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Drug Testing for…Poppy Seeds?

Jack Maypole, M.D., Director of Pediatrics, South End Community Health Center
February 07, 2013

Did you know that morphine, codeine, and heroin are produced from the seeds of certain kinds of poppy flowers? Morphine and codeine are often used as medications for treating pain, and all three—known as opiates—can be abused. 

Poppy seeds are also used as a flavorful ingredient in many popular foods, including muffins and bagels. Although poppy seeds used in food are produced legally, they can contain high enough levels of the opioid to trigger a positive result on some types of drug urine tests.

So, you may wonder, if you ate a poppy seed bagel for breakfast, could results of a drug test come out positive for these opiates?

Once poppy seeds are eaten, the body develops detectable levels of opiates almost immediately. As a 2003 “MythBusters” episode notes, someone can test positive for opiates as soon as 2 hours after eating a poppy seed-loaded item. Other studies have shown that the levels remain elevated for up to 3 days.

School athletes may want to pay attention to this. Across the country, about one in seven school districts perform some sort of drug testing on their students. Students in middle school, high school, or college may be asked to take a drug test in order to participate in athletic activities or other programs.

False positives (when the test wrongly reports someone used drugs) can and do happen. For example, Federal prisoners, who undergo drug tests with some frequency, are forbidden to eat foods that contain poppy seeds.

Over the past 20 years, legal cases by law enforcement officials, workers, athletes, or students “caught” or penalized for positive urine tests for opiates have made famous the “poppy seed bagel defense.” A series of lawsuits and evolving research have proven that an individual’s urine can indeed produce a positive test result for opiates after the person eats poppy seed-containing cakes, muffins, or bagels. In one large study, up to 87% of tests considered positive for opiate use were due in part to poppy seeds in foods as well as prescription medications.

When positive test results are proven to have been due to eating poppy seeds, they are overturned. More accurate measurement of opiate levels can be done by analyzing a blood or hair sample. These tests cost more and may be used to double-check a positive urine result. 

To all you poppy seed lovers out there: They can be a tasty treat in favorite foods, but may be one to avoid before undergoing drug testing. Keep things simple: Try an onion bagel instead.

Jack Maypole, M.D., is the Director of Pediatrics at the South End Community Health Center as well as the Comprehensive Care Program at Boston Medical Center. He is also an assistant professor of pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine. Cartooning has been a lifelong fascination and hobby.

Comic of coach warning athlete not to eat poppy seeds


I'm a medical assisting student. I'm taking my 10 finals this week and my certification exam will probably be in August. I have been assigned to a cardiologists office for my externship which will start in two weeks. I appreciate reading about your experience. It sounds like this will be challenging but also very rewarding for the patients and for myself. I look forward to getting out there and gaining my own experience.
I have been on probation for the past 2 years I am also a recovering addict. About 8 weeks ago my probation officer drug testes me and my urine came up for opiots. She sent it to the lab and it came up for morphine. I was totally baffled and told her I have never used morphine and wouldn't even know when to get it. Well last week once again my urine came up for morphine after being sent to the lab. That's when I started reading about the poppy seed thing and realized that I have been eating the poppy seed bagels a few mornings but last week I was put on a sleeping pill that made me feel like I was starving to death and ate 3 bagels between 11pm and 7 am. I told my probation officer this and she told me that I would have to eat a truck load for my lab results to come back as morphine. I have to go and see her tomorrow and I think she is going to put me in jail for a violation. I don't know for sure what the cut off levels are at the lab they send the urine samples to; I am assuming there 2000 since that's what most labs (since I have investigated this quite a bit) but I assure you whatever my levels are I have never used any morphine. I have my a wonderful 6 year old little boy, I am engaged to be married, I own my own business now, have 5 employees that work for me, just bought a new car and feel like my life is just getting good and now this. I wish I would have known about these poppy seeds, they should tell you things like this when you get on probation and/or have to take drug tests so you can avoid them completely.
I am going through this with my son, he has eaten a bag of poppy seed bagels, & tested posative for opiates .. I am so upset , they judge is not hearing this , he may be going into detention center over all this, I am so angry ,
I came up positive on my drug test and did not do any opiates when my test is sent to the lab will they b able to prove I did not use
I pray all is well with the people in the above comments. Lord help us all and thanks 4 the informative article!
Praise God! Jesus is Lord! Nothing is impossible with Jesus, His Love Endures Forever!
wow LU wants as to make a project about this
I'll never touch another poppy seed bagel again.... sucks cause I love them. And my mom gets them all the time. I get tested 3 times a month.
Interesting site, keep up the good work, my colleagues would love this. I read many blogs every day, and for the most part the authors lack substance, but not in this case. I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog, I'm gonna bookmark this web site. Thanks

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