Clinical biochemistry

Drug and chemical metabolites in clinical toxicology investigations: the importance of ethylene glycol, methanol and cannabinoid metabolite analyses.

PMID 12493577


Metabolic pathways in humans have been elucidated for most therapeutic drugs, drugs of abuse, and various chemical/solvents. In most drug overdose cases and chemical exposures, laboratory analysis is directed toward identification and quantitation of the unchanged drug or chemical in a biologic fluid such as serum or whole blood. Specifically, most clinical laboratories routinely screen and quantitate unchanged methanol and/or ethylene glycol in suspected poisonings without toxic metabolite analysis. Martin-Amat established in 1978 that methanol associated toxicity to the optic nerve in human poisonings was due to the toxic metabolite formic acid found in methanol poisonings and not due to the direct action by unchanged methanol. Jacobsen reported in 1981 that ethylene glycol central nervous system and renal toxicity were primarily due to one acidic metabolite (glycolic acid) and not due to unchanged ethylene glycol. The first objective of this review is to describe clinical experience with formic acid and glycolic acid analysis in methanol and ethylene glycol human poisonings. Drug metabolite analysis also provides useful information in the assessment and monitoring of drug use in psychiatry and substance abusing populations. Drug analysis in substance abuse monitoring is focused on urine analysis of one or more major metabolites, and less frequently on the unchanged drug(s). Serial monitoring of the major urinary cannabinoid metabolite (delta(9)-THC-COOH) to creatinine ratios in paired urine specimens (collected at least 24 h apart) could differentiate new marijuana or hashish use from residual cannabinoid metabolite excretion in urine after drug use according to Huestis. The second objective is to demonstrate that creatinine corrected urine specimens positive for cannabinoids may help differentiate new marijuana use from the excretion of residual delta(9) -THC-COOH in chronic users of marijuana or hashish. Analysis of toxic chemical metabolites are helpful in the assessment and treatment of chemical poisoning whereas serial monitoring of urinary cannabinoid metabolites are predictive of illicit drug use in the substance abusing population.

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