To all you poppy seed bagel lovers, we have news for you. Eating enough of those crunchy little black seeds could cause you to flunk a drug test. Seriously.
You may be slightly tuned in to this issue because of an old “Seinfeld” episode in which Elaine fails her job’s drug test because she had eaten poppy seed muffins. And there’s truth to this.
In fact, many government agencies actually discourage people from eating poppy seeds for that very reason. Here’s why.
Eating poppy seeds can introduce opiates into your body.
Those little seeds come from the same plant, the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum), that is used to make heroin. And the seeds themselves actually contain trace amounts of the opiates. Yep, these innocent-looking seeds:
For the record, the seeds themselves are not used to make opium. Opium is made from the sap that is coaxed out of the opium poppy’s seed pod. The seed that is housed in the pod contains a lot less of the opiate than the sap ― some of the seed’s opiate is naturally occurring within the seed, but the rest of its opiate content comes from being contaminated by the sap.
Either way, the opiate content could be enough to make you fail a test. The poppy seeds you buy at the store can contain between 0.5 to 10 micrograms of morphine per gram. And World Anti-Doping Agency-accredited laboratories test positive for morphine if the level of morphine in the urine is greater than 1.3 micrograms/milliliter.
While the drug test can rule out heroin, it can’t distinguish the poppy seed from other opiates. This became such an issue that the federal government raised its threshold for opiates in workplace testing from .3 micrograms per milliliter to 2 micrograms so there would be fewer cases of positive opiate testing in situations where drugs where not the cause.
You won’t feel the effects of morphine from eating poppy seeds.
Don’t worry, your poppy seed bagel will not get you high. The seeds do not “have a drug effect on humans that are eating typical amounts of poppy seeds,” Christopher S. Baird, assistant professor of physics at West Texas A&M University, told HuffPost.
Sure, the poppy seeds you buy at the store contain between 0.5 to 10 micrograms of morphine per gram, but a dose of medically-prescribed morphine contains anywhere between 5,000 to 30,000 micrograms. So to get that same dose from the seeds you eat, you’d have to potentially eat a ridiculous amount of them.
For the record, it can be illegal to grow poppies in the United States ― it’s extremely complicated as renowned food writer Michael Pollan found out ― though home gardeners who plant them just for their stunning flowers such as the ones pictured above are usually forgiven.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story pictured a poppy flower of the wrong variety and incorrectly affiliated Christopher Baird with Umass Lowell.