected area to ease skin conditions.
  • A skin moisturizer — Grind some seeds and add milk to make a paste. For dry skin, add honey. Apply it to your face and let it sit for about 10 minutes, then rinse.
  • Dandruff treatment — Poppy seeds can be used for the treatment of dandruff. Mix soaked poppy seeds with hung curd and a teaspoon of white pepper and apply to your scalp. Leave for about an hour and rinse off.