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False positive for methamphetamine on drug tests of people using ephedra

Can taking ephedra (also called ma huang) cause a "false positive" for methamphetamine on a drug test?

A variety of different tests are used for drug testing. However, many of them can give a false positive result, in the sense that ephedra use will show up as drug use. (In particular, ephedra use may generate a positive finding for methamphetamine.)

One active component in ephedra is ephedrine—which has pharmaceutical properties and is in the same class of compounds as many other drugs and natural stimulants. As such, it will be metabolized similarly to these other substances.

Much drug testing checks for the presence of drug metabolites as a measure or indicator of ingested drug. By the time one tests blood or urine for the drug, the body has metabolized most of it, so many tests are directed towards testing for metabolites.

There may also be other components in ephedra with metabolites or parent structures that are similar to drugs taken for pleasure or sports and would therefore test positive. Like other botanical products, ephedra contains scores, perhaps even hundreds of different chemical compounds.

Drug tests are usually designed for ease of use and are broad-based, so that a single test would detect many different drugs. Thus, it can be difficult to differentiate between an actual drug/pharmaceutical or a natural product/supplement like ephedra.

Such differentiation can usually be done by further, intensive testing that is targeted for a particular unique metabolite or residual drug itself.

Sources: Louis Scarmoutzos, Wyn Snow




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