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Forensic Sci Int. 1998 Aug 31;96(1):29-38.

Opiate concentrations following the ingestion of poppy seed products--evidence for 'the poppy seed defence'.

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Regional Laboratory for Toxicology, City Hospital NHS Trust, Birmingham, UK.


The universally accepted 300 ng/ml cut-off limit for opiate assays stated to be mandatory for all drug screening laboratories by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, has been questioned recently due to positive results being obtained following the ingestion of poppy seed containing food products. To establish the plausibility of the 'the poppy seed defence' the concentrations of codeine, norcodeine, morphine, normorphine and thebaine (a potential marker for seed ingestion) in several varieties of poppy seeds from different countries were quantified by GC-MS. The country of origin of the seed specimen analysed and the preparation of the seeds prior to their culinary use was found to influence the alkaloid concentration determined. The maximum morphine and codeine concentrations determined in the seeds were found to be 33.2 and 13.7 micrograms/g seed respectively. In addition, thebaine concentrations were found to vary with each seed sample analysed. Following the consumption of bread rolls (mean 0.76 g seed covering per roll) by four subjects, all urine specimens analysed produced negative results (using the Dade Bebring EMIT II opiate screening assay) with the exception of one subject (body weight 63.0 kg) who consumed two poppy seed rolls. In this subject opiate positive screening results were obtained for up to 6 h post ingestion with maximum urinary morphine and codeine concentrations of 832.0 ng/ml (@ 2-4 h post ingestion) and 47.9 ng/ml (@ 0-2 h post ingestion) respectively being achieved. Following the ingestion of poppy seed cake containing an average of 4.69 g of seed per slice by four individuals, opiate positive screening results were obtained for up to 24 h. In one subject (dose equivalent to 0.07 g poppy seed/kg body weight) maximum urinary morphine and codeine concentrations of 302.1 ng/ml (@ 0-2 h) and 83.8 ng/ml (@ 2-4 h) respectively were recorded. The elimination of thebaine was found to vary widely between individuals, therefore suggesting that its absence from a specimen is not necessarily indicative of opiate abuse. These findings demonstrate that the poppy seed defence could be used as an argument in medico-legal and employment medical cases. Great care should therefore be taken when interpreting the data produced when screening for opiates.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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