A woman tested positive for opiates on a drug test because she had poppy seeds. Find out about the connection between poppy seeds and drug tests. Check out this content on BBC Three. Getting ready to take a drug test for a job or for other reasons? Watch out for these common things that could lead to a false positive result.
Yes, Poppy-Seed Bagels Really Can Make You Fail a Drug Test. Here’s Why, and How Much You Have to Eat
A new mother’s traumatizing experience sheds light on the urban legend.
You’ve probably heard the old wives’ tale: Don’t eat a poppy-seed bagel if you might need a drug test in the near future. But is there any real truth to this crazy-sounding rumor? One new mom found out the hard way—at pretty much the worst possible time—that, in fact, there is.
WBAL TV reported this week that back in April, Maryland resident Elizabeth Eden went into labor and was admitted to St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson to deliver her daughter. But before she gave birth, her doctors informed her that she’d tested positive for opioids. Per hospital policy, the mom-to-be had also been reported to state officials.
Eden had eaten a poppy-seed bagel for breakfast that morning, and she remembered learning in health class that this could potentially trigger a false positive drug test result. But the hospital had already set the wheels in motion: Because of her test result, Eden’s daughter had to stay in the hospital for five days after she was born, while a caseworker was assigned to conduct a home checkup. “It was traumatizing,” Eden said.
This type of misunderstanding is pretty surprising, but it’s also not the first time something like this has happened. Here’s a quick look at the history of—and the science behind—this unfortunate side effect.
Why do poppy seeds affect drug tests?
It may seem like this popular baked-good flavoring has nothing to do with illicit and addictive opioid drugs like morphine, codeine, and heroin. But actually, they all come from the same place: the poppy plant.
While poppy seeds used in food are produced legally, they can still contain the same chemicals that show up on drug tests for opioid substances. This has been documented several times in medical literature. In a 1997 case report in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, for example, a patient tested positive for a morphine-like drug, even though she swore she wasn’t taking any drugs her doctor hadn’t prescribed.
When asked to describe her diet, the patient stated that “her bagel preference was cinnamon raisin, but if cinnamon raisin was not available, her second preference was for poppy-seed bagels.” Unsure as to whether this would alter her drug test results, the patient’s doctors performed an experiment: They asked her not to have any poppy-seed bagels for two weeks, then they tested her urine before and after she ate half of one in their office.
The tests confirmed it: The patient’s urine tests were negative for morphine before she ate the bagel, but positive—with a concentration of 446 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL)—two hours afterward. Five hours after eating the bagel, her morphine level had decreased to a still detectable 336 ng/mL. Her doctors concluded that urine “may remain positive from 24 to 48 hours after ingestion,” depending on the test used.
Other research has shown that just a teaspoon of poppy seeds can raise opioid levels to 1,200 ng/mL. That’s under the 2,000 ng/mL federal limit set by the Department of Health and Human Services in 1998 for a positive drug test—but St. Joseph Medical Center still uses an older limit of just 300 ng/ml. Hospital staff told WBAL TV that they keep their threshold low to be sure they identify as many drug mis-users as possible.
Eden is not alone in her experience of being falsely categorized as a drug abuser. In fact, she’s not even the first new mom who had her child taken away—temporarily—after failing a post-poppy seed drug test: The same thing happened to two other women in 2013 and 2014. A jail guard in New York who was recently fired for failing a drug test has evoked the “poppy-seed bagel defense,” and a similar storyline was even featured on the television show Seinfeld.
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So, can poppy seeds get you high?
As far as scientific research goes, there’s no evidence that eating poppy seeds can actually get a person high. In one 1992 study, the Oregon State Police Crime Library evaluated seven people who’d eaten 25 grams of poppy seeds (baked into bundt cakes) for signs of opioid impairment–but found none.
There have, however, been a few reported instances of people becoming addicted to poppy seeds: In 1994, doctors wrote in the Medical Journal of Australia that a 51-year-old patient with chronic pain “noticed a growing fondness for poppy seed noodles” and subsequently began buying packets of seeds alone.
The patient told doctors that she would fill her mouth with the seeds and suck them until they were dry, and that she would get a “tingling sensation in her body, followed by a feeling of euphoria.” Eventually, she was eating the seeds five or six times a day, “and became restless if she extended the time between ingestions.”
More recently, a 2010 case report in Drug and Alcohol Review discussed an 82-year-old woman in India who had become dependent on poppy-seed tea over the past 55 years. She was brought in for treatment when access to the tea became difficult following new legal restrictions.
How worried should you be about eating poppy seeds?
Those reports of dependence are extreme cases, of course—not something that would happen from eating one poppy-seed bagel, or even eating them on a regular basis. But it is smart to be aware that even a tiny amount of those seeds can still cause a drug test to come back positive, even if you don’t have any symptoms of opioid use.
After the misunderstanding at St. Joseph Medical Center was cleared up, the state closed Eden’s case file and allowed her baby to come home. But the new mom is hoping the hospital will change its testing threshold so the same thing doesn’t happen to other unlucky patients.
Judith Pratt Rossiter, MD, chief of obstetrics and gynecology at St. Joseph, told WBAL TV that doctors generally have not educated patients about the potential side effect of poppy-seed bagels, “and it’s a really good point that people probably should know” about it.
Perhaps the best advice we’ve seen on this topic is from Boston Medical Center’s Jack Maypole, MD, in a 2013 article for the National Institute of Drug Abuse for Teens: “To all you poppy seed lovers out there,” he wrote: “They can be a tasty treat in favorite foods, but may be one to avoid before undergoing drug testing.”
These foods can make you test positive for drugs
There’s nothing worse than when your dog actually did eat your homework, but you’re still not believed.
Unless of course you’ve tested positive for opiates and your alibi is that you ate some bread rolls.
This is the claim of a 58-year-old pipe fitter, suspended from work for 11 weeks after testing positive for morphine – an extract from the opium produced by poppies.
Speaking to the Liverpool Echo, the father of two, who wishes to remain anonymous, insists the test reading was the result of him eating poppy seed bread and buns the day before the test.
After receiving the positive results, the Liverpudlian paid £120 for a private hair-follicle test, which came back negative, and obtained a letter from his GP stating he had never been on any prescribed medication, such as morphine or painkillers – which contain opium.
“I am a married dad and have two grown-up children. I have never taken drugs,” said the Liverpool man.
“I thought to myself ‘I have something in my body that I have no idea where it has come from’ – it was very worrying.”
The pipe fitter’s online research led him to an experiment on BBC One’s Rip Off Britain: Food, which aired in May. Over three days, 72-year-old presenter Angela Ripon ate a loaf of poppy seed bread and a poppy seed bagel to see if a drug test would pick up opiates. The results showed the presence of morphine.
The construction worker added, “I knew straight away that it had to be the poppy seeds I had eaten and I actually thought ‘Great that explains it.’”
His company have since taken him back, although the contractor that he failed the test for has refused to accept his return to work.
So, can eating poppy seeds really lead you to fail a drug test?
“If you eat a poppy seed roll, it could give rise to a positive result on a urine drug test for morphine,” says Atholl Johnston, Professor of Pharmacology at Queen Mary University.
While the morphine content of poppy seeds can vary by a factor of nearly 600, drug tests are highly sensitive, and could return a positive result even after a relatively small number of the seeds.
However, Professor Johnston makes it clear that eating poppy seeds will not get you high any time soon.
“It is unlikely that a single poppy seed roll, or even a dozen rolls, would result in an individual ingesting enough morphine to have a pharmacological effect.”
Nevertheless, it’s advisable to wait up to three days after eating poppy seed products before taking a drug test.
And in case you’re wondering what other kinds of foods could lead you to fail a substance test, we’ve got the answer for you: the best kinds.
Like pizza and pastries.
Now a fair number of people would probably testify that pizza is effectively an addictive drug anyway.
But according to a breathalyser manufacturer, food products that use yeast can in fact make you fail a breathalyser test. This is because yeast makes dough rise by fermenting sugars into a number of substances, one of which is alcohol.
And if you’re unlucky enough to be breathalysed immediately after eating pizza, then this could cause you to fail the test.
According to the same source, this also applies to ripe fruit and fruit drinks. These can ferment and produce just enough alcohol for you to test positive.
Thankfully, because the alcohol is in your mouth rather than in your digestive system, you should be fine after about 15 minutes. Alternatively, you can rinse your mouth out with water.
Then there’s hemp seeds (often found in granola bars), hemp seed oil and hemp seed milk.
These can lead you to test positive for THC, the principal psychoactive chemical in weed. After all, hemp is itself a type of cannabis.
And even poor, innocent, tonic water can help you to fail a drug test.
Tonic water was originally drunk for its quinine, an antimalarial drug derived from the bark of the South American cinchona tree.
This led to the invention of gin and tonics by a British official in 19th-century colonial India, who found a way to liven up the anti-malarial prescription.
But having a few G&Ts could also liven up your drug test results.
So you could actually end up failing both a breathalyser and a drug scan. Which would give you one heck of a hangover.
What Can Cause a False Positive Drug Test
If you hang out often with someone who puffs on pot, your urine could have traces of THC. That’s the chemical in the cannabis plant that gets you high. But chances are very low that you’ll have enough THC to trigger the positive result in the screens used by the federal government and many private employers. That’s most likely to happen right after you’re exposed to the smoke. A second test would need to confirm it.
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Phentermine is a prescription medicine that helps curb your appetite. It’s chemically similar to amphetamines, a stimulant used to treat ADHD and as a study aid to stay awake. Phentermine could raise a false red flag in your drug screen if you don’t have a medical reason for taking amphetamines.
These small black seeds naturally contain morphine and codeine. A poppy seed bagel, for example, might make you test positive for both of those opioids for up to a whole day after you eat it. That’s more likely to happen with labs that still follow the older, lower thresholds for detecting those substances.
Many liquid medications, vanilla extract, and breath-cleaning products often have ethanol, a form of simple grain alcohol. Today’s drug tests can detect even trace amounts of alcohol, and for longer after exposure. So if you use anything with ethyl alcohol, your breath, blood, or urine sample might get flagged for possible signs of drinking. The same thing could happen even with alcohol-based hand sanitizers if you use them regularly.
Sertraline (Zoloft) is prescribed for depression, panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and more. Some drug screens may not be specific enough to tell apart sertraline and benzodiazepines. The latter is an older tranquilizer drug that’s often found in people who overdose on opioids. The faulty test result could happen for several days after you quit your antidepressant.
These medications usually won’t interfere with your drug screens. But in rare cases, a few antibiotics are known to trigger inaccurate test results. Rifampin, which treats tuberculosis, might show up as opiates in some rapid urine screens. What’s more, the false positive result may be possible even more than 18 hours after you’ve swallowed a single dose of the antibiotic.
Cannabidiol (CBD) comes from the hemp plant, a relative of the Cannabis sativa plant that produces marijuana. CBD, which doesn’t make you high, is used for medical marijuana to ease pain and other symptoms. Some states allow CBD oil, edibles, and other products to have up to 5% of the mind-altering chemical THC. Depending on when and how much you’ve taken CBD, it’s possible for your urine to show evidence of marijuana in your body.
Some popular over-the-counter allergy and sleep meds like Benadryl and Advil PM have diphenhydramine. It can relieve coughs and runny noses. But on drug screens, it can show up as methadone, which helps people quit heroin or other opiates and can be addictive. Diphenhydramine also may show up as PCP, an illegal hallucinogenic that is one of five types of drugs that applicants for all federal and many private-sector jobs are screened for.
Efavirenz (Sustiva) is an antiretroviral drug that helps treat your HIV infection. But on a drug screen, it can make you seem to have used marijuana. A second, more sensitive test should be able to distinguish which of the two compounds is in your body. To avoid confusion, you may want to alert the lab or the clinic beforehand that you’re on efavirenz.
This beverage is a popular folk remedy in Peru and elsewhere in South America. It’s made with the leaves of the same plant that cocaine comes from. If you drink it, you may want to stop a couple of days before your drug test. Coca tea could affect your screening for up to 36 hours after you’ve sipped it.
Several of these medications for mental disorders can lead to false positive tests. Quetiapine, which treats schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, can wrongly show that you have methadone in your urine. Another antipsychotic — chlorpromazine — can cause drug tests to come up positive for amphetamine, a stimulant.
IMAGES PROVIDED BY:
American Addiction Centers: “What’s An Amphetamine? Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment.”
American Association for Clinical Chemistry: “Rifampin Interference with Opiate Immunoassays.”
Drug Enforcement Administration: “Dextromethorphan.”
FDA: “Zoloft (sertraline hydrochloride) Label.”
Journal of Analytical Toxicology: “Non-Smoker Exposure to Secondhand Cannabis Smoke. I. Urine Screening and Confirmation Results.”
Massachusetts Medical Society: “Urine Abstinence Testing And Incidental Alcohol Exposure.”
Mayo Clinic: “Urine Drug Screening: Practical Guide for Clinicians.”
National Center for Biotechnology Information: “Investigation of interference by nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs in urine tests for abused drugs,” “False positive urine drug screens from quinine in tonic water,” “Cardiac Complications of Unwitting Co-injection of Quinine/Quinidine with Heroin in an Intravenous Drug User,” “The dextromethorphan defense: dextromethorphan and the opioid screen,” “A positive cannabinoids workplace drug test following the ingestion of commercially available hemp seed oil,” “Efavirenz use may cause false positive result for marijuana,” “Urine opiate screening: false-positive result with levofloxacin,” “An Overview of Clinical Pharmacology of Ibuprofen.”
National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens: “What is Hemp?”
National Institute on Drug Abuse: “Misuse of Prescription Drugs,” “Benzodiazepines and Opioids.”
Operation Supplement Safety: “Weight-Loss Prescription Drugs: Phentermine.”
Pharmacokinetics in Psychiatry and Neurology: “Urine drug screens: Considerations for the psychiatric pharmacist.”
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: “Clinical Drug Testing in Primary Care,” “Methadone.”
The Brookings Institution: “The Farm Bill, hemp legalization and the status of CBD: An explainer.”
U.S. National Library of Medicine: “Drug Testing,” “Quinine,” “Diphenhydramine,” “Dextromethorphan,” “Efavirenz,” “Amphetamine,” “Sertraline.”
University of Florida: “Germ-killing sanitizers could have effect on alcohol tests.”
American Alliance Drug Testing: “SAMSHA Guidelines — Mandatory Federal Workplace Drug Testing Guidelines.”