Opium poppy tea a concern in northeast Calgary

A drug made from opium poppies is gaining popularity among Indo-Canadians in Calgary.
Police seized these opium poppy heads from a grocery store in southeast Edmonton last week. ((CBC))

A drug made from opium poppies is gaining popularity among Indo-Canadians in Calgary.

Doda is created when the poppy heads are ground and made into a tea. It produces a quick high followed by a sense well being. The drug is being sold in flea markets, food shops and flower stores in some northeast Calgary neighbourhoods. 

Peter Facchini, who teaches plant biochemistry at the University of Calgary, said doda is potentially as harmful as heroin.

"If you are a regular user — drinker of the doda tea — then that addiction can certainly take control of you as much as using heroin does," he said.

'A major problem'

Laddie Boparai, a store manager for OK General Food Store in Calgary's northeast, nodded and smiled when asked about doda. He doesn't sell the drug, but said it is for sale in other stores in the area and it's cheap.

"Available in Calgary? Yes," he said. "It's a major problem because I hear a lot of complaints from the ladies and their families, and some say 'I must have it otherwise I can't work.' [It's an] addiction. Some people quit 20 years ago, starting taking that thing [again because] it's available."

Last week, an Edmonton man was charged amid allegations he accepted a package with more than 70 kilograms of dried opium poppy at his grocery store. Police in Calgary said the illegal drug isn't prevalent and they are focusing their efforts on the sale and use of cocaine and marijuana.

But Balwinder Kahlon, a Punjabi community leader, said doda is a huge concern. He is organizing rallies and speaking about the drug on a Punjabi radio station and in local schools.

"Some people, their married life was getting affected. Some people are losing their jobs because they are addicted to this. It's affecting all corners. Our approach is to tell them it's not good for you."

The opium poppy plant and its derivatives — with the exception of poppy seeds — are illegal to possess in Canada, though many flower shops sell it and it is often cultivated in home gardens.