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Can Poppy Seeds Cause A False Positive Result In Drug Tests?

Updated on June 20, 2016
A bread roll covered with poppy seeds. Looks innocent enough, right?
A bread roll covered with poppy seeds. Looks innocent enough, right? | Source

You've seen (and likely eaten) them before, usually covering some pastry and getting themselves stuck between your teeth. Poppy seeds are considered a natural treat by many people. It is used in Turkish and Hindu cuisine as a component in spice blends and as an ingredient in many recipes. It can be added to salads as dressing, ground into paste and used as pastry filling, toasted and used to add texture and flavoring to baked good, etc.

But did you know that this innocent looking, kidney shaped blue seed can cause you loads of trouble when you least expect it?

Dried poppy seed pod with seeds.
Dried poppy seed pod with seeds. | Source

Poppy seeds, like the name imply, are the dried seeds of the papaver somniferum flower, also know as the opium poppy flower. Their use as a food source dates back to thousands of years ago. The poppy flower itself is known to have been cultivated from Persia to Greece since pre-Roman times, for a variety of reasons.

The poppy seeds themselves are small, kidney shaped seeds that come in dark blue, gray and white colors. They are less than a millimeter in length, and are so small that it takes nearly 2 million seeds to make up a pound of poppy seeds.

Only the opium poppy seeds are used as food, while the other varieties of poppy are simply cultivated as flowers.

They are relatively expensive in comparison to other seeds used in food. One pound of afghan poppy seeds can cost up to $16 USD.

Usage And Health Benefits

The whole poppy seeds are commonly used both as an ingredient and as topping in baked goods such as bagels and muffins. Darker colored poppy seeds are favored for this because they cause a lot of visual impact, making the food seem rich and wholesome.They are also used in top shelf granola mixes in the west, and also in spice mixes for exotic food.

Poppy seeds are also commonly used as filling. After being finely grounded and mixed with sugar, milk and/or honey, they add a sweet, nutty flavored touch to any fresh pastry. Poppy seed paste is also sold in canned form, but since its so high in oil, it is usually mixed with sugar water and preserving agents to keep it from going bad. A lot of people prefer to grind the seeds themselves using a mortar and pestle, since the whole poppy seeds have a long shelf life and stay fresh for a long time, while the paste has a short shelf life.

Poppy seeds can also be pressed to make poppy seed oil, which is rich in vitamin E and has its own large variety of uses, from drying oil used in painting, to cancer therapy material.

Poppy seeds are reported to have anti-oxidant proprieties which anti-aging effects. They can also lower bad cholesterol and are a good source of dietary fiber, while also being a great source of B complex vitamins.

The Darker Side Of Things: Opium

As you've likely noticed, edible poppy seeds comes from the infamous opium poppy, which has been historically used to make the dreaded opium drug, which has destroyed the lives of millions of people across the world.

Opium is the dried latex syrupy material that is extracted from the young poppy flower bulb, about the time when the seeds are starting to form inside. The latex is extracted by making a pair of incisions on the side of the bulb, and the harvester must be careful when doing this, as a shallow incision will not produce much opium paste, while a incision that goes too deep will penetrate the seed pod and likely kill the plant.

Once the incisions are made, the latex will start pouring out. It is pink in appearance, but will slowly shift to a dark brown or black look. At this point, the syrup like substances is scraped off the flower using a special spatula. A single poppy bulb can be harvested multiple times.

This paste can processed to make heroin, one of the most powerful opiates known in the world. The raw paste has its own opiate effects and can be sold in the black market in this state, but is usually processed before being trafficked, since the paste has a pungent, characteristic smell, which makes it hard to smuggle it around in large quantities. Its usually sold in the form of morphine base, which can then be turned into highly addictive morphine.

Opium has been recreational used as a pleasure drug and as medicine for thousands of years. There are ancient Egyptian medical texts which recommend mothers to rub opium paste on their nipples in order to calm crying babies as they are fed, for example.

Ancient vedic texts such as the Rig Veda refer to the poppy as "soma plant", said to have magical proprieties. In Greece, opium was used recreational since before the times of Homer. In fact, some speculate that the lotus plants mentioned as the food of the "lotus eaters" mentioned in the odyssey were in fact not lotuses at all, but poppy plants.

Opium was also widely known as a suicide drug in Greece, along with poison hemlock, mixed together to cause a pleasant, painless death. This mixture is said to be the one that killed Socrates after his trial. Obviously, it was also popular with physicians, who often recommended opium as an analgesic to patients, and was specially useful to the world's first surgeons.

Its wide range of uses and popularity is proved by the fact that both the De Material Medica and the Pharmacopoeias, ancient treatises on medicine, recommend it as a general use drug, for the treatment of general pain and even depression, then known as melancholy.

An opium den in Hong Kong
An opium den in Hong Kong | Source

Opium is likely one of the most widely used drugs in the history of human society, mostly due to the fact it is relatively easy to produce. In China, opium started to be used as a recreational drug around the 15th century, but it was limited to the elite since it was rare in the region, and thus very expensive. It was only around the 17th century in which opium started being mixed with tobacco and smoked. Before that time, opium was taken orally, mixed with drinks.

By then, opium was widely available and its addictive effects became known. It use was outlawed in 1729, but this only served as the genesis of an illegal industry which caused a massive increase in opium black marked trade. However, the British Empire, the biggest supplier of opium at the time, had no interest in losing the ludicrous amounts of profit it was making out of exporting opium to the Chinese, which eventually led to the so called First Opium War, in which Great Britain had beaten China and maintained its opium trade through the British East India Company. Around 1906, it is estimated that around 25 percent of the male Chinese population was addicted to opium.

Here's A Completely Safe Bottle Of Poppy Oil

But Can Poppy Seeds Cause A False Positive On Drug Tests?

I got good and bad news for you: probably not, but its not impossible!

You see, the actual seeds don't have the main component of opium in them, morphine, meaning the seeds can be sold without any fear of having your kids get high by eating a poppy seed covered bagel from the bakery downtown.

However, during the harvest, the seeds can end up coming in contact with the opium extract of the flower, becoming contained by it. While the seeds do go through a process to clean them of any opium extract they might be contained with, in some cases, some of the opium remains on the seeds, which can end up in your stomach.

While the small amounts of morphine that can be absorbed into your system through poppy seeds are nowhere near the amount that can give you any sort of high, it is usually enough to be detected by traditional drug testing measures, mostly through urine tests. Morphine and Codeine compounds absorbed through the eating of poppy seeds can be detected up to 48 hours after the consumption of the seeds. A test usually comes out positive for morphine when the amount detected in the urine is greater than 1.3 micrograms/ml.
While eating even contained poppy seeds may not cause such amounts to be absorbed, it isn't hard to exceed such a tiny number, so yes. In some cases, if you are unlucky enough to have eaten opium contained poppy seeds AND have absorbed enough of the morphine in it AND THEN do a drug test in the 48 hours after eating the seeds, then yes, there is a possibility of you being identified as a drug user.

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