Differentiating new marijuana use from residual drug excretion in occasional marijuana users

Marilyn A. Huestis, Edward J. Cone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

119 Scopus citations


Increases in urine drug concentration that result from changes in urinary output may be mistakenly interpreted as new drug use rather than carryover from previous drug exposure. Normalization of drug excretion to urine creatinine concentration reduces the variability of drug measurement attributable to urine dilution. A specimen ratio of 1.5 or greater between two creatinine normalized positive urine cannabinoid tests was previously proposed as an indicator of new marijuana use. This approach has received wide attention for potential use in treatment and employee assistance programs associated with workplace drug testing. Unfortunately, there has been limited evaluation of the usefulness of this ratio under controlled- dosing conditions with marijuana smokers. A controlled clinical study was conducted to examine the excretion profile of creatinine and marijuana metabolites in a group of six marijuana users who smoked two different doses of marijuana over a 4-week period. A relative operating characteristic curve was constructed from sensitivity and specificity data for 26 different specimen ratios ranging from 0.1 to 2.0. The most accurate specimen ratio (85.4%) for differentiating new use from residual excretion was 0.5. Use of this ratio provided a sensitivity of 80.1%, a specificity of 90.2%, and 5.6% false-positive and 7.4% false-negative predictions. To substantiate the validity of the 0.5 specimen ratio, urine cannabinoid and creatinine data from a controlled clinical trial specifically addressing water dilution as a means of specimen adulteration were evaluated. Sensitivity, specificity, accuracy, and percent false-positive and percent false-negative predictions were 71.9%, 91.6%, 83.9%, 5.4%, and 10.7%, respectively. These data compared favorably with the results from the first clinical study, with the exception of slightly lower sensitivity and higher false-negative percentages in the water dilution study. This would be expected because of the ingestion of large amounts of water and consequent dilution of urine drug concentration. These data indicated that selection of a specimen ratio to evaluate sequential creatinine normalized urine drug concentrations can improve the ability to distinguish residual excretion from new marijuana usage. The selection of an appropriate specimen ratio can be made based on the needs of a specific urine drug-testing program taking into account sensitivity, specificity, and accuracy data.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)445-454
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of analytical toxicology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Oct 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Analytical Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Toxicology
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis
  • Chemical Health and Safety


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