Poppy seed tea – are you aware of the risks?

Poppy plants are well known to contain opiates like heroin (diacetylmorphine) and codeine. One component you don’t often hear about is thebaine, after the ancient Greek for the Egyptian city of Thebes.

What is thebaine? 

Thebaine, also called paramorphine, is chemically very similar to codeine and morphine. But unlike these two well-known drugs, which are powerful depressants, thebaine has stimulatory effects.

Thebaine has no direct therapeutic use. It is often used as a base to synthesize oxycodone, naltrexone (a drug to treat opiate overdoses) and the analgesic hydromorphone.

High doses of thebaine induce symptoms similar to strychnine poisoning including, convulsions, generalised muscle spasms including, facial muscle spasms, tachycardia, hypertension, and rapid breathing, eventually culminating in convulsions and cardiac arrest.

What are the dangers of poppy seeds?

Processed poppy seeds – such as those used in poppy-seed buns, bread, and strudel – pose no threat to consumers, although they may give you a nasty shock if you fail a drug test!

By contrast, unwashed poppy seeds may potentially be lethal. In Texas, in 2017, a review was done of apparent opiate overdoses resulting from home-brewed poppy seed tea that concluded even moderate doses of poppy seed tea may yield lethal doses of morphine and thebaine if prepared incorrectly.

How is poppy seed tea prepared?

The most common way people prepare poppy tea is by boiling up poppy husks. Poppy husks are commonly referred to as poppy straw. Poppy straw is popularly used in some herbal decoctions. It comes from opium poppy husks and capsules that have been mechanically dried with the ripe poppy seeds excluded.

Poppy straw is used legally as a major source of pharmaceutical morphine. Mid-last decade only three countries – Australia, Spain, and France – accounted for 99% of global straw production, with the major share coming from Australia.

Poppy tea has become very popular in Australia over the last few months – leading to a handful of critical presentations to Emergency Departments across the country, which has prompted the State health authorities to issue a general warning.

Maybe we should all drink Earl Grey tea instead? What are your thoughts on poppy seed tea?

Learn more

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