Drug Free Sport Resource Center

Niacin Supplements

Niacin supplements: Athletes should think twice before using to beat urine drug tests


by Anthony W. Butch, Ph.D.

A search on the internet using the words “niacin” and “beat urine drug test” produces thousands of results listing niacin and other herbal supplements.  Indeed, many companies operating online stores aim to make a profit by claiming that their products can help job applicants, insurance coverage applicants and athletes of all ages beat a drug test. 

As many of you know, the supplement industry is underregulated. The claims of these internet sites are not subject to approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Thus, they are free to make almost any claim they wish regarding the effects of their products. 

But what does scientific research tell us about the claim that niacin can help beat drug tests? We’ll find out, but first, let’s take a close look at what exactly niacin is and how it is legitimately used in medicine.

What is niacin?

Niacin (also known as nicotinic acid, nicotinamide, and vitamin B3) is a water-soluble vitamin belonging to the vitamin B complex. It is a precursor to the coenzymes NAD and NADP, which play important roles in biosynthetic pathways and energy metabolism. It is used clinically in pharmacologic doses of 1 – 5 grams per day to treat dyslipidemia because it reduces low-density lipoproteincholesterol (bad cholesterol) and raises high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (good cholesterol) concentrations.  

Niacin deficiency or pellagra is rare in industrialized nations and is primarily found in regions where corn is the only staple food. Corn is the only grain low in niacin. The daily recommended intake of niacin is between 13 to 19 milligrams per day for males and non-pregnant females. 

Niacin can be purchased without a prescription in 100 – 500 milligram tablets, and is generally considered a safe nutritional supplement in low doses.

What are the claims about niacin and drug testing?

Many of the listings found when searching for “niacin” and “beat urine drug test” claim that niacin is an effective masking agent that can beat urine drug tests and produce a false negative test result for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the major psychoactive ingredient of marijuana. There are also claims that niacin can be used to beat urine drug tests for cocaine. 

Such outrageous claims are based on the unproven concept that the effect of niacin on lipid metabolism somehow promotes the metabolism of lipid-soluble drugs such as THC and enhances elimination of the drug metabolites from the body.

What does science say?

Unfortunately, this claim is not based on science since there are no scientific studies that support this claim. In fact, a few published case reports have shown that high doses of niacin do not beat urine drug tests. 

For instance, a 14-year-old boy who took 5.5 grams of niacin (11 timed-release tablets containing 500 milligrams each) in a 36-hour period tested positive for THC three days later. The boy presented to the emergency department with severe toxic side-effects due to niacin and subsequently admitted to smoking marijuana for several preceding weeks. He stated that he ingested large amounts of niacin to beat his urine drug test for marijuana (Mittal MK et al., Ann. Emerg. Med.2004;22:587-90).

Acting on false information

Despite the fact that science does not support the claim that niacin can beat urine drug tests, many young adults continue to take high doses of niacin with this purpose in mind. In 2005 alone, the Association of Poison Control Centers (comprised of 61 participating poison control centers) reported 3,109 exposures to niacin. 

Many individuals falsely believe that taking large doses of niacin is not harmful and might help beat a urine drug test as claimed by supplement manufacturers. This type of argument involves faulty thinking since highdoses of niacin can be harmful and produce severe toxic side-effects.

Niacin in doses of 1 – 5 grams per day typically produces skin flushing, a burning sensation, a face and upper body rash, along with generalized itching (pruritus).  Furthermore, niacin-induced flushing can mimic hypersensitivity reactions and can result in inappropriate medical treatment in the absence of a history of niacin ingestion. More serious reactions also can occur, such as nausea, vomiting, dizziness, hypotension and blood clotting abnormalities (coagulopathies). 

Additional severe side-effects include hyperglycemia, liver injury, metabolic acidosis, lactic acidosis and cardiac arrhythmias. Depending on the dose, niacin-induced toxic effects can be severe enough to require medical attention.

The final word

In summary, the claim that niacin can beat urine drug tests is unsubstantiated and not supported by scientific studies. The toxic side-effects resulting from high-dose niacin supplementation far outweigh the unproven potential to beat urine drug tests for marijuana and other substances. The best way to beat a urine drug test is to not use prohibited substances such as street drugs. Play fair and be clean.

To learn more about niacin and other supplements, banned substances and prescription medications, contact Drug Free Sport’s Resource Exchange Center (REC) at www.drugfreesport.com


Anthony W. Butch, Ph.D.

Anthony Butch, Ph.D., is director of the UCLA Olympic Analytical Laboratory and a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. He has served as director of the toxicology and chemistry sections for UCLA Medical Center’s clinical laboratory since joining the faculty in 1999. 

The UCLA Olympic Analytical Laboratory, under the direction of Dr. Butch, is the world’s largest World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)-accredited sports drug-testing facility and one of the leading research institutions in the field of anti-doping. Founded in 1982 by a grant from the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee, the UCLA facility was the first U.S. laboratory accredited by the International Olympic Committee.


Third Quarter, 2008

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