The Poppy Effect

Poppy effect

In the movie The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy and her companions are lulled to sleep by the sight of vast fields of red poppies. These flowers are renowned for their beautiful color and beauty, and for their potential to produce powerful drugs such as morphine. Poppies are the most widely used natural source of opium, a substance that can be extracted from the seeds and converted to many different pharmaceutical medications.

While many people know that opioid painkillers like hydrocodone and oxycodone are partially human-made, most don’t realize that opium itself is also an important part of the history of pain relief. In fact, opium was the first drug ever used by humans to treat pain, and its use has continued on for thousands of years.

Although human-made opioids are the most common painkillers in use today, opium is still harvested and used by some for recreational purposes. Typically, poppy seeds are made into tea or other liquids and consumed to achieve the “opium effect.” The effects of this can vary greatly, depending on the dose (which depends on alkaloid content, preparation and extraction), individual sensitivity and any built-up tolerance.

It has long been known that poppy seed consumption can cause positive drug tests for opiates, and has been cited as a reason why people fail workplace and roadside drug testing. However, little information is available regarding how poppy seeds are prepared before they enter the food supply chain, and the methods used will impact the level of opium alkaloids that reach consumers.

The purpose of this study was to examine how the food matrix and preparation methods of poppy seeds affects their opium alkaloid concentration. A range of raw, dried poppy seeds from multiple sources were heated in a muffin baking tray for different periods of time at 180degC and then homogenized in a spice blender before being reconstituted into a liquid and subjected to opium alkaloid extraction and analysis using LC-MS. Various calibration curves were constructed to determine the amount of opiates present in each sample, and results were compared to a standard solution of deuterated internal standards.

Seven solvents with a range of polarity index values were investigated, as well as a mixture of chloroform and isopropanol (9:1, v/v). All extractions were carried out at varying pHs to investigate the optimal conditions for extracting opiates from poppy seeds, and a deuterated internal standard was added to each solution to ensure accurate quantification. LC-MS analysis was performed after the solvents were evaporated to give a final concentration of opium alkaloids in mg/g poppy seeds. This value, along with the weights of poppy seeds ingested for each of the three analyses, indicates that under normal preparation conditions the amount of opiates ingested from a cup of brewed poppy seed tea will not exceed the ARfD determined by the EFSA. This is based on the assumption that a person will only consume one cup of tea per day and that the total weight of seeds ingested will be approximately 200g.