A poppy seed bagel is usually thought of as a delicious and harmless snack — unless you’re about to take a drug test.
In April, a Maryland woman in labor tested positive for opiates after eating a poppy seed bagel, which led the hospital to report her to the state and assign a case worker to monitor her newborn child.
The new mom, Elizabeth Eden, said that her bagel breakfast turned into a “traumatizing” ordeal, requiring research and a letter to the hospital to have her case closed. But why do poppy seeds even turn up on drug tests — and can the mixup be avoided?
Unfortunately, “there’s no way to tell if a positive test result stems from poppy seed consumption or opiate ingestion,” says Dr. Travis Stork, an ER physician, host of The Doctors and a member of PEOPLE’s Health Squad.
“They’re coming from the same source,” he explains. “Poppy seeds come from the opium poppy plant, which is also where opiates such as morphine, codeine, and heroin come from.”
Because of the confusion on drug tests and the likelihood of false positives, the federal government raised the opiate threshold for employee drug tests from 0.3 micrograms to 2 micrograms per milliliter in 1998. But some places — including St. Joseph Medical Center in Baltimore where Eden gave birth — still go by the old standard.
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Stork says that a person facing a drug test should avoid eating any amount of poppy seeds for 48 hours prior, which is the longest amount of time they could be detected in urine.
And while poppy seeds are derived from the same plant as opiates, there’s no need to worry that eating a bagel or a lemon-poppy seed muffin will create a drug high. Opiates come from a milky substance in the poppy plant that occurs long before the plant’s seeds ripen, and by the time that happens, any narcotic properties are gone.
“Normal consumption of poppy seeds is considered safe, because when they are processed most of the opiate is removed and just residue remains,” Stork explains, though it’s best to avoid giving large doses of them to babies and small children.
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