What Is Poppy Seed Tea?

Sipping tea and reading

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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 (though it sounds innocuous) 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 plant to get high.

How Opiates Affect the Brain

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

The opiates that come from the poppy plant include morphine, opium, heroin, and codeine.

After they enter 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 reward center of the brain. 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:

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

Opiates in the Poppy Plant

Poppy seeds used in food preparation are washed, which removes up to 90% of the opioids. The seeds, stems, and pods sold to make poppy seed tea are unwashed. Poppy seeds are not created equal, and everyone processes them differently. 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.

Additionally, people metabolize the poppy seed 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 individuals 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 opioids contained in the poppy.

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), which sets the cutoff values for drug testing, has addressed this issue. DHHS increased the threshold for detecting opiate metabolites in urine to help prevent these false positives, so you or your loved one can safely enjoy a poppy seed bagel.

Poppy Seed Tea Dangers

Unwashed poppy pods, straw (the pods and stems), and/or seeds are used to create poppy seed tea, which gives an opioid high. The dried pods or straw are ground into a powder and steeped in water. This is a popular way to extract opioids from the poppy.

Although the DEA classified “poppy straw,” or all parts of the poppy plant other than the seeds, as a Schedule II controlled substance, and the importation of contaminated poppy seeds is illegal, it’s still possible to purchased unwashed poppy seeds online.

Addiction and Overdose

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

Opioids suppress the respiratory system, which can lead to death by respiratory arrest after an overdose of the drug. If someone you care about experiences the following symptoms of opioid overdose, call 911 immediately and stay with the person. Paramedics carry a medication called Narcan (naloxone) that can counter the effects of an opiate overdose.

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

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

Addiction and Withdrawal

Opioids 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 fever and sweating, nausea and vomiting, muscle aches and pain, and insomnia.

Tapering off the drugs slowly can help avoid some unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. Your best bet is to consult with your physician 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 could kill. Seek help from your physician, a counselor, or your local drug and alcohol treatment center if you suspect your loved one is using this 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 with the issue.

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Article Sources
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