The “poppy seed defense” has been a topic of discussion and debate for many years. This defense is based on the claim that consuming poppy seeds can lead to a positive drug test result. But how valid is this claim? Let's delve into the details.
The Poppy Seed Defense in Pop Culture
The idea that poppy seeds could be the culprit behind a failed drug test was popularized by an episode of the TV show Seinfeld1. In this episode, Elaine Benes tests positive for opium after consuming her favorite breakfast - a poppy seed muffin. This storyline brought the concept of the “poppy seed defense” into the mainstream.
Further, in 2011, the Discovery Channel's program, MythBusters, declared the myth as “definitely true”2. The producers consumed poppy seed bread and bagels and subsequently tested positive on an instant urine drug test. However, the impact of poppy seed consumption on drug test results in alternative matrices like oral fluid remains under-researched.
Poppy Seeds and Drug Tests
Poppy seeds are known to contain opiates, specifically morphine and codeine3. The primary concern for employers is whether the consumption of poppy seeds can lead to a positive drug test for job applicants or employees.
A study published in the October 2015 Society of Forensic Toxicologists (SOFT) Special Issue of the Journal of Analytical Toxicology delved into this topic4. Scientists from Quest Diagnostics examined the effects of consuming raw poppy seeds and poppy-containing food products on urine and oral fluid drug tests.
The study aimed to differentiate between dietary poppy seed ingestion and the abuse of non-prescribed opiates or heroin. Participants consumed a Ukrainian-style poppy seed roll and raw poppy seeds. The researchers then measured morphine and codeine concentrations in the participants' urine and oral fluid over intervals ranging from 15 minutes to 20 hours.
The results indicated a clear distinction based on the source of poppy seeds consumed (raw or prepared) and the duration for which morphine and codeine were detected in both urine and oral fluid.
The Rise of Synthetic Urine
Given the fear of testing positive due to poppy seed consumption, some individuals have resorted to using synthetic urine illegally to pass drug tests5. This highlights the extent to which misconceptions and fears can drive individuals to take extreme measures.
Key Takeaways from the Research
The research suggests that it is indeed possible to test positive for morphine (and to a lesser extent, codeine) after consuming poppy seed-containing products4. One unique aspect of this study was the comparison of poppy seed consumption in both prepared food items and raw form. The study found that the likelihood of testing positive is much lower in oral fluid compared to urine. Most positive test results and the longest detection window resulted from the consumption of a large quantity of raw poppy seeds in a short time frame.
In conclusion, while the “poppy seed defense” might hold some validity for urine tests, it is less likely to be applicable for oral fluid drug tests due to the shorter detection window.
Seinfeld TV Show, Episode: "The Shower Head" ↩
MythBusters, Discovery Channel, 2011 ↩
"Poppy Seeds and Drug Tests", Quest Diagnostics Employer Solutions Blog ↩
Various news reports on the illegal use of synthetic urine for drug tests ↩