How Many Poppy Seeds Are Too Many?

Image Credit: Kirsten Loza / Flickr. This image has been modified.

Overdosing on Poppy Seeds

The opium poppy used to make heroin is the same opium poppy used to make muffins and bagels. Does this mean that poppy seed muffin we may have had for breakfast contained a powerful narcotic? The idea that poppy seeds could serve as the source of appreciable amounts of codeine/morphine was not given much credence despite the existence of an old European custom recommending a poppy-seed-filled pacifier to quiet a noisy baby. It wasn’t given much credence, that is, until a mother tried giving her six-month-old some strained milk she had boiled some poppy seeds in with the very best intentions of helping the child sleep better. It worked a little too well, culminating in respiratory arrest. Now we have governmental warnings that such a practice is not a good idea.

The cases aren’t limited to children. Evidently if we eat spaghetti with a half cup of poppy seeds on top, it can make adults a little loopy as well.

So what’s the upper limit of poppy seed consumption that’s probably safe? A study profiled in my video, How Many Poppy Seeds is Too Many?, suggests about one teaspoon for every seven pounds of body weight. That means that someone weighing about 150 pounds (70 kilograms) should probably eat no more than seven tablespoons of raw poppy seeds at a time.

Cooking may wipe out half of the morphine and codeine, though, so that gives us some more leeway when baking. Soaking the seeds for five minutes first and then discarding the water before adding them to our recipe can eliminate another half if we’re making some poppy seed filled pastry or something for kids. Otherwise, though, there shouldn’t be any risk at usual levels of intake—unless you’re going in for a drug test, in which case you may want to avoid poppy seeds altogether.

To learn more about not overdoing healthy foods check out these videos:

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here and watch my full 2012 – 2015 presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.


Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.

42 responses to “Overdosing on Poppy Seeds

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  1. Are epsom salts safe for occasional ingestion to relieve constipation? I’ve heard that taking isolated magnesium,
    in such high amounts is completely unnatural for humans, and can thus cause great harm. Wondering if espom salts can also harm the GI tract and its overall integrity. Not only is it high in magnesium, but one is ingesting a high dose of sulfur at one time as well.

    1. I once tried taking a small amount of epsom salts as a source of magnesium based on a suggestion by Ray Peat. As I recall it made me nauseated. I do take magnesium up to 500mg/day from magnesium citrate. In my experience the only downside is that if you take too much it will loosen your bowels. I add 1 tsp chia seed to my oatmeal cereal which has a high fiber content. I eat a WFPB diet and should get plenty of magnesium from the quantities of greens that I eat. However i do benefit from the magnesium supplementation perhaps due to the high fiber diet making magnesium more difficult to absorb.

      1. “…high fiber diet making magnesium more difficult to absorb.” – Fascinating. I had no awareness that this fiber content can be detrimental for magnesium absorption.

  2. Question for Dr. Greger: What is the special fiber in nutritional yeast that you mentioned in your post. I searched some and couldn’t find anything. I also don’t understand why the fiber would help with athletic recovery. Thanks.

  3. I haven’t eaten poppy seeds for decades. And when I did, they had been mixed into a pastry of some kind. Hey, I could use a little “high,” maybe I’ll sleuth me up some. :-)

  4. Whomever did the weight calculations must have eaten too many poppie seeds! 150 / 7 = 21.42. I can’t imagine anyone eating 21 teaspoons of poppie seeds, unless the goal was to get buzzed. There is really little chance of an adult realizing any effects from the ordinary ingestion of foods containing poppie seeds.

    1. 21 teaspoons is equivalent to 7 tablespoons. Some Indian curries call for several tablespoons at a time of poppy seeds, but I agree, people probably will not reach this level unless they really try.

    2. mix a teaspoon of (organic non-gmo) corn starch with water, boil, steer. Add 7 tablespoons of ground poppy seed. Add 5 tablespoons of organic whole cane sugar. Mix. When you try this vegan stuffing for e.g. 汤圆 (poppy seeds inside glutenious rice balls) you will see that 7 tablespoons is NOTHING ! :-) yum yum

    3. It can happen quite easily over the holidays if you’re Eastern European and eat large quantities of poppyseed roll, similar to nut roll. Our clan calls them kolachi or колач. It’s so delicious and sweet, one can hardly stop. There would be dozens of tablespoons, if not cups, in one recipe. The sugar and wheat flour, however, contribute too many carbs which probably negate any nutrition that can be derived from the poppy seeds. As for any opiate effects, never even thought about it or blamed it on the accompanying vodka, also part of the traditional feast.

  5. Just on the funny side reminds me of a ‘Seinfeld ‘ episode years ago when Elaine ate poppy seed muffins and had o have a urine test for something kept showing up positive for narcotics . I thought it was all a joke can see now some truth in it

  6. I’m a 21 year old vegan who does a fair amount of exercise- (judging by what I put into cronometer when I record it) I’m struggling to get as many calories as I think I should aim for. Obviously I don’t want to include much processed rubbish. Should I make up the calories with high fat plant foods like nuts and nut butters? Even if it means I wouldn’t really be eating low fat any more?


    1. I eat about 1-2 oz of nuts daily to keep by weight on. I have the same problem. And I eat avocados. Maybe 1/2 per day. (I have a huge tree) but of course I don’t eat processed rubbish. And of course grains and legumes. Can’t get enough of those!

    2. Check out Brendon Braziers books – he’s an endurance runner with some good tips for staying fueled up.

      I have had similar problems with calorie intake. For me, more calorie dense foods such as fruit, brown rice and potatoes when I’ve been exercising a lot. Fruit has the bonus of lots of water content.

      What makes you think you are not getting enough? Weight loss? Tiredness?

    1. Many people say they have just the right ratio of Omega 3 to 6. But because people usually over consume Omega 6 from grains and nuts, flax is sometimes preferred because it can redress the balance. So it depends on the rest of your diet.

  7. Oh, poppy seeds! I have always loved them, especially chocolate poppy seed cake OMG, that taste sooooo good! BUT, I made a horrible mistake…I made that cake 3 days ago and have put 2 cups of poppy seeds inside it, then, during the day, I simply couldn’t stop eating it, and ate more than half of it, which is more then 1 cup of poppy seeds! For the record: I did NOT have any hallucinations, or weird feelings, I just felt good, very good. I didn’t know ANYTHING about “drug” effect that poppy seeds can cause, until I read this article. I was making this poppy seed cake for more then 15 years, but rarely. I came to this website hoping to find out something about poppy seed relation to hard stool, because that is what happened to me after eating 1 cup of those seeds :( I was not constipated, I just had the hardest stool in my life! This is why I am writing this, PLEASE do not eat a lot of poppy seeds! I believe that 1/3 of cup is already too much. For two days I am bleeding from my anus every time I go to bathroom, and the pain I feel is HORRIBLE. I hope I feel better soon, and that this post (that I would never write with my full name) help someone before it’s too late. God Bless!

    1. Mary: Dang, what a pain (literally). I’m sorry you are feeling so bad. As I read your post, I totally related, because eating too much of something, especially something like cake!, is totally something I would do.

      It took me a couple of days to respond to your post. I hope by now that you are back to normal. And that the poppy seed cake will have a modest role in your life in the future. :-)

  8. If you have indigestion from poppy seeds, you should soak them over night or let even let the sprout a bit. This is much better and you can absorb more nutritions like magnesium and calcium , iron from it.

  9. Please check your facts. Opium is made from green (immature) seeds. The statement “The opium poppy used to make heroin is the same opium poppy used to make muffins and bagels.” is false.

    This is a common misconception because some of the cheaper doping tests will give a positive from mature poppy seeds, but this is not because of opiate content but because an attempt at an indirect link. Detecting opiates in blood is difficult, but detecting other substances in opium (which exist in both the immature and mature poppy seeds) is a lot cheaper.

    1. You are completely wrong. You collect opium by scraping the outside of the seed POD, causing the latex (which is opium) to bleed out. You can also use poppy straw (basically dried pod and stem) as a source of opiates. Culinary poppy seeds are isolated during processing of poppy straw, which leaves opium and poppy straw residue on the outside of the seeds. If the seeds are not washed, a significant amount of opiates remain on the seeds, not enough to cause effects if consumed for culinary purposes. However, if you take a large amount of seeds (1 or more pounds) and agitate them in water the opium dissolves in the water, making a poppy seed tea which can be drunk for narcotic effects. It is in fact possible to overdose on this tea if one is not careful (google poppy seed tea and click the first result) so don’t try this at home, kids

      1. I stand corrected, thank you.

        However, while my reasoning was incorrect, I think my main argument still stands: [The statement “The opium poppy used to make heroin is the same opium poppy used to make muffins and bagels.” is false.]. Including the information you provided, it would be more correct to say that the opium poppy used to make bagel and muffins can contain residue of the latex used to make opium and should not be taken in large amounts (1lb or more can be narcotic).

        I see the article calm as fearful and exaggerated. It is like as claiming that all coffee is bad because of the risk of caffeine intoxication. Yes, 23 cups of coffee is a deadly dose, but that doesn’t mean one cup is a bad idea.

  10. Hello,
    can you please tell me if it is safe to drink the water from overnight soaked poppy seeds. My mum was told that’s the best way to get the calcium out of it. Thank you!!

  11. I put 45grams of poppy seeds bought at Walmart in 14oz of bottled water and drank it. Other than dedicating a cornucopia of poppy seeds, which is like sand, nothing happened. 12 hrs to digest over night.

  12. I am concerned about poppy seeds and other spices grown in other countries being contaminated with cadmium, lead, arsenic, phthalates, BPA’s, etc after reading studies showing high levels of these toxic substances. Poppy seeds can not be grown in the U.S. I bought a bulk pound from Starwest, organic, and it was certified organic from the International Quality Assurance (part of NSF). However, Dr. Greger points out in a 2013 study by U of Washington, phthalates were found in the highest levels in a group observed eating strictly organic and the organic food was carefully stored and transported in non plastic containers. The highest levels of phthalates in the organic food was found in cinnamon and ground coriander. What assurances do we have that organic spices are free of chemicals in toxic amounts to humans?

  13. Also poppy seeds have high amounts of calcium which is why as a vegan I wanted to buy them and add 1 TB into my diet but I really don’t want to be feeding myself cadmium lead and phthalates – I’ll just stick to collard greens……

  14. how does it make sense to say a half a cup is enough to make an adult a little loopy, and yet ok to take a teaspoon per 7 pounds, which at measly 100 pounds of weight is like a third of a cup?! something here doesn’t make sense. it can’t be healthy to take a daily amount that would almost make you loopy of morphine. can it? I’d really wish someone would clarify this.

    1. I mean, if a person weighs 154 pounds, according to teaspoon per 7 pounds, he can intake 22 teaspoons which if we were to go by cronometer, is 0.46 of a cup. but 0.5 of a cup is enough to make a person “a bit woopy”. so you can basically be a bit woopy on morphine everyday and it’s totally cool?

      1. Hi, JONATHAN! There are 48 teaspoons to a cup, so a half cup would be 24 teaspoons. As with most things, the quantity of poppyseeds needed to make a person “loopy” would at least partly depend on body mass. It would take more to affect a larger person that way than it would for a smaller person. This represents a safe upper limit, not recommended intake. There is no good reason to consume such large amounts of poppy seeds. We are not suggesting that people load up on poppy seeds to just under the quantity that could have narcotic effects. This information is provided to show that normal culinary use is safe. I hope that helps!

        1. hi thx! that helped! while we’re on the subject:

          1. so is there a safe\somewhat safe daily dose of poppy we can be sure of?
          2. is grinding it really helps diminish the opioids quantity?
          3. if poppy tea can kill you, is putting it in grean leafs and fruit shake a problem too? or is it just the heat that is the trouble? and how so?


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