Drug Test Methods | Marijuana

Drug Test Methods

Drug Test Methods

There are four basic ways to test a subject for drug use: Urinehairsaliva andblood.
It is helpful to know which test you are taking ahead of time, though caution must be taken. Asking your boss whether you are getting an instant or lab test, or whether the test is a urinesaliva or hair test would imply that you know too much or seem too curious. There are laws against discriminatory hiring practices and you should definitely know what your rights as an applicant are. Look to your state’s labor laws before beginning your next big job hunt. You can find most of them online.

Instant Test Devices

Instant tests became wildly popular because they enable parents to test their children privately. This is the most convenient and widely used test. Employers and court systems use the tests to determine if your specimen screens non-negative and needs further confirmation testing in a lab. These devices can be as simple as a one-drug dipstick test or as advanced as a cup with the test strip and adulterant check built-in. For the stick-type devices, the tester dips the test end of the device into the urine, waits 2-4 minutes and reads the results.
The results will be either negative or non-negative. For the cups, you are given a cup with the test strip covered by a peal-off sticker. Some cups test a portion of the urine while keeping the remainder aside for confirmation at a lab (if necessary). Instant devices were never meant to determine if someone was positive for a banned substance. They should only be used to determine if a substance needs further testing through the lab.
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An immunoassay is a biochemical test that measures the presence or concentration of a substance in solutions that frequently contain a complex mixture of substances. Analytes in biological liquids such as serum or urine are frequently assayed using immunoassay methods. Such assays are based on the unique ability of an antibody to bind with high specificity to one or a very limited group of molecules. A molecule that binds to an antibody is called an antigen.
Immunoassay tests use antigen-antibody interactions to detect illegal substances. Antibodies that bind selectively to certain drugs or drug metabolites are chosen, and the sensitivity and specificity of this test are only as good as the antibody chosen. The binding is proportional to the amount of drug in the urine and can be detected through enzymes, radioisotopes or fluorescent compounds. With this technique, very small amounts of a drug can be detected in a very small amount of urine, although this test may not differentiate between specific drugs within a class of drugs.
Immunoassay has yielded false-positive results with some decongestants and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Most tests are 97-99% accurate and false negatives are more common than false positives. Improper storage and handling are the cause of most faulty instant devices. Don’t store them below 32 degrees or over 90 degrees for any extended period of time.
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Gas Chromatography

Gas chromatography uses a separation technique to divide the urine extracts into the component parts. An inert gas carries the urine through chromatographic columns, and the samples are separated by their boiling temperature and by their affinity for the column. Compounds are identified by separation time, called retention time. The retention time is unique and reproducible for each drug in a given chromatographic column.


Gas Chromatography (GC)/Mass Spectrometry (MS)

The most precise procedure for the detection of banned substances is a combination of GC and MS. Gas chromatography/mass spectrometry is a two-step process, where GC separates the sample into its constituent parts while MS provides the exact molecular identification of the compounds. Compounds are separated by GC and are then introduced, one at a time, into a mass spectrometer. As the sample constituents enter the MS, they are bombarded by electrons, which cause the compound to break up into molecular fragments. The fragmentation pattern is reproducible and characteristic, and is considered the “molecular-fingerprint” of a specific compound. Gas chromatography/mass spectrometry is considered to be the most definitive method for confirming the presence of a drug in urine and is approximately 100 to 1,000 times more sensitive than TLC. Selective ion monitoring has been used to improve the GC/MS results. This procedure is standard for any and all specimens sent to a lab that have screened non-negative during the screening process.
The GC/MS is typically used to confirm “non-negative” EMIT and immunoassay test results. GC/MS will indicate precisely what chemical is present. This is necessary because the EMIT & immunoassay are only indicators of whether something similar to what is being tested is present. The GC/MS is difficult and more costly, which is why the EMIT and immunoassay screenings are given first (Hewlett Packard produces the GC/MS equipment, including computer, for about $50-75k depending on options). Abstinence and substitution are the only ways to defeat the GC/MS test. GC/MS is very precise when done right. However, it is still subject to human error. Inaccurate results are very rare. Most laboratories used today are Department of Health and Human Services Certified, as they have been through a rigorous and lengthy testing process and been found to be below the standard cutoff for errors in testing and/or reporting.
Urine Testing
When an employer requests a drug test from an employee the employee is typically instructed to go to a collection site. The employee’s urine is commonly collected at a remote location in a specially designed secure cup, sealed with a tamper resistant tape and sent via express delivery service to a testing laboratory to be screened for drugs (typically SAMHSA 5 panel).
The first step at the testing site is to split the urine into two aliquots. One aliquot is first screened for drugs using an analyzer that performs immunoassay as the initial screen. If the urine screen is positive then another aliquot of the sample is used to confirm the findings by gas chromatography – mass spectrometry (GC-MS) methodology. All test results are relayed to an MRO (Medical Review Office) where a medical physician reviews the results. If the result of the screen is negative, the MRO informs the employer that the employee has no detectable drug in the urine. However, if the test result of the immunoassay and GC-MS are non-negative and show a concentration level of a parent drug or metabolite above the established limit, the MRO contacts the employee to determine if there is any legitimate reason for the non-negative- such as medical treatment or prescription.
Onsite instant drug testing is becoming more widely used in states allowing it as a more cost-efficient method of effectively detecting drug abuse amongst employees, as well as in rehabilitation programs to monitor patient progress. These instant tests can be used for both urine and saliva testing. Although the accuracy of such tests varies with the manufacturer, some kits boast extremely high rates of accuracy, correlating closely with laboratory test results.
Saliva Testing
Saliva/oral fluid-based drug tests can generally detect drug use during the previous few days. Saliva or oral fluid-based drug tests are becoming more prevalent because of their convenience and the fact that they are very difficult toadulterate. Furthermore, onsite oral-based tests in particular enable the implementation of random testing programs, proven to be the most effective type of drug screening. Testing is usually performed by employers, for either pre-employment, random, post-accident, reasonable suspicion or return-to-duty testing. Oral fluid-based testing is preferable for detecting on-the-job drug use or in post-accident applications. This is due to the fact that the degree of intoxication can be approximated based on the amount of substance.
Detection in saliva tests begins almost immediately upon use of the following substances, and lasts for approximately the following times:

Detection Times for Common Drugs In Saliva Testing


Detection Time


6-12 hours

Marijuana and hashish

12-24 hours


One day


2-3 days

Methamphetamine and ecstasy

5-13 days


2-3 days


3 days

NOTE: Saliva tests are highly sensitive and detection times can vary considerably based on the cutoffs used.
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Blood Testing
In no small measure because it is also the most expensive method of testing, blood testing is also the least common method of testing. Blood testing is also considered the most intrusive method, while simultaneously being the most accurate of all the tests.
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Hair Testing

When THC metabolites are in the blood, they go through the blood vessels in the head, and are deposited into the hair. THC metabolites remain in the hair as a permanent record. The hair test costs a little less than a hundred dollars (anywhere from $65-$95) and is not used as often as urinalysis because urinalysis is more cost-effective (approximately $40-$70). Hair tests are widely used in the casino industry. They cut approximately 50 strands of hair close to the scalp and send it into the testing lab where it is washed then liquefied.
A hair sample is dissolved in a series of solvents which extract the drug metabolites and then are analyzed via GC/MS. It can take from several hours to days simply to extract the metabolites. Average hair growth is approximately 1/2 inch per month. Typically hair 1 1/2 inches from the scalp is used, providing about 90 days of history. It has been rumored that labs can test as far back as 3-6 years. This is false. A lab will not test more than the history that 1 1/2 inches of hair will reveal. If a collector splits, for example, 3 inches of hair into two separate samples and submits them as being from different donors, the labs cannot know the specimens are from the same hair. Labs frown on this as it would be considered fraud and is not common practice. The liquid is run through the GC/MS machine, which can detect as little as 1 ng/mL. Psychemedics Corporation has a home collection kit for $69. This home test kit is available if you want to test yourself before applying for a job. Parents also use the at-home hair test unit on their children.
Beating the hair test is extremely hard. Bleaching or dying your hair is reported to work, but it is very hard on the hair and permanent damage can be expected from such harsh treatments. You can shave every hair on your body and claim that you’re a swimmer, but if you had hair at the interview you will likely be seen as trying to avoid the test.
Currently, the two most prevalent laboratories for hair tests are Psychemedics and Quest Diagnostics. Approximately 90% of all hair tests sent to laboratories are sent to one of these two powerhouses.
As stated, hair tests are extremely hard to “beat.” If you are a marijuana smoker, it’s entirely possible that the substance can remain in your system for many, many weeks. If the circumstances described above scare you, contact our friends atPassaDrugTest.com. They are Marijuana.com’s only source for detoxification wellness, and will personally answer any questions you may have about ensuring your body is clean of all toxins.

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