What Is Poppy Seed Tea?

Poppy seeds
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Poppy seeds are harmless when eaten in the small quantities found in baked goods, salad dressings, or granola. Yet experts are warning about poppy seed tea, which despite sounding innocuous, can be dangerous due to containing unwashed poppy seeds that contain higher levels of opiates.

Consuming a product that contains opiates, such as poppy seed tea, can potentially cause addiction, withdrawal, and overdose. Here's what you need to know if you or someone you love is brewing unwashed poppy seeds and poppy plants to get high.

Opiates in Poppy Seed Tea

Poppy seeds contain codeine and morphine, and they can also be used to make opium and heroin. But not all seeds are not created equal, and everyone processes and metabolizes them differently. One study gave poppy seeds to volunteers and there was a big variation in how much codeine and morphine were excreted in their urine.

Eating poppy seeds has, in fact, caused people to fail urine drug screenings. In the past, even modest amounts of poppy seeds have caused people to test positive for morphine, one of the opiates contained in poppy.

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), which sets the cutoff values for drug testing, has addressed this issue. The DHHS increased the threshold for detecting opiate metabolites in urine to help prevent these false positives. This means that you can safely enjoy a poppy seed bagel without risking a false positive for opiates on a drug test.

How Poppy Seeds Are Used to Make Tea

Poppy seeds used in food preparation are washed, which removes up to 90% of the opiates they contain. Conversely, the seeds, stems, and pods sold to make poppy seed tea—known collectively as "poppy straw"—are unwashed. This leaves more of the opiates in place, which can lead to a psychoactive effect.

Unwashed poppy pods, poppy straw, and/or poppy seeds are used to create poppy seed tea, which gives a high when ingested. The dried pods or straw are ground into a powder and steeped in water. This is a popular way to extract opiates from the poppy.

Poppy seed tea can also be made by steeping already-made tea bags that contain the plant's seeds, pods, and stems. It can be brewed loosely as well, followed by straining the poppy plant remnants out, leaving the poppy seed tea.

Poppy seeds can vary in their concentrations of codeine and morphine, meaning that the strength of the tea made by one crop of seed can be quite different from another. This makes it harder to control the opiate concentration in drinking poppy seed tea.

Although the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has classified poppy straw as a Schedule II controlled substance, and the importation of contaminated poppy seeds is illegal, it’s still possible to purchase unwashed poppy seeds online.

How Opiates Affect the Brain

The poppy plant, more specifically the opium poppy or Papaver somniferum, is used to produce opioids. Opioids have been used successfully to control pain but they are also misused because of their mind-altering effects.

After entering the body, opiates stimulate specific receptors in the brain. When these opiate receptors are activated, it causes a rush of pleasure and then hours of feeling content, relaxed, or high. Some of these receptors are in the brain's reward center. The brain starts to want to repeat the positive stimulation, and this can lead to addiction.

Aside from pain relief and a sense of euphoria, opiates can cause:

  • Constipation
  • Depression of the respiratory system, reducing the body's drive to breathe
  • Drowsiness
  • Respiratory arrest and death

Poppy Seed Tea Addiction

Some people begin consuming poppy seed tea solely to get the "high" feeling it creates. Others start drinking the tea in an effort to help relieve chronic pain or treat a chronic condition.

Research indicates that it's not uncommon for people who use poppy seed tea to consume hundreds of milligrams of morphine daily, resulting in opioid dependence. This physical dependence is characterized by withdrawal symptoms that begin when the drug is discontinued and can develop into an opioid use disorder if not treated.

The FDA has sent warning letters to some poppy seed sellers warning them that these products cannot be marketed as a cure, treatment, or prevention of disease as these claims are reserved for drugs approved by the FDA for this purpose.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine indicates that once a person develops a physical tolerance and dependence, they may continue the behavior even if it has harmful consequences, one of the markers of addiction.

The criteria for addiction include:

  • Needing more of the substance over time to achieve the desired effect
  • Going through withdrawal if the substance is not used or consumed
  • Taking the substance longer than intended, or in amounts higher than intended
  • Unsuccessful attempts at trying to cut down on use despite the desire to do so
  • A high level of time involved in obtaining, using, or recovering from the substance
  • Reduced participation in outside activities, or giving them up altogether
  • Continuing to use the substance even though it leads to physical or psychological issues

Risk of Overdose

Research has shown that it is possible to create a lethal dose of morphine in poppy seed tea brewed at home. Because it is almost impossible to tell the concentration of the active drugs in any one crop of poppy pods or seeds, it is also impossible to control the amount of the drug in brewed tea.

Opiates suppress the respiratory system, which can lead to death by respiratory arrest after an overdose. If someone you care about experiences the following symptoms of opioid overdose, call 911 immediately and stay with the person:

  • Blue or gray skin color
  • Dark lips and fingernails
  • Inability to talk
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Making snoring or gurgling sounds
  • Slow and shallow breathing

Paramedics carry a medication called Narcan (naloxone) that can counter the effects of an opioid overdose. You can also purchase Narcan without a prescription and this drug is often covered by health insurance. Narcan training teaches you how to dispense this medication in a crisis situation.

Poppy seed tea can be addictive and deadly. There have been a number of documented cases of death from the use of poppy tea.

Poppy Seed Tea Withdrawal

Opiates are extremely habit-forming and can quickly lead to tolerance, physical dependence, and addiction. Opioid withdrawal can occur when stopping cold turkey, resulting in unpleasant symptoms often described as "having a bad flu" with sweating, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, restlessness, and insomnia.

Tapering off the drugs slowly can help avoid some unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. Your best bet is to consult with a healthcare provider about how to wean yourself or a loved one from poppy seed tea.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

A Word From Verywell

If you or someone you care about is brewing tea with poppy seeds, know that it is not a fad but a dangerous practice that can have serious repercussions, including death. Seek help from a physician, counselor, or local drug and alcohol treatment center if you suspect your loved one is using poppy seed tea or any other drug. Drug use is difficult to address on your own, so don't hesitate to get help from those who have experience.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does poppy seed tea stay in your system?

    Detectable levels of opiates from poppy seed consumption can show up in drug urine tests for up to three days according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). They appear quickly too, showing up as soon as two hours after consumption.

  • How much poppy seed tea does it take to get high?

    You can get high from one cup of poppy seed tea, with the effects generally appearing within 15 minutes and lasting up to 24 hours. The amount of tea needed to create a high can vary depending on the amount of poppy seed or poppy straw used, as well as the level of opiate the poppy contains.

  • How can people wean themselves off poppy seed tea?

    Some case studies suggest that if you've consumed poppy seed tea for a long period of time, it might be difficult to wean yourself off without facing challenging withdrawal symptoms. If you want to get away from drinking poppy seed tea, talk to a healthcare provider. They can help decide the best approach for you.

  • How long does it take to get addicted to poppy seed tea?

    Addiction to opioids can occur in as little as a couple of weeks after consuming the substance regularly. But the amount of time can vary from one person to the next.

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13 Sources
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