Poppy Tea Side Effects

General information about this drug

People have been making poppy tea for thousands of years. They use this bitter-tasting tea to relieve pain and curb diarrhea. Some cultures in Eastern Europe use Koknar, or poppy tea, as part of some traditional ceremonies and celebrations.

While the Opium Poppy Exclusion Act of 1942 bans the growing of poppies in the United States, many home gardeners grow poppy plants because they have pretty flowers or to add poppy seeds to some traditional dishes. Opium poppies were once a cash crop in the United States, grown for medicinal use during wars prior to World War I.

Brewers make poppy tea from the dried opium poppy plant, Papaver somniferum. Drug makers use this same plant to produce raw opium and some prescription opioid pain relievers. Poppy tea contains alkaloids of opium, especially morphine and codeine.

Morphine and codeine bind to pain receptors in the central nervous system, or CNS, to dull the brain’s perception of pain. Other CNS actions include sedation and a pleasant sense of euphoria. Morphine and codeine can also depress respiratory centers in the brain to result in slow, shallow and irregular breathing patterns. Respiratory depression prevents the lungs from doing an adequate job of exchanging spent carbon dioxide for fresh oxygen.

The alkaloids in poppy tea can also soothe a nagging cough by suppressing the cough reflex in the medulla, located in the brainstem.

Opioids, including the morphine and codeine in poppy tea, increase the tone of smooth muscle groups to make them stiff and less functional. Smooth muscles are located in several locations around the body, including intestinal muscles that propel stool through the digestive tract. Smooth muscles also found in the duct that controls the flow of bile and other digestive juices from the liver and gall bladder into the small intestine. The skin and pupils of the eyes also contain smooth muscles.

Side Effect Information

All drugs, including poppy tea, can cause adverse reactions in some consumers. The most commonly reported side effects are sleepiness, mild stomach ache, lack of energy, urinary retention, slow breathing, and nausea. First-time users are more likely to experience nausea; this nausea may be due to the presence of noscapine.

Poppy tea may cause constipation due to the way it stiffens intestinal muscles and slows their function.

Side effects are dose-dependent, meaning cups of very strong poppy tea increase the likelihood and severity of side effects. High doses can cause serious side effects, including respiratory depression. High doses may also cause aspiration, a dangerous complication where the victim vomits then inhales stomach contents. Aspiration may result in fluid in the lungs and lung infections.

Abuse and Physical Dependence

Some people abuse poppy tea because of the way morphine and codeine get them high. The DEA categorizes substances according to their relative potential for abuse. The DEA ranks all poppy plant products as class II drugs, meaning poppy tea is very attractive to recreational drug abusers. To reduce this risk for abuse, poppy plants are illegal in the United States and the alkaloids morphine and codeine are available only with a prescription.

Anyone who uses poppy tea regularly for more than a few weeks, for recreational, therapeutic or traditional reasons, can become physically dependent on opioids. An opioid-dependent person feels unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when he stops using poppy tea abruptly. Some medications can cause withdrawal symptoms in opioid-dependent people.

Symptoms of poppy tea withdrawal include vomiting, stomach cramps, diarrhea and headache. Some patients suffer from insomnia, muscle aches, or lack of energy. Left uninterrupted, withdrawal symptoms fade in four to ten days, and do not return unless the individual again becomes opioid-dependent. The intensity and duration of withdrawal symptoms varies between people. While uncomfortable and demoralizing, poppy tea withdrawal is not usually life threatening.

Doctors usually suggest patients wean themselves from poppy tea by taking successively smaller doses at increasingly longer intervals; opioid-dependent tea drinks can simply make weaker tea preparations and pour smaller cups. A qualified detoxification facility can help those whose withdrawal symptoms prevent them from quitting poppy tea.


It is possible to become psychologically addicted to poppy tea. An addicted person experiences cravings when his supply of poppy tea runs low and will engage in drug-seeking behaviors to find more opioids. These cravings and drug-seeking behaviors can persist for weeks or months, especially without qualified medical intervention.

While use of poppy tea and poppy tea withdrawal are not normally life threatening, addiction to opioids of any type can cause disability or premature death.


Someone who does not use opioids or poppy tea regularly is “opioid-naïve,” and highly sensitive to the effects of the morphine and codeine in poppy tea. As this individual continues to use poppy tea, his body becomes tolerant to its effects and he is less likely to suffer adverse reactions to poppy tea. An opioid-tolerant person must drink stronger cups of poppy tea more often to achieve the same effects.

Most Frequently Observed Side Effects

The most commonly reported side effects are vomiting, stomachache, diarrhea and headache.

Allergic Reaction

Those who are hypersensitive to morphine, codeine or other opioids should not consume poppy tea. Anyone can suffer an allergic reaction to poppy tea, even those without a known hypersensitivity to opioids. Common symptoms of a mild allergic reaction include hives, itching, stuffy or runny nose, rash, and red, watery eyes.

Symptoms of a moderate to severe reaction include abdominal pain, abnormal breathing sounds, extreme anxiety, chest tightness or other discomfort, cough, trouble breathing or swallowing, and lightheadedness.

Serious Side Effects

Respiratory depression is the most serious side effect associated with opioid use. While it is difficult to make poppy tea strong enough to produce serious side effects, the morphine and codeine in poppy tea may cause stopped breathing, stopped heartbeat, serious breathing and circulatory problems, low blood pressure, and shock.

There have been several cases where people have died after consuming very strong doses of poppy tea. Since it is difficult to control and determine the strength of poppy tea, opioid-naïve consumers should exercise special care when consuming poppy tea.