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Opioids suppress the respiratory system, which can lead to death by respiratory arrest after an overdose of the drug. If someone you care about experiences the following symptoms of opioid overdose, call 911 immediately and stay with the person. Paramedics carry a medication called Narcan (naloxone) that can counter the effects of an opiate overdose.

Research has shown it is possible to create a lethal dose of morphine in poppy seed tea brewed at home. Because it is almost impossible to tell what the concentration of the active drugs might be in any one crop of poppy pods or poppy seeds, it is impossible to control the amount of the drug enough to avoid overdose.

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), which sets the cutoff values for drug testing, has addressed this issue. DHHS increased the threshold for detecting opiate metabolites in urine to help prevent these false positives, so you or your loved one can safely enjoy a poppy seed bagel.

Addiction and Overdose

After they enter the body, opiates stimulate specific receptors in the brain. When these opiate receptors are activated, it causes a rush of pleasure and then hours of feeling content, relaxed, or high. Some of these receptors are in the reward center of the brain. The brain starts to want to repeat the positive stimulation and this can lead to addiction.

Opioids are extremely habit-forming and can quickly lead to tolerance, physical dependence, and addiction. Opioid withdrawal can occur when stopping cold turkey, resulting in unpleasant symptoms often described as “having a bad flu,” with fever and sweating, nausea and vomiting, muscle aches and pain, and insomnia.

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Additionally, people metabolize the poppy seed differently. One study gave poppy seeds to volunteers, and there was a big variation in how much codeine and morphine were excreted in their urine.

For centuries there has been cultivation of cannabis, coca, and the opium poppy. From the opium poppy has come morphine drips in hospitals, from the coca plant has come cocaine which is used in certain medical surgeries, and from the cannabis plant has come various hemp products. While these plants have provided useful products, they are also among nature’s most addicting and potentially deadly plants. This exhibit provides an overview of these “Big Three” addictive plants.

There is a constant search for medicines that will improve the quality of life, manage or alleviate pain, and cure diseases. Botanicals are one source for those medicines. They can also be sources for other products and chemicals. Some plants have many serious side effects. With cannabis, coca, and the opium poppy, the challenge is a balance between using the products from the plant for their intended use in a safe manner, while avoiding the illegal use and abuse that has had so many detrimental effects on society over the centuries.