Drugs & Health Blog

Drug Testing for…Poppy Seeds?

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

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 precent 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.

Update: To learn more about drug testing, read these posts on professional football, cycling, and video gaming, and this post on how alcohol breath tests work.         

Comic of coach warning athlete not to eat poppy seeds

Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.

Comments

I too am a recovering addict and currently on the methadone clinic. I have been clean for almost 3 years and have a week of take homes which make going to school full time and working much easier. I just had a positive for morphine on a random urine. Knowing I just tried these lemon poppy breakfast biscuits, it must be them. I was told that the same urine will be sent out for a more specific test so If it was from the poppies that would pick it up. Wrong, it came back as morphine, so now they think I did heroin. Does anyone know if a hair sample test would test would be able to tell if it came from poppy seeds. I will pay for this only if it will tell the truth. I was told the 2nd test would tell the truth, that's why I'm losing all my take homes. Pissed off

For questions about drug testing, you can contact the Drug Free Workplace Helpline at 800-967 5752 or dwp@samhsa.hhs.gov.

Poopy seeds have a lot of vey good nutritional factors. And unfortunately high In carbs. They taste great ! Well where I live if this was the case of a quick fix for a very Reasonable price 250gms. I believe Woolworth's would have removed this drug of the shelves. Sydney. Australia. Border control? Hoyts company. Moorabbin, Victoria. Australia. Great product. Nothing on the label states I shall receive a drug affect. I will continue to prepare my recipes with this product! Check rye out !
loz
I'm in a program for homeless men with addiction problems. I am heroin addict on methadone. I got two urines two days in row. They were hot and I was totally. surprised and freaking out. At first I couldn't figure out why. Later I realized I had gotten poppy seed bread from the mission. Now nobody believes me they want to kick me because i complaincomplained and a lot.now i might be homeless again just in time for winter. All because some bread. The more i say i didn't use the more they say i did.
This has Jst happened 2 me !! And I'm telling u IT CAN happen!! I'm a recovering heroin addict and fighting in court to keep my children and I e Jst testing positive to opiates on a drug drug !! I've not used in over 4 months and the only thing I have had is a poppy seed roll 4 lunch 2day ! I've had my key worker send my urine off 2 the labs as this could result in me loosing my children.. can any one tell me what it will come back as in a lab test ??
Hi I too ate poppy seeded bread had a drug test at the mother and baby assessment unit and it came back positive for opiates I stand to lose my baby boy over this we go back to court tomorrow I have to do a hair strand test but im scared if the urine test came back positive how will the hair strand test help? Ive never taken opiates in my life.

If you do test positive due to poppy seeds, explain the situation and ask to test again. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is the federal agency that addresses drug testing guidelines. Though your question is not related to workplace testing, you should contact the following:
Drug-Free Workplace Helpline:
800-967-5752 (800-WORKPLACE)
HELPLINE@SAMHSA.HHS.GOV
http://www.samhsa.gov/workplace

A commercial airline pilot friend, even back in the late 80s, would never eat anything with poppyseeds. He didn't want them to show up as opiates in the airline's drug tests.

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