The Rising Threat of Unwashed Poppy Seeds

As e-commerce platforms, payment service providers, and regulatory agencies crack down on illicit opioid sales on the internet, many consumers are turning to alternative products, either to replicate the effects of opioids or to aid in opioid withdrawal. Many of these products, however, are unregulated, illegal, and potentially dangerous. LegitScript analysts have recently identified a trend of merchants selling unwashed poppy seeds, which may look harmless but have been linked to illnesses and even deaths.

Poppy seeds, which have been harvested for thousands of years, are obtained from the opium poppy known as Papaver somniferum. Commonly found in food, poppy seeds are safe for consumption once washed and properly prepared - a process that contributes to a lower alkaloid content. When unwashed, however, poppy seeds present higher concentrations of thebaine, morphine, and codeine, which are Schedule II controlled substances in the US.

Possibly spurred by the ongoing opioid crisis, there have been recent legislative efforts to introduce poppy seed regulations for consideration in the US Senate and House of Representatives. One such example is the Stephen Hacala Poppy Seed Safety Act, which was introduced in April 2019 and, if approved, would classify unsafe poppy seeds as an adulterant, making it illegal to sell contaminated poppy seeds and any foods or beverages that contain them.

Poppy seeds are not only legal, but currently exempt from the definition of narcotic drugs under U.S.C. § 802. Even so, some consumers have been buying unwashed poppy seeds to create a potentially dangerous home-brewed tea, a practice that has been connected to more than a dozen deaths.

Merchants intending to sell these seeds for mind-altering effects will usually refrain from clear marketing that would indicate that the products are being sold for such purposes. A common tactic is the inclusion of the disclaimer "not for human consumption." Another tactic is to include problematic testimonials on websites or related social media channels that indicate the product is meant to treat drug addiction.

Want to learn about more problematic opioid-related products? Download our free guide, Top Five Problematic Opioid-related Products to Watch Out For.

Alongside the world's largest database of health-related products and ingredients, LegitScript has created a leading team of experts in highly regulated and complex sectors. This includes expertise related to problematic products that are unregulated, illegal, and potentially dangerous. Contact us to learn how we can help you, or subscribe to our blog to get the latest updates on trends.