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Poppy Seed Tea: A Short Review and Case Study

Irving Haber

1 Private Practice, Terre Haute, Indianapolis, USA

Joseph Pergolizzi, Jr.

2 NEMA Research Inc., Naples, FL USA

Jo Ann LeQuang

2 NEMA Research Inc., Naples, FL USA

Abstract

Unwashed poppy seeds are widely available online through private websites or via well-known sellers such as eBay and Amazon. These seeds can be used to produce a tea that contains an opioid content sufficient to produce psychoactive effects and to cause withdrawal symptoms when discontinued abruptly, yet their sale and distribution is legal in the United States. Clinicians may not be aware of poppy seed tea and some individuals may use it habitually or as an analgesic. There is a paucity of literature on this topic, although a few cases of poppy seed tea intoxication and dependence have been reported. A clinical case is presented here.

Introduction

Opium is the dried extract of the exudate from the seedpods of unripe poppies, Papaver somniferum. Opium contains a variety of substances (fats, proteins, plant wax, latex, sugars, and others) along with some key alkaloids: morphine (10–15%), codeine (1–3%), noscapine (4–8%), papaverine (1–3%) and thebaine (1–2%) [1]. Poppy seeds are used to make poppy seed tea by washing or soaking large quantities of seed to remove the residual coating of opioid and debris from the seeds [2]. A large quantity of unwashed poppy seeds is required to make the tea.

Poppy-seed-based beverages have a long history. In fact, Paracelsus, the Swiss physician, is credited with having “invented” a poppy-based beverage known as laudanum in the 16th century by mixing opium, distilled water, and alcohol. Laudanum was widely used in Europe and America up until the 19th century, at which time opium also found its way into numerous patent medicines. It was not until the early 20th century that the potential dangers of opium were discussed scientifically [3], and its manufacture was brought into laboratories under federal regulations.

In a survey taken among patients at an opioid rehabilitation center (n = 24), 46% of patients reported that they had tried poppy seed tea. Five of the 24 patients reported poppy seed tea as their main source of opioids. Two of the 24 patients had opioid use disorder from other opioids and used poppy seed tea to manage withdrawal symptoms. In this survey, respondents said poppy seed tea had an onset of action of about 15 min and effects could last 24 h; its main reported drawback was that it did not taste good [2]. In the United States and many other parts of the world, unwashed poppy seeds are available freely with no legal restrictions.

This paper describes a case report from the author’s experience along with a summary of case reports in the literature on poppy seed tea. The case study reported here conforms to ethical standards and was conducted by scientifically qualified investigators with the informed consent of the subject. The case studies mentioned in our review of the literature on poppy seed tea were not conducted by these investigators.

Drug Concentrations

Poppy seeds contain negligible alkaloid content and have long been considered safe for use in baking, although they may cause a false positive on certain drug tests. The highest content of phenanthrene alkaloids in the poppy plant are found in the seed pods; the seeds themselves have much lower concentrations [4]. The opioid concentrations found in poppy seeds come primarily from the alkaloid residue retained on the seeds, which is why “unwashed” is an important marketing term for poppy seed purveyors. The opioid concentration of poppy seed tea varies widely, as it is based on the amount of alkaloid residue on the seeds, the quantity of seeds used, how the tea is prepared, and how much tea an individual consumes. Recipes for poppy seed tea call for soaking a large quantity of seeds for up to 12 h; soaking may be done in water or in lemon juice.

The morphine, codeine, and thebaine content in poppy seed tea was analyzed by liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry and found a morphine concentration of Berridge V, Mars S. History of addiction. J Epidemiol Community Health. 2004; 58 :747–750. doi: 10.1136/jech.2003.015370. [PMC free article] [PubMed] [CrossRef] [Google Scholar]

Poppy Seed Tea: A Short Review and Case Study Irving Haber 1 Private Practice, Terre Haute, Indianapolis, USA Joseph Pergolizzi, Jr. 2 NEMA Research Inc., Naples, FL USA Jo Ann