If you've ever had a poppy seed muffin, you know how tasty they can be. Poppy seeds are also a good source of dietary fiber, known to be rich in antioxidants, contain plenty of B-complex vitamins and have an abundance of minerals. Oh yes, and poppies are also used to create opium, morphine and heroin. Because of that last inconvenient fact, there are a lot of stories swirling around about how eating poppy seeds or poppy seed muffins can actually cause you to fail a drug test. But are these stories just urban myths or is there something to them?
The Lowdown on Poppy Seeds
While poppies are indeed the source of the world’s heroin, codeine, morphine and opium, the seeds themselves contain none of the compounds from which those opioids are produced. Opioids are instead derived from the milky substance found in the seed pods alongside the actual seeds. When seeds are being harvested, however, they are often contaminated by this milky substance. And while most of it is removed during processing, enough sometimes remains that they can produce a positive result on a urine test.
Different countries where poppies are grown have different standards when it comes to cleaning and processing seeds. France, for instance, enforces rigorous standards while Turkish authorities tend to look the other way when it comes to removing opiate residue from the poppy seeds produced there.
But is it Enough to Fail a Drug Test?
Studies conducted in Germany revealed that the amount of residue found in an average portion of poppy seed cake was enough to create a positive result for opiates 24 and 48 hours after ingestion. What’s more, the amount of opium detected in the urine tests was 10 micrograms per mL, or 10 times the amount that would get someone banned by the Olympics. So yes, the amount of opiate residue that can enter your system after eating poppy seeds is enough to fail a drug test.
Just so that you don’t think the threat of losing a job to poppy seeds is a red herring, the following may help clarify things for you:
- An episode of the popular TV show MythBusters addressed the poppy seed/drug test issue and came to essentially the same conclusion as the German researchers. That is, they found out that opiates from poppy seeds remained detectable in the system up to 48 hours after ingestion and in sufficient quantities to produce a positive result on a standard drug test.
- In 1990, a St. Louis police officer with an unblemished record submitted to a random drug test and failed. He was then suspended from the police force for suspected opiate use. The officer stated that he had eaten several poppy seed bagels the day before the test without thinking about it and that must have caused the positive result. His superiors were skeptical but agreed to test his theory. They enlisted the help of another officer who had just tested clean and had him eat several poppy seed bagels. The next day they tested him and, voila, his test came back positive for opiates. The other officer was immediately reinstated.
- In 1997, a woman was turned down for a position at Bankers Insurance after pre-employment drug tests returned a positive result for opiates. The woman was adamant that she had done nothing wrong and that the urine test must have picked up residue from some poppy seeds she had eaten the day before the test. The company refused to hear her plea and so she sued. Ultimately she won in court, and the company was ordered to pay her $800,000 in damages.
The record is full of similar cases, like the prison guard who was fired after testing positive for opiates only to gain his job back seven months after losing it when a court determined he was telling the truth. So if you still think the story of the poppy seed muffin causing a person to fail a drug test is an urban myth, you’d be wise to reconsider.
If This is True Then What is Being Done?
Obviously, the most effective way to avoid mistakenly testing positive for opiates is to not ingest any poppy seeds in the days leading up to a drug test. While it’s not guaranteed that you’ll return a positive if you indulge in a poppy seed bagel before having a drug test, the fact that you could should be enough to stay your hand.
Adjust the Calibration
Although the concentration of opiates in the blood after eating a poppy seed muffin, cake or bagel is often tiny, companies that design and build urine testing machines are nonetheless re-calibrating their devices to only detect higher amounts of opiates. The government was, in fact, the first large employer to officially raise the threshold for opiates in order to try and accommodate poppy seed aficionados and once they did, many other employers followed suit.
Not a Fail Safe
That’s not to say everything is hunky dory. Some testing companies refuse to buy into the notion that poppy seeds could make you fail a urine test and many employers have been slow to accept the idea as well.
But the number that do has been steadily on the rise, and that can only be good news for anyone who is a fan of poppy seeds and likes their job as well. But the raised threshold is anything but a permanent solution because it's very possible that any poppy seeds you eat may cause your test results to exceed even the revised upward limit.
The Bottom Line
The notion that you could fail a drug test based on your affinity for poppy seed bagels, muffins or cakes is not the urban myth it is often made out to be. There is actually plenty of hard evidence to suggest that if you do ingest poppy seeds before a urine test then you may well fail it. So be smart. Save the poppy seed bagel until after the test and then eat it as a reward for passing.