Poppy seeds used in baking come from the same plant that produces opiates, including morphine and codeine. The poppy plant cannot be legally grown in the United States, meaning all poppy seeds sold in this country are imported from countries where cultivation is permitted. While the seeds themselves contain negligible amounts of opiates, they can be contaminated with plant debris and require washing and processing to reduce opiate contamination to safe levels.
Not all importers adequately process their seeds, and some sellers even market poppy seeds as “unwashed” or “unprocessed,” to convey that they have high levels of opiates to consumers who may purchase the seeds to brew poppy seed tea. This tea is typically used for medicinal, therapeutic, or recreational purposes and can concentrate the opiates from a batch of seeds. Consumers of these seeds may not be aware that the effects from the consumption of the seeds may be due to opiates. In addition, opiate contamination levels can vary widely from batch to batch, putting those who drink the tea at increased risk of accidental overdose or other health consequences.
CSPI previously called on the FDA and the Drug Enforcement Agency to address the risks of contaminated poppy seeds in April of 2019. In December 2019, the DEA clarified that selling opiate-contaminated poppy seeds can be illegal under the Controlled Substances Act.