Longtime cannabis user still tests positive weeks after quitting

Dr. Roach

Dr. Keith Roach

DEAR DR. ROACH: I am a 68-year-old male who has used cannabis for 51 years. During that time span, I graduated from high school and college with two bachelor’s degrees and two master’s degrees, and I spent 35 years as an accomplished educator, motivational speaker and author. I have been married to the same person for 31 years and have a wide circle of friends.
Twenty-five years ago, I had my thyroid removed due to cancer, and I currently take medication. I also inject testosterone and take medications for blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as Xanax. I retired to a life that involves little travel, choosing instead to spend my time reading, researching, writing and spending most of my time in my community. Once I began to notice a loss of motivation and diminished memory, I became proactive and decided to give up cannabis.
I have had no trouble qutting cold turkey and have no desire to return to using it. My memory has vastly improved, and I still enjoy all the things that made my retirement enjoyable before I made this decision. After 10 weeks of not using, I still test positive for the metabolites using THC testing strips. I have read that normal detoxing for a heavy user is anywhere from six weeks to two months.
To aid in the process, I drink half a glass of lemon juice in the morning, drink two gallons of water or detox tea a day, cut red meat and dairy from my diet, spend an hour a day on the treadmill, and spend 40 minutes in a steam bath.
How long should I expect to continue testing positive? Is there anything else I can do to speed up the passing of the metabolites? — Anon.
ANSWER: The active form of THC, the primary chemical in cannabis that causes the psychoactive effects (i.e., the effects for people to feel “high”), accumulates in the fat cells, where it can be stored for long periods of time.
Research in laboratory animals confirms that losing weight over the long-term (meaning more than a few days so that a person is using fat as fuel) releases the stored THC from the fat, making it more likely that a urine test will be positive in people who are losing weight (which might be the case with you, given your exercise and diet). Heavy users have told me that they feel like they are “coming out of a fog” for up to six months after stopping the use of cannabis. However, I can’t give you any evidence-based answer on how long you will continue to turn positive.
I don’t think drinking water and tea, nor the steam bath, are significantly helping you get rid of the accumulated THC in the body, but the diet and exercise changes probably are, if you are losing fat, as I suspect. Even if you aren’t losing weight, you may be getting more muscular from exercise and losing fat.
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Dr. Roach regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but will incorporate them in the column whenever possible. Readers may email questions to [email protected] or send mail to 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803.
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