Update of the Scientific Opinion on opium alkaloids in poppy seeds

poppy seeds, opium alkaloids, morphine, codeine, thebaine, acute reference dose (ARfD)
First published in the EFSA Journal
16 May 2018
22 March 2018
Scientific Opinion

Poppy seeds are obtained from the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum L.). They are used as food and to produce edible oil. The opium poppy plant contains narcotic alkaloids such as morphine and codeine. Poppy seeds do not contain the opium alkaloids, but can become contaminated with alkaloids as a result of pest damage and during harvesting. The European Commission asked EFSA to provide an update of the Scientific Opinion on opium alkaloids in poppy seeds. The assessment is based on data on morphine, codeine, thebaine, oripavine, noscapine and papaverine in poppy seed samples. The CONTAM Panel confirms the acute reference dose (ARfD) of 10 μg morphine/kg body weight (bw) and concluded that the concentration of codeine in the poppy seed samples should be taken into account by converting codeine to morphine equivalents, using a factor of 0.2. The ARfD is therefore a group ARfD for morphine and codeine, expressed in morphine equivalents. Mean and high levels of dietary exposure to morphine equivalents from poppy seeds considered to have high levels of opium alkaloids (i.e. poppy seeds from varieties primarily grown for pharmaceutical use) exceed the ARfD in most age groups. For poppy seeds considered to have relatively low concentrations of opium alkaloids (i.e. primarily varieties for food use), some exceedance of the ARfD is also seen at high levels of dietary exposure in most surveys. For noscapine and papaverine, the available data do not allow making a hazard characterisation. However, comparison of the dietary exposure to the recommended therapeutical doses does not suggest a health concern for these alkaloids. For thebaine and oripavine, no risk characterisation was done due to insufficient data. However, for thebaine, limited evidence indicates a higher acute lethality than for morphine and the estimated exposure could present a health risk.

Panel members at the time of adoption
Jan Alexander, Lars Barregård, Margherita Bignami, Beat Brüschweiler, Sandra Ceccatelli, Bruce Cottrill, Michael Dinovi, Lutz Edler, Bettina Grasl‐Kraupp, Christer Hogstrand, Laurentius (Ron) Hoogenboom, Helle Katrine Knutsen, Carlo Stefano Nebbia, Isabelle P Oswald, Annette Petersen, Martin Rose, Alain‐Claude Roudot, Tanja Schwerdtle, Christiane Vleminckx, Günter Vollmer and Heather Wallace.
Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain
contam [at] efsa.europa.eu
EFSA Journal 2018;16(5):5243 [119 pp.].
Question Number
On request from
European Commission