Up in smoke: Uncovering a lack of evidence for proton pump inhibitors as a source of tetrahydrocannabinol immunoassay false positives

Jennifer L. Powers, Natalie N. Rasmussen, Dow Hurst, Frederick G. Strathmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Objective. It is recommended that positives in immunoassay drug screens be followed up with more specific confirmatory testing. The drug package insert for pantoprazole mentions reports of false-positive urine screening tests for tetrahydrocannabinol in patients receiving proton pump inhibitors, but no method details or data are given, referenced, or found in literature searches. Thus, we investigated this using our laboratory’s assay. Methods. A spiked sample and samples from 32 patients taking a proton pump inhibitor were analyzed using the EMIT II Plus Cannabinoid assay with a 20 ng/mL cutoff. Additionally, we examined urine samples from 50 patients with false-positive or low-positive screens for evidence of a proton pump inhibitor. To determine whether O-desmethyl pantoprazole sulfate, the major metabolite, shares any structural or electrostatic similarity to suggest a basis for cross-reactivity in the immunoassay, we used computational techniques for analyses. Molecular electrostatic potential energy (MEP) maps were calculated for the global minimum conformers, and the maximum common substructure Tanimoto similarity was calculated for the modeled compounds. Results. Neither the spiked sample nor the patient samples were found to screen positive. None of the false-positive or low-positive screens were found to contain a proton pump inhibitor. Computational studies showed very little similarity in shape or electrostatics between the two molecules. Conclusions. We find no supporting evidence of pantoprazole as the cause of false positives in the EMIT II Plus Cannabinoid assay and caution the use of proton pump inhibitors as an explanation for tetrahydrocannabinol immunoassay false positives.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2196-2200
Number of pages5
JournalPain Medicine (United States)
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2018


  • Drug screen
  • False positive
  • Metabolite
  • Pantoprazole
  • Proton Pump Inhibitor (PPI)
  • Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)


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