Does Eating Poppy Seeds Have Side Effects?

Poppy seeds are a common ingredient in bagels, pretzels, energy bars and other snacks. A single tablespoon delivers 1.6 grams of protein and nearly one-third of the daily recommended intake of manganese. Plus, they're crunchy and taste delicious. But, did you know that poppy seed tea and poppy seeds, in general, contain opiates and can cause positive drug test results?

Poppy seeds are used in various cuisines worldwide for their nutty flavor and health benefits. (Image: Elena Shchipkova/iStock/Getty Images)

Tip

The opioids in these tiny seeds can be detected in urine up to 48 hours after ingestion, so avoid eating them before taking a drug test.

Poppy Seed Uses

Also known as khus khus, posta dana, khashkhash or adormidera, poppy seeds have been around since ancient times. They come from the poppy flower (Papaver somniferum) and are used in various cuisines worldwide. These tiny seeds are a popular ingredient in korma, Chadachadi, German Mohnstollen, Turkish poppy seed cake, poppy milk and other international recipes. They're also added to bird food, body scrubs, soaps and cosmetic products.

Poppy seed uses vary among countries. In some parts of the world, they're considered a natural remedy for cough, asthma, insomnia, constipation and other health complaints. However, more research is needed to confirm these claims, according to WebMD. Rich in oleic and linoleic acids, these seeds may benefit your heart and improve blood lipids.

A 2017 review published in the journal Healthcare suggests that linoleic acid may slow the development of atherosclerosis, reduce inflammation and lower cholesterol levels. Manganese, another nutrient in poppy seeds, regulates the production of several enzymes, promotes wound healing and supports bone development. These seeds are also rich in iron, magnesium, calcium, fiber and B-complex vitamins. Your body needs these nutrients to produce energy, build strong bones and function optimally.

The Dangers of Poppy Seeds

Did you know that poppy seeds are banned in the United Arab Emirates and Singapore? This popular food has raised a lot of controversy over the years due to its opioid content. Poppy seed tea and unwashed poppy seeds appear to be particularly dangerous.

According to a 2019 review published in Pain and Therapy, unwashed poppy seeds — which are widely available online — can be used to prepare a tea with psychoactive effects. Rich in opium, poppy seed tea is commonly used as an analgesic and may cause addiction. Depending on how many seeds were used, the tea may contain potentially lethal doses of morphine.

However, most cases cited in the review involved large doses of poppy seed tea, such as 2 or 4 liters a day. Researchers also point out that poppy seed consumption may lead to positive drug test results. Another case study, which was published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences in 2017, documented the death of two men who died from ingesting large doses of this tea.

According to Medscape, up to 90 percent of the morphine in poppy seeds is lost during processing, so moderate consumption is unlikely to cause adverse reactions.

Beware of Allergic Reactions

Now that you know more about poppy seed benefits and side effects, you may wonder how safe this food really is. If you decide to include it in your diet, make sure you're not allergic to it. As the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology notes, some individuals can be allergic or sensitive to poppy seeds.

Common symptoms of an allergic reaction include vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, swelling of the mouth and throat, itching and digestive problems. In severe cases, anaphylaxis may occur. Although seed allergies are rare, they may cause life-threatening reactions. Anaphylaxis, for example, requires emergency treatment.

When consumed in moderation, poppy seeds can boost your health and well-being. With their nutty flavor, they go well in homemade desserts, crackers, cookies, salads and salty snacks. Poppy seed tea, on the other hand, is addictive and potentially toxic.

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