In July, the Food and Drug Administration sent a warning letter to the owner of the website http://www.poppyseedwash.com. The website sells a product known as Poppy Seed Wash, which is a drink generically known as poppy seed tea. According to the website, each bottle contains six ounces of “special, unwashed, unprocessed, organic poppy seeds,” and one need only add a bit of water to make tea. In its letter, the FDA said that the tea was being marketed as a drug and not a food, and it gave the company 15 days to reply with a list of steps it had taken to correct this violation.
The Poppy Seed Wash website claimed that it could be used as a sleep aid, a pain reliever, and a way to ease opioid withdrawals. There were testimonials by people saying that they’d previously taken opioid painkillers and were either cut off or no longer found them effective, and that the poppy seed tea not only helped with the pain but allowed them to kick their opioid habit. In a Q&A section, the website compared the tea to opioids multiple times, listing a variety of drugs that it could replace and stating that it has some of the same possible side effects. According to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, anything that is intended for use in the cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease is considered a drug.
New drugs can’t be introduced into the marketplace without FDA approval, which requires testing and trials to show that they are effective and safe. They also have to bear adequate directions and be used under the supervision of a medical practitioner.
It’s unclear whether the company responded to the FDA, but according to NBC News, an hour after the FDA notice became public, any references to opioids had been removed from the website. The page also now bears the disclaimer, “This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.”
Earlier this year, a man in Arkansas died after drinking poppy tea. There was morphine in his blood, and a bag of poppy seeds, as well as a water bottle filled with seeds, were found near his body. Arkansas State Attorney General Leslie Rutledge issued a consumer alert on the dangers of unwashed poppy seeds after hearing the story, and she began requesting that retailers stop selling the product. Ebay and Walmart no longer sell the seeds.
Poppy seeds are harvested from the opium poppy, which is where heroin and morphine come from. They don’t contain these drugs, but they can become contaminated when they’re harvested. Poppy seeds themselves are legal and are frequently used in food like bagels and muffins. The seeds that you can buy in the grocery store are different from the kind used in these teas, however, because they have been washed.
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