This article was originally published on The Conversation.
The US Department of Defense issued a memo on February 17, 2023 warning service members to avoid eating poppy seeds because it can lead to a positive urine test for the opiate codeine. Addiction and pain medicine specialist Gary Reisfield explains what affects the opiate content of poppy seeds and how they might affect drug tests.
What are poppy seeds?
Poppy seeds come from a type of poppy plant called the poppy Papaver somniferum. “Somniferum” is Latin for “sleep-inducing,” suggesting it may contain opiates – powerful compounds that depress the central nervous system and can induce drowsiness and sleep.
There are two main uses for the opium poppy. It is a source of the opiates used in pain relievers, the most biologically active of which are morphine and codeine. Its seeds are also used in cooking and baking.
Poppy seeds themselves do not contain any opiates. But during harvest, the seeds can become contaminated with opiates contained in the milky latex of the seed pod that covers them.
What affects the opiate content in poppy seeds?
Many factors determine the opiate concentrations and ratios of poppies. As with grapes, the opiate profile of the poppy plant – and thus its seeds – is influenced by its terroir: climate, soil, sun exposure, topography and harvest timing.
Another factor is the variety or cultivar of the plant. For example, there are opium poppies that are genetically engineered to produce no morphine or codeine, and others that produce no opium latex at all.
Can you get high from eating poppy seeds?
Practically speaking, you can’t eat enough poppy seeds to get high. In addition, processing drastically reduces the opiate content – for example, by washing or boiling or baking the seeds.
Do poppy seeds affect drug tests?
Poppy seeds don’t contain nearly enough opiates to get you high. However, because drug tests are extraordinarily sensitive, eating certain foods made from poppy seeds can lead to positive urine drug test results for opiates — specifically morphine, codeine, or both.
In most cases, urinary opiate concentrations are too low to produce a positive test result. But certain foods — and it’s generally impossible to know which ones because opiate content doesn’t appear on food labels — contain enough opiates to produce positive test results. Additionally, due to overlap in opiate concentrations and morphine-to-codeine ratios, it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish test results attributable to poppy seed consumption from those attributable to opiate use.
This is not a problem with most workplace drug tests. The test results are reviewed by a specially trained doctor, the Medical Review Officer. If the doctor finds no evidence of illicit opiate use, e.g. B. needle sticks or signs of opiate intoxication or opiate withdrawal, even relatively high concentrations of opiates in the urine, which lead to positive test results, are generally considered negative.
However, it turns out that drug testing is different in the military and poppy raises potential problems. One such issue highlighted in recent news reports involves service members who have tested positive for codeine and claim a “poppy defense.” They are still considered to have taken codeine, sometimes with serious consequences such as disciplinary measures or dismissal from the service.
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