Can Eating Poppy Seeds Really Cause You to Fail a Drug Test?

Mark asks: Will eating poppy seed muffins cause you to fail a drug test?

poppy-seedWhen Elaine on Seinfeld failed a drug test after eating a poppy seed muffin back in the 1996 episode “The Shower Head,” the idea that you could fail a drug test after eating poppy seeds took off. Turns out, this wasn’t yet another Hollywood writer invention—you really can potentially fail a drug test if you eat poppy seeds.

Before they’re put into muffins, bagels, or cakes, poppy seeds can be found in poppy seed pods. It just so happens that opium is found in those same seed pods—it is a milky substance that is extracted from the seed pods which contains morphine and codeine, among other pain relieving substances. While poppy seeds themselves don’t inherently contain any opium, when the seeds are harvested, they can become contaminated with the opium in the pod.

The poppy seeds must then be cleaned and processed. Some countries have strict processing requirements, which leads to less opiate residue on the seeds, but others don’t. In the end, there is no way to guarantee that the poppy seeds you’re consuming are free of opiates, and in many cases they have at least some contamination.

Even a small amount of contamination goes a long way when it comes to certain drug tests. In a study conducted by the Institute of Biochemistry in Germany in 2003, a group of people consumed different quantities of a normal commercial poppy seed cake. Their urine samples were tested 24 hours after the cake was eaten, and again at the 48-hour mark. For both tests, each participant tested positive for opium ranging as high as 10 microg/mL. For reference, as they noted in the study, the International Olympic Committee, at least in 2003, had the cutoff at 1 microg/mL for a test to be considered positive.

A similar test was conducted by MythBusters, who found the same thing: the opium found on poppy seeds stayed in the system up to 48 hours after consumption in significant enough quantities to potentially test positive in certain drug tests.

Elaine Benes wasn’t the only one to get into trouble at work after failing a drug test due to poppy seeds. There have been numerous reports of men and women getting fired after a workplace drug test—or, in one 2010 case, having a newborn baby snatched from their arms at the hospital after testing positive for opium. (The baby was later returned, and the mother was given a monetary settlement.)

In 1990, a police officer in St. Louis with an exemplary work record underwent a random drug test and was suspended after it came back positive for opiate use. He had eaten four poppy seed bagels the day before the test. The department refused to believe that the officer in question had an opiate problem and conducted an experiment of their own: they had another officer who had a clean test before then eat four poppy seed bagels and take another drug test, which came back positive. The first officer was reinstated with back pay.

Poppy seeds struck again in 1994, when a woman who had a poppy seed bagel for lunch lost a prospective job after failing a drug screening. The company did not allow her to have a second test as they did not believe a poppy seed bagel was to blame.

A similar fate befell a woman in 1997 who was denied a job at Bankers Insurance Group after failing a drug test because of poppy seeds; in this case, though, the woman was awarded over $800,000 in damages. In 1999, a prison guard was fired for the same reason, only to be reinstated seven months later.

All that said, the concentration of opium in the urine of someone who eats a poppy seed muffin is much lower than someone who is an actual opiate abuser. It’s the same reason eating poppy seeds doesn’t result in the same physical and mental side effects that using morphine does: there just isn’t a lot of opium in the system after eating poppy seeds, despite the sensitivity of the tests.

Because of this issue, in the early 2000s, the United States federal government raised the threshold for what is considered a positive opiate test in workplace screening from 0.3 micrograms per milliliter to 2 micrograms per milliliter. Using the new standard, someone who eats a couple of poppy seed muffins in the morning should test well under the limit, showing that they are not an opiate abuser—just a poppy seed lover. However, as noted by the Institute of Biochemistry study, it’s still possible to exceed that as some of their subjects who simply ate the poppy seed cake tested as high as 10 micrograms per milliliter. Just to be on the safe side, if you ever have to take such a test, best to swear off poppy seed food items for at least a few days before the test.

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy our new popular podcast, The BrainFood Show (iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Feed), as well as:

Bonus Facts:

  • Opium has been used as a pain reliever during surgery for many centuries. In fact, many ancient societies believed that poppy seeds themselves were a good sleep aid, promoted fertility, and helped to make a person invisible (Okay, so they weren’t always right.)
  • Records of opium being used recreationally only started around the 17th century. Opium addiction and dependency wasn’t recognized until decades later. In China, many people continued to smoke opium despite the dangers. The Opium Wars in the 1800s only served to increase the use of opium, and by 1900, one in four Chinese men was a regular smoker of opiates.
  • Today, most opium is harvested and produced in Afghanistan. However, poppy seed production is dominated by Turkey, with the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Spain trailing behind.
  • In addition to being mixed into bagels and cakes, poppy seeds can be crushed and made into a paste, pressed for poppy seed oil, or made into candy. Some people use poppy seed paste as a skin moisturiser.
  • While the amount of opiates found in poppy seeds doesn’t have much of an effect on humans, the seeds are often used in bird food because they can act as a pain reliever for birds, plus cure diarrhea and stomach pains. Not to mention, they’re pretty nutritious for birds as well.
Expand for References
Share the Knowledge! FacebooktwitterredditpinteresttumblrmailFacebooktwitterredditpinteresttumblrmail
Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Enjoy this article? Join over 50,000 Subscribers getting our FREE Daily Knowledge and Weekly Wrap newsletters:

Subscribe Me To:  | 



  • This happened to me in high school. My parents thought for a day (ridiculously) that I was on drugs and refused to believe me that the poppy seeds had caused a bad test at the doctor. I didn’t eat poppy seeds for years.

  • Hi, I am trained in Drug & Alcohol testing and have been performing drug screens for around 15 years.
    No, is the short answer …. eating poppy seeds will definitely not make you fail a drug screen … it is a complete myth!

    • Happened to me and many others personally! You think testing others makes it so you are an expert in what they are beforehand?

    • You are WRONG! You definitely 100% sure can fail a drug test by eating poppy seeds! IT HAPPENED TO ME!

    • Dianna Snook, you are so wrong and that is the big problem with these big drug testing companies! They take your money for bogus and fallible testing and they know it is unreliable testing! I am a victim of this awful practice and I refuse to keep my mouth shut about it! Until you create a test that truly tells the difference between ground up poppy seeds in a pastry and opiate drugs, the test should NOT be used! Many people have suffered because of this faithful trust in testing! You think your science is so accurate and flawed! I tell you, it is flawed! I will take a test everyday to prove that I never used any opiates! And I will take a test after consuming an old world poppy seed pastry and prove you are 100% wrong! Would you do the same? No, because you know your testing is bogus and based on the accumulation of dirty money.

    • Stephanie Hughes-Peard Stephen

      It happened to me 3 poppy seed muffins over the weekend and on monday I failed for pain meds! Complete bullshit and I almost lost my health insurance because of it. There are so many high profile cases about lawyers and police failing drug test because of this. If you dont believe it do it yourself. I don’t do drugs EVER. This was such a shock its bull!

    • seattlewhiteboy

      I know this is old but it literally happened to me today. So all these people are liars? Some professional you are. If the seeds come into contact with the wrong part of the plant like he resin, and aren’t properly washed then it’s not only possible, but will happen. You should know that the opiate test is especially sensitive. Also you have nothing to compare it to
      The person testing the samples isn’t usually in direct contact with the people taking the test. Funny that I’ve never tested positive for opiates in my life, but the time I do is the morning proceeding consumption.

      • seattlewhiteboy

        If there is no basis in science why so people win cases upwards of a million dollars in a court of law?

  • It makes me very upset to see Diana Snook – someone who is “trained in Drug & Alcohol testing” is so WRONG! Although it is hard to prove and have others believe you it is totally possible! It happened to me so I have experience first hand! Best thing to do is avoid any poppy products if you are being drug test or may be drug tested.

  • This is true I got tested yesterday and mine came back positive . even hough I hadn’t touched drugs I was so was only until my friend said have you eaten anything with seeds in it and I said yes bread.she looked at the ingredients and there were poppy seeds in it. The misery was solved.

  • Poppy seeds can definitely make you fail for opiates. it happened to me and when they sent it to the lab it came back confirmed for opiates. They CANNOT tell the difference between the morphine and codeine from the poppy seeds when they send it to the lab. If you have to take drug screens PLEASE avoid all poppy seed products!!

  • I failed a drug test at Concentra because I had eaten an old world poppy seed roll pastry for breakfast. The woman told me her test could tell the difference and I would have to eat a lot of poppy seeds in order to fail the test. I believed her and I lost a job opportunity! Concentra didn’t want to talk to me about it, the job, HR, let me retake the test which I passed, and then they said it was a miscommunication and rescinded the offer. I lost a great opportunity because of this bogus test! Everyone thought I was addicted to opiates and I don’t even take prescriptions or anything! I can prove that I’m not an addict and never was, but no one would even give me the time of day after that test and the Concentra workers claims against me. So, please do not believe that drug tests are reliable! They are far from being reliable!

  • seattlewhiteboy

    This happened to me today! I am an ex drug user, who has been sober for over 13 months now, and I take drug tests monthly for my outpatientire program which I volunteerely attend, so I have no reason to lie. I have no problem admitting if I have used. Anyhow I bought 2 boxes of cost of muffins. One was the apple maple (so good), and one poppy seed. Anyhow I had eaten them over the past week, up until this morning when I took the test, and guess what? Positive for opiates. I was so confused, until I remembered that this could happen. Anyhow I took the test again after drinking some water, and showed negative so it was a very small amount, but still detectable! Nice.

  • Happen to me also , lost my job because of a bogus test . I filed a complaint with the Human Right commission , and waiting for an answer . It is a traumatizing experience to loose your job for something you did not do …

  • Took a voluntary drug screen for my Dr. And the test showed positive for morphine. I had eaten 2 or 3 poppy seed muffins from Bel-Air grocery store around the time of my test. I have never taken anything but the medication my Dr. prescribed me, and he believed I was on heroin.. I told him he needed to give me a more in depth drug screen , hair follicle test, blood test.. But this was not acceptable. I filed a grievance with Kaiser Permanente over this and I am in the process of getting a resolution.