Is the Urine Cannabinoid Level Measured via a Commercial Point-of-Care Semiquantitative Immunoassay a Cannabis Withdrawal Syndrome Severity Predictor?


Background: For cannabis-dependent subjects, the relationship between cannabis withdrawal syndrome (CWS) severity and the urine cannabinoid concentrations are unclear; we investigated this using a commercial point-of-care (POC) enzyme immunoassay detecting 11-nor-9-carboxy-Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC-COOH).

Methods: Observational study of 78 adult chronic cannabis-dependent subjects assessed over a 24-day inpatient detoxification treatment, with 13 serial measurement days. Repeated Measures Correlation and Multilevel Linear Models were employed.

Results: Absolute urinary THC-COOH levels significantly correlated with Marijuana Withdrawal Checklist (MWC) scores across the entire study duration (r = 0.248; p < 0.001). Correlation between serial creatinine-adjusted THC-COOH ratios and serial MWC scores emerged as significant only in the sample with higher MWC scores (>11 points) at admission (n = 21; r = 0.247; p = 0.002). The aforementioned significant relationships have persisted when replacing the absolute THC-COOH-levels with the (relative) day-to-day change in urinary THC-COOH levels. MWC scores were significantly correlated with the Clinical Global Impression-Severity (CGI-S; r = 0.812; p < 0.001). Females showed a significantly slower decline in urine THC-COOH levels and prolonged CWS course characterized by substantial illness severity (per CGI-S), occurring in nearly 30% of cases.

Conclusion: Urine cannabinoid levels (THC-COOH) determined by POC assay significantly predicted CWS severity (moderate correlation), guiding detoxification treatment duration. In patients with MWC > 11 points upon admission, creatinine-adjusted THC-COOH ratios also significantly predicted CWS severity—again with moderate effect size. Females showed prolonged urinary THC-COOH elimination and cannabis withdrawal.

Frontiers in Psychiatry
Benedikt B. Claus
Benedikt B. Claus
Research Fellow

My research interests mainly include psychotherapy and statistical methods.