Morphine is an opiate drug. Being present in concentrations of approximately 15%, it is one of the most important alkaloids of (dried) opium, a substance gained from the milky sap of the opium poppy seed pods. The German pharmacist Friedrich Wilhelm Adam Sertürner, who was the first to isolate morphine from opium at the beginning of the 19th century, named the substance “morphium” after Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams. Today this term is, however, only used colloquially. The bitter tasting morphine crystallises into colourless shiny needles or prismatic crystals and is easily soluble in alcohol.

Use and effect

Morphine is used as a strong pain killer (analgesic) in medicine. The pharmacologically effective adult dose is around 10 mg. However, even this dosage may cause undesirable side-effects, such as respiratory depression, sedation, nausea and vomiting. The consumption of morphine usually causes euphoria, which lends this substance its addictive potential.

Poppy seeds used in the food industry are rich in oil and almost free of alkaloids. Yet since the seeds come into contact with the milky poppy seed sap during harvesting, morphine is classified as a food contaminant.

Legal requirements

So far neither Germany nor the EU have specified a legally binding maximum morphine content for poppy seeds. However, according to a toxicological assessment performed by the Bavarian State Office of Health and Food Safety (LGL), the morphine content in poppy seed should not exceed 10 mg/kg.

In its health evaluation No. 012/2006 of 27 December 2005 the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) recommends a preliminary guidance level for poppy seeds of 4 µg/g (equalling 4 mg/kg).


Morphine is analysed at ifp based on acidic, organic extraction followed by quantification by means of LC-MS/MS.