12 November 2022

WA Health warns community of severe reactions after consuming poppy seed tea

WA Health is warning of the dangers of consuming large quantities of poppy seeds after a person has become ill in Western Australia.

Similar warnings have been issued in the Eastern states where more cases have been reported.

To date, symptoms of toxicity have only been observed in people who have consumed poppy seed tea, which is often brewed using large quantities of poppy seeds.

The current evidence suggests a naturally occurring chemical compound known as thebaine in readily available, supermarket poppy seeds may be causing the reaction if it is consumed in high quantities.

There have been no cases of toxicity reported in people who have eaten poppy seeds as part of a baked food product or in small amounts used in cooking.

Symptoms experienced are of rapid onset (within hours) and can be severe, including seizures, severe muscle pains, severe muscle spasms, cramping, stiffness or abnormal movements.

WA Health’s Director of Environmental Health, Dr Michael Lindsay, said that the consumption of large quantities of poppy seeds could be dangerous, given the current spate of cases.

“We are urging people who have consumed large quantities of poppy seeds, particularly in poppy seed tea, and who experience any unusual and severe symptoms to seek immediate medical attention by attending an Emergency Department or calling triple zero for emergency assistance.

“Anyone who drinks poppy seed tea should be aware of the significant risk of consumption and note that an unusual dark brown colour and bitter taste in the tea after brewing may indicate unusual toxicity.

”People will not be able to determine which poppy seeds can cause toxicity by the appearance of the seeds.

“It is possible that poppy seeds currently available may have a higher content of naturally occurring thebaine than usual. However other causes have not been excluded and this is still under investigation.”

WA Health has issued an alert to Emergency Department clinicians, requesting they monitor for people presenting with poisoning and notify the WA Department of Health if suspected cases are seen.

The department is working with other jurisdictions to further investigate the issue and determine the cause.

Anyone experiencing any unusual symptoms following consumption of large quantities of poppy seeds, particularly poppy seed tea, should seek immediate medical attention:

  • call triple zero (000) for emergency assistance
  • go to your nearest emergency department
  • call the WA Poisons Information Centre (13 11 26).

Who is at risk?

  • Individuals consuming poppy seed tea brewed with large volumes of poppy seeds are at highest risk.
  • Toxic effects have not been reported from ingestion of smaller quantities of seeds as food (either cooked or raw) but investigations into this are ongoing.


Media contact:

WA Health Media

T: (08) 9222 4333

E: media@health.wa.gov.au

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