Poppy Seeds and Drug Tests The urban legend that eating poppy seeds can lead to a failed drug test is, in fact, not a legend. Eating poppy seeds – even as few as are typically contained in a 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? A Quest Diagnostics study helps to answer the question: Can eating poppy seeds produce a positive drug test for a job applicant or employee?
Poppy Seeds and Drug Tests
The urban legend that eating poppy seeds can lead to a failed drug test is, in fact, not a legend. Eating poppy seeds – even as few as are typically contained in a large Costco poppy seed muffin – can yield positive test results for both morphine and codeine when testing standards are not adjusted to weed out such “false” positives.
Poppy seeds, morphine, and codeine all naturally occur in the opium poppy plant, Papaver somniferum. Accordingly, poppy seeds like those used in muffins, bagels, breads, and pastries, contain the opiates codeine and morphine. The opiate content of poppy seeds varies greatly based on the seed origin, when the seeds are harvested, and how the seeds are processed from harvest to consumer. Opiate concentration is also affected by how seeds are ultimately consumed: raw, ground into a paste, sprinkled atop a bagel, baked whole into a cake or muffin, etc.
Multiple published, peer-reviewed, scientific studies have shown that ingestion of poppy seeds can result in urinary concentrations of morphine and codeine detectable in standard drug tests used by certain workplaces. Though many workplace drug tests have adjusted their laboratory standards to avoid “false” positive results caused by ordinary poppy seed consumption, it is still possible to test positive for illicit opioid drugs when lower cutoffs are used.
In 1998, the Federal Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration revised their mandatory guidelines for federal workplace drug testing programs due to concerns that many positive opiate tests were the result of poppy seed consumption. While the previous urine sample testing cutoff levels for both morphine and codeine previously were 300 ng/mL (nanograms per milliliter), the Department of Health and Human Services increased the cutoff levels for both opiates to 2,000 ng/mL, effective May 1, 1998.
If you know you will be required to provide a urine or other biological sample for drug testing, it is prudent avoid consuming poppy seeds for at least one day prior to giving the sample.
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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.
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.