Check out this content on BBC Three. A woman tested positive for opiates on a drug test because she had poppy seeds. Find out about the connection between poppy seeds and drug tests. You scoff a few poppy seed bagels and then take a routine workplace drug test later in the afternoon.
These foods can make you test positive for drugs
There’s nothing worse than when your dog actually did eat your homework, but you’re still not believed.
Unless of course you’ve tested positive for opiates and your alibi is that you ate some bread rolls.
This is the claim of a 58-year-old pipe fitter, suspended from work for 11 weeks after testing positive for morphine – an extract from the opium produced by poppies.
Speaking to the Liverpool Echo, the father of two, who wishes to remain anonymous, insists the test reading was the result of him eating poppy seed bread and buns the day before the test.
After receiving the positive results, the Liverpudlian paid £120 for a private hair-follicle test, which came back negative, and obtained a letter from his GP stating he had never been on any prescribed medication, such as morphine or painkillers – which contain opium.
“I am a married dad and have two grown-up children. I have never taken drugs,” said the Liverpool man.
“I thought to myself ‘I have something in my body that I have no idea where it has come from’ – it was very worrying.”
The pipe fitter’s online research led him to an experiment on BBC One’s Rip Off Britain: Food, which aired in May. Over three days, 72-year-old presenter Angela Ripon ate a loaf of poppy seed bread and a poppy seed bagel to see if a drug test would pick up opiates. The results showed the presence of morphine.
The construction worker added, “I knew straight away that it had to be the poppy seeds I had eaten and I actually thought ‘Great that explains it.’”
His company have since taken him back, although the contractor that he failed the test for has refused to accept his return to work.
So, can eating poppy seeds really lead you to fail a drug test?
“If you eat a poppy seed roll, it could give rise to a positive result on a urine drug test for morphine,” says Atholl Johnston, Professor of Pharmacology at Queen Mary University.
While the morphine content of poppy seeds can vary by a factor of nearly 600, drug tests are highly sensitive, and could return a positive result even after a relatively small number of the seeds.
However, Professor Johnston makes it clear that eating poppy seeds will not get you high any time soon.
“It is unlikely that a single poppy seed roll, or even a dozen rolls, would result in an individual ingesting enough morphine to have a pharmacological effect.”
Nevertheless, it’s advisable to wait up to three days after eating poppy seed products before taking a drug test.
And in case you’re wondering what other kinds of foods could lead you to fail a substance test, we’ve got the answer for you: the best kinds.
Like pizza and pastries.
Now a fair number of people would probably testify that pizza is effectively an addictive drug anyway.
But according to a breathalyser manufacturer, food products that use yeast can in fact make you fail a breathalyser test. This is because yeast makes dough rise by fermenting sugars into a number of substances, one of which is alcohol.
And if you’re unlucky enough to be breathalysed immediately after eating pizza, then this could cause you to fail the test.
According to the same source, this also applies to ripe fruit and fruit drinks. These can ferment and produce just enough alcohol for you to test positive.
Thankfully, because the alcohol is in your mouth rather than in your digestive system, you should be fine after about 15 minutes. Alternatively, you can rinse your mouth out with water.
Then there’s hemp seeds (often found in granola bars), hemp seed oil and hemp seed milk.
These can lead you to test positive for THC, the principal psychoactive chemical in weed. After all, hemp is itself a type of cannabis.
And even poor, innocent, tonic water can help you to fail a drug test.
Tonic water was originally drunk for its quinine, an antimalarial drug derived from the bark of the South American cinchona tree.
This led to the invention of gin and tonics by a British official in 19th-century colonial India, who found a way to liven up the anti-malarial prescription.
But having a few G&Ts could also liven up your drug test results.
So you could actually end up failing both a breathalyser and a drug scan. Which would give you one heck of a hangover.
Yes, Poppy-Seed Bagels Really Can Make You Fail a Drug Test. Here’s Why, and How Much You Have to Eat
A new mother’s traumatizing experience sheds light on the urban legend.
You’ve probably heard the old wives’ tale: Don’t eat a poppy-seed bagel if you might need a drug test in the near future. But is there any real truth to this crazy-sounding rumor? One new mom found out the hard way—at pretty much the worst possible time—that, in fact, there is.
WBAL TV reported this week that back in April, Maryland resident Elizabeth Eden went into labor and was admitted to St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson to deliver her daughter. But before she gave birth, her doctors informed her that she’d tested positive for opioids. Per hospital policy, the mom-to-be had also been reported to state officials.
Eden had eaten a poppy-seed bagel for breakfast that morning, and she remembered learning in health class that this could potentially trigger a false positive drug test result. But the hospital had already set the wheels in motion: Because of her test result, Eden’s daughter had to stay in the hospital for five days after she was born, while a caseworker was assigned to conduct a home checkup. “It was traumatizing,” Eden said.
This type of misunderstanding is pretty surprising, but it’s also not the first time something like this has happened. Here’s a quick look at the history of—and the science behind—this unfortunate side effect.
Why do poppy seeds affect drug tests?
It may seem like this popular baked-good flavoring has nothing to do with illicit and addictive opioid drugs like morphine, codeine, and heroin. But actually, they all come from the same place: the poppy plant.
While poppy seeds used in food are produced legally, they can still contain the same chemicals that show up on drug tests for opioid substances. This has been documented several times in medical literature. In a 1997 case report in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, for example, a patient tested positive for a morphine-like drug, even though she swore she wasn’t taking any drugs her doctor hadn’t prescribed.
When asked to describe her diet, the patient stated that “her bagel preference was cinnamon raisin, but if cinnamon raisin was not available, her second preference was for poppy-seed bagels.” Unsure as to whether this would alter her drug test results, the patient’s doctors performed an experiment: They asked her not to have any poppy-seed bagels for two weeks, then they tested her urine before and after she ate half of one in their office.
The tests confirmed it: The patient’s urine tests were negative for morphine before she ate the bagel, but positive—with a concentration of 446 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL)—two hours afterward. Five hours after eating the bagel, her morphine level had decreased to a still detectable 336 ng/mL. Her doctors concluded that urine “may remain positive from 24 to 48 hours after ingestion,” depending on the test used.
Other research has shown that just a teaspoon of poppy seeds can raise opioid levels to 1,200 ng/mL. That’s under the 2,000 ng/mL federal limit set by the Department of Health and Human Services in 1998 for a positive drug test—but St. Joseph Medical Center still uses an older limit of just 300 ng/ml. Hospital staff told WBAL TV that they keep their threshold low to be sure they identify as many drug mis-users as possible.
Eden is not alone in her experience of being falsely categorized as a drug abuser. In fact, she’s not even the first new mom who had her child taken away—temporarily—after failing a post-poppy seed drug test: The same thing happened to two other women in 2013 and 2014. A jail guard in New York who was recently fired for failing a drug test has evoked the “poppy-seed bagel defense,” and a similar storyline was even featured on the television show Seinfeld.
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So, can poppy seeds get you high?
As far as scientific research goes, there’s no evidence that eating poppy seeds can actually get a person high. In one 1992 study, the Oregon State Police Crime Library evaluated seven people who’d eaten 25 grams of poppy seeds (baked into bundt cakes) for signs of opioid impairment–but found none.
There have, however, been a few reported instances of people becoming addicted to poppy seeds: In 1994, doctors wrote in the Medical Journal of Australia that a 51-year-old patient with chronic pain “noticed a growing fondness for poppy seed noodles” and subsequently began buying packets of seeds alone.
The patient told doctors that she would fill her mouth with the seeds and suck them until they were dry, and that she would get a “tingling sensation in her body, followed by a feeling of euphoria.” Eventually, she was eating the seeds five or six times a day, “and became restless if she extended the time between ingestions.”
More recently, a 2010 case report in Drug and Alcohol Review discussed an 82-year-old woman in India who had become dependent on poppy-seed tea over the past 55 years. She was brought in for treatment when access to the tea became difficult following new legal restrictions.
How worried should you be about eating poppy seeds?
Those reports of dependence are extreme cases, of course—not something that would happen from eating one poppy-seed bagel, or even eating them on a regular basis. But it is smart to be aware that even a tiny amount of those seeds can still cause a drug test to come back positive, even if you don’t have any symptoms of opioid use.
After the misunderstanding at St. Joseph Medical Center was cleared up, the state closed Eden’s case file and allowed her baby to come home. But the new mom is hoping the hospital will change its testing threshold so the same thing doesn’t happen to other unlucky patients.
Judith Pratt Rossiter, MD, chief of obstetrics and gynecology at St. Joseph, told WBAL TV that doctors generally have not educated patients about the potential side effect of poppy-seed bagels, “and it’s a really good point that people probably should know” about it.
Perhaps the best advice we’ve seen on this topic is from Boston Medical Center’s Jack Maypole, MD, in a 2013 article for the National Institute of Drug Abuse for Teens: “To all you poppy seed lovers out there,” he wrote: “They can be a tasty treat in favorite foods, but may be one to avoid before undergoing drug testing.”
Mythbusters: Poppy Seeds
Y ou scoff a few poppy seed bagels and then take a routine workplace drug test later in the afternoon. The result comes back positive for opiates, and you realise your choice of lunch has put you under suspicion of having a heroin habit. Sounds far-fetched? Mythbusters investigates the surprisingly potent poppy seed effect.
It might seem unlikely that eating a few slices of poppy seed cake or a couple of bagels with a poppy seed topping could be enough to make a non-drug user get red flagged in a drug test. But in fact it’s well documented that eating poppy seeds, which are commonly used in muffins, bread and bagels, can be enough to trigger a positive reading for the opiate morphine.
It’s not an urban myth; it’s a scientific fact. On its website, the government-owned Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) confirms that morphine can be present in a urine sample when poppy seeds have been consumed, but it says they would usually have to be eaten within 12 to 24 hours of the sample being collected.
Because poppy seeds come from the seed pods of opium plants, they can be contaminated with opium milk, which contains morphine. Before they’re used as an ingredient in baking, the seeds are cleaned and processed but are still likely to contain traces of opiate residue. It’s not a high enough concentration for someone to feel any morphine-like effects, but it can be enough to cause a positive result on a sensitive test.
Workplace drug testing is becoming commonplace, particularly for people who operate heavy machinery such as large diggers or work in professions where their performance has a bearing on public safety, such as airline pilots or bus drivers.
Someone who eats a bagel or bread containing poppy seeds in the morning and is tested later in the day will have lower levels of morphine in their urine than someone who is abusing opiate drugs. To prevent ‘false’ positive screening results caused by poppy seed ingestion the United States Federal Government has raised the workplace testing threshold for opiates from 0.3 micrograms per millilitre to 2 micrograms per millilitre, and the US military has even higher levels. But in New Zealand and Australia, the current workplace testing standard is still set at the 0.3 microgram level.
With this threshold, someone who eats a couple of poppy seed muffins in the morning would probably test positive a few hours later. Toxicologist Grant Moore, who works for Canterbury Health Laboratories (CHL), which carries out workplace drug tests for organisations around the country, says an internal project he was involved with showed even eating one slice of a poppy seed cake (which contained three-quarters of a cup of poppy seeds) could cause a positive urine test result for opiates. Other food sources such as poppy seed crackers and poppy seed bread led to similar results.
There are reports of cases internationally where workers have lost their jobs after failing a workplace drug test because of their penchant for poppy seed cakes or bagels. In 1990, an American Police officer from St Louis was suspended after a random drug test came back positive for opiate use. He had eaten four poppy seed bagels the day before. He successfully argued the result was caused by diet, not drugs, and was later reinstated. Moore can’t imagine that scenario happening here and says the lower threshold hasn’t been a real problem.
“Cases of false positives caused by poppy seed ingestion shouldn’t happen if full testing is carried out properly.”
Before they provide a urine sample for testing, people are asked to fill out a form that asks whether they have eaten poppy seeds or taken any medication such as Panadeine, which is codeine based. Because of the known effect of poppy seeds on morphine levels, a note will be made on a test report that a positive result could be linked to dietary exposure. If this happens, further confirmation testing is carried out to help distinguish between illicit heroin use and innocent poppy seed consumption. This is done by testing for the presence of a unique heroin metabolite called monoacetylmorphine (MAM).
“If you do have a workplace screen and it is not negative, it must go on for further confirmation,” Moore says.
Mythbusters’ advice to poppy seed fans is clear – it’s safest to avoid eating them before taking a drug test if you want to keep things simple.