Australians have been warned not to drink poppy seed tea, which is being promoted on popular social media platforms, after a series of poisonings across Australia linked to household tranquilizers.
Australia and New Zealand have issued a national recall of poppy seeds due to possible high levels of thebaine – an opioid alkaloid. Elevated levels of thebaine were caused by non-nutritional poppy seeds improperly entering the human food supply chain.
About 32 cases of poppy seed toxicity have been reported in Australia over the past month, all in adults who drank poppy seed tea.
Information about soothing “herbal” teas, including poppy seeds, is posted on the Internet. A TikTok seen by Guardian Australia promoting poppy seed tea has been viewed more than 121,000 times since it was posted in May this year.
But Ian Musgrave, senior lecturer in pharmacology at the University of Adelaide, said people have used the tea as a sedative – even though it’s mostly a placebo.
“People love it because it’s a home remedy, it makes them feel relaxed, and it can have mild pain-relieving effects,” he said.
“But poppy seed tea is one of those things where I think it’s more of a placebo effect than anything else.”
Investigations are currently underway to determine how the wrong seed got into the supply chain, but until it is safe, Musgrave said people should avoid drinking the tea.
“I’m definitely going to give up the poppy seed tea for now,” he said.
The Victorian Department of Health has reported 11 cases of patients experiencing symptoms including rapid heartbeat, elevated blood pressure, muscle and limb stiffness and seizures after consuming poppy seed tea, with reports of patients using up to 1 kg of poppy seeds in their home beverages.
In New South Wales, at least 12 people have required medical attention due to poisoning linked to poppy seed consumption.
They have also seen cases of poisoning, said Michael Lindsay, Western Australia’s director of environmental health.
“We urge people who have consumed large amounts of poppy seeds, especially in poppy seed tea, and who experience any unusual and severe symptoms, to seek immediate medical attention by going to an emergency department or calling triple number for emergency assistance,” Lindsey said. .
“Anyone who drinks poppy seed tea should be aware of the significant risks of consumption and note that the unusually dark brown color and bitter taste in the tea after brewing may indicate unusual toxicity.”
Food standards report cases of poppy seed disease in Queensland, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory.
The brands affected so far include Hoyts Poppy Seeds – sold locally in Coles and Woolworths supermarkets – as well as Gaganis Premium Australian Poppy Seeds, poppy seeds from East West Foods Wholesale Pty Ltd, and Royal Fields Poppy Seeds.
Poisoning symptoms can appear within minutes of eating infected poppy seeds, according to the Victorian Department of Health.
Authorities say consumers should not consume affected products, and must return them to the place of purchase for a full refund and safe disposal.
Victoria’s Department of Health has warned there is a “significant risk” from consuming poppy seeds in concentrated forms, such as home-made tea. The unusual dark brown color and bitter taste in the tea after brewing may indicate “unusual toxicity”.
No toxic effects have been reported associated with consuming small amounts of poppy seeds, such as in baking, but investigations are ongoing.
Associate Professor Darren Roberts, medical director of the NSW Poisons Information Centre, said the affected products are not safe to eat or drink, as the presence of thebaine can be dangerous.
“We urge anyone experiencing any unusual and severe symptoms to seek immediate medical attention by visiting the nearest emergency department. Call triple number for emergency assistance.”