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Can eating poppy seeds affect drug test results?

The U.S. Defense Department has issued a memo warning service members to avoid consuming poppy seeds due to the possibility of positive drug test results for opiates. Poppy seeds come from the opium poppy plant, which contains powerful compounds that can depress the central nervous system and induce sleep. But do poppy seeds themselves contain enough opiates to affect drug test results? Addiction and pain medicine specialist Gary Reisfield explains what affects the opiate content of poppy seeds and how they could influence drug tests.

What Are Poppy Seeds?

Poppy seeds are derived from the opium poppy plant called Papaver somniferum. While the Latin name suggests that the plant contains compounds that induce sleep, it is also a source of potent painkillers like morphine and codeine. Poppy seeds themselves do not contain opiates, but they can become contaminated with opiates during harvesting when they come into contact with the milky latex of the seed pod.

Factors That Affect Opiate Content in Poppy Seeds

Several factors determine the opiate concentrations and ratios of poppies, including terroir, variety, and time of harvest. Terroir includes climate, soil, topography, and amount of sunshine, which can all affect the opiate profile of the poppy plant and its seeds. There are also genetically engineered opium poppies that do not produce morphine or codeine or any opium latex at all.

Can You Get High From Eating Poppy Seeds?

Consuming poppy seeds is unlikely to produce a high as they contain only small amounts of opiates. Moreover, processing, such as washing, cooking, or baking, decreases the opiate content of the seeds.

Do Poppy Seeds Affect Drug Tests?

While poppy seeds themselves do not contain enough opiates to intoxicate you, consuming certain food products that contain poppy seeds can lead to positive urine drug test results for opiates, particularly morphine and codeine. Opiate concentrations in the urine are usually too low to produce a positive test result, but some food products contain enough opiates to do so. However, the opiate content of food products does not appear on food labels, making it difficult to determine which products may trigger a positive result. Additionally, it can be challenging to distinguish test results that are due to poppy seed consumption from those due to opiate drug use, especially if the morphine-to-codeine ratios overlap.

Medical Review Officer and Workplace Drug Testing

For most workplace drug testing, medical review officers review test results to rule out evidence of unauthorized opiate use, such as needle marks or signs of opiate intoxication or withdrawal. Even if the urine sample contains high concentrations of opiates that produce positive test results, it is generally ruled as negative if there is no evidence of unauthorized opiate use.

Military Drug Testing and Poppy Seeds

Drug testing in the military is different from most workplace drug testing, and poppy seeds can pose a potential problem. Service members who test positive for codeine and claim a "poppy seed defense" may still be regarded as having taken codeine, leading to disciplinary action or discharge from the service.

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