Are At-Home Drug Tests Accurate?
Wednesday February 21, 2018
E ven though more Americans than ever have access to legal cannabis, many people still have to take a drug test as a stipulation for employment, and in some states, as a prerequisite to receive state assistance like food stamps and unemployment benefits.
At-home drug tests are easy to find in both drug stores and online. And they are affordable, too, costing anywhere from $5 to $30. But if failing a drug screening causes a loss of work and benefits, should you really rely on the results of a cheap test? Let’s take a closer look.
Cannabis and Body Fat: What’s the Deal?
Most people who must consent to a drug screening are concerned about testing positive for cannabis, and for good reason. Cannabis’ metabolite, THC-COOH, can remain in the body for a while, depending on several factors.
THC-COOH gets stored in body fat and how long it stays in the body depends on body fat percentage. THC metabolites dissolve in lipids and fats, so, the more fat you have, the more cannabis will accumulate, thereby extending elimination time.
For more information on how to flush marijuana out of your system, click here. To purchase products to help pass a drug test, click here.
How much metabolite remains in your system depends on how frequently cannabis has been used, what kind, and how much was ingested. Therefore, if someone who smokes one or two joints a day and has a higher percentage of body fat than someone who uses at the same rate but has less body fat, it will take a longer time for the person with a higher body fat percentage to eliminate THC-COOH from their body.
And, even if a person has a thin physique, they could still be “skinny fat,” meaning that their weight and BMI may be normal, but the ratio of fat to muscle is unhealthy. Even thin people aren’t off the hook.
Another thing to keep in mind is how THC metabolizes in the body. It metabolizes in the liver and is regulated by a different set of enzymes than those that regulate fat metabolism. So, if you have a speedy metabolism, nice work! Just remember that it won’t help to get rid of THC-COOH any quicker.
Types of Drug Tests
There are a few different ways to test for drugs: saliva/oral fluid tests, urine tests, blood tests, and hair.
Saliva/oral fluid tests have the shortest window of detection, or the amount of time a drug can be detected. Because it has a small window, these tests are not used very often.
Urine tests are so widely used that 90 percent of the 55 million drug tests administered in 2015 were urine tests. They are more accurate than saliva/oral test while still being affordable. Urine tests also have a longer window of detection.
Hair tests can detect a history of drug use and have the longest window of detection. For example, if cannabis was used for a period of time, abstained from, then restarted, a hair test would show that. But, they can sometimes be incorrect because of contaminants like dust.
Blood tests can measure the amount of drug in the system and also detect impairment as well. These tests are especially difficult to pass for heavy cannabis consumers because cannabis metabolites can be detected for longer periods of time than other testing methods.
Should I Try That At-Home Drug Test?
Maybe. These tests are generally pretty sensitive to the presence of drugs, so a positive result is definitely an indication that a lab test would show a positive, too. However, at-home drug tests are easy to mess up, and external factors can change the accuracy. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Was the collection done during the window of detection?
- Are there any other medicines present in the body that may affect test outcome?
- Is the sample free from contaminants?
- Is the urine the right temperature (between 96-99 degrees Fahrenheit)
It’s also important not to get too excited if the test shows negative. Occasionally, a test can show a negative result because it has passed its expiration date, or the test detection chemicals are not working properly.
Ultimately, relying on an at-home drug test is probably not the most accurate plan if you need to pass a drug test with heavy implications on the line.
Still, it may be worth it to pick up several different ones to get a general feel for if you might pass or fail your upcoming test.
What if My Drug Test is Next Week?
If failing a drug test is not an option for you, then the first step is to try to reschedule the test for later. Barring that, there are some strategies.
- Find out what kind of test will be used. Knowing which test can help hatch a plan
- Stop using cannabis immediately, consuming more will only harm your chances of passing
- Hit the gym. Lowering body fat will help free those cannabis metabolites. But be sure to back off the exercise routine about 24 hours before the test to slow down metabolite release
- Watch those calories. Diet and exercise go hand-in-hand, and creating a daily calorie deficit can add up to a larger reduction of body fat
- Drink lots of water. The goal with a urine test is to get a value of less than 50 ng/ml, so diluting urine with water may work. But, testing labs look out for diluted urine, so up your B Vitamins and Creatinine
Still failing that at-home test? Plan b!
Alternative Ways to Pass:
- Fake urine is actually a thing. A powdered human urine kit comes with drug-free product, a 50 ml vial, a heater and temperature strip to ensure the proper temperature. This will only work, though, if you are unmonitored during the test
- During the test, try to give the middle of your stream as the sample, not the beginning or end, since most metabolites are present in the beginning and end of the stream. And don’t give morning urine, which will have the highest presence of metabolites
Have a hair test coming up? Keep these ideas in mind!
Key Hair Test Info:
- Shaving your entire body to avoid submitting a sample will definitely arouse suspicion, but sites like TestClear have a lot of options, including a shampoo, that may work
- Remember, hair tests can be thrown off by contaminants. Figuring out a way to muddle the sample could be an option, but it’s no guarantee
The Future of Cannabis and Drug Tests
Until testing for cannabis as a condition of employment or other benefits is a thing of the past, a long-term plan for cannabis consumption and potential testing will help you avoid detection.
And as more and more states adopt progressive cannabis laws, it’s not uncanny to think we’ll begin seeing laws change around consumption on personal time.
Recently, Maine approved a law prohibiting employers from discriminating against employees for their cannabis use outside of work.
While employers in Maine still maintain the right to prohibit cannabis use and possession in the workplace and can still discipline employees for being high at work, this law marks the first time in United States history that protects off-site marijuana use outside of work.
Hopefully more states will catch on and start creating similar laws. Until then, keep the tips above in mind if you’re getting drug tested!
Have you tried an at-home drug test before? What was your experience like? Comment below!
Erin Hiatt is a New York City-based writer who has been covering the cannabis industry for more than six years. Her work – which has appeared in Hemp Connoisseur Magazine, PotGuide, Civilized, Vice, Freedom Leaf, MERRY JANE, Alternet, and CannaInvestor – covers a broad range of topics, including cannabis policy and law, CBD, hemp law and applications, science and technology, beauty, and psychedelics.
Many people who need to pass a drug test use at-home tests to see if they will pass or fail. But are at-home drug tests accurate?
Over The Counter Drug Tests Explained
By A Pharmacist For Pharmacists
There are several different reasons why an over-the-counter (OTC) drug test may prove beneficial to patients throughout the year. Whether it is for employment, random testing, or medically required, patients may approach your pharmacy with questions about OTC options before taking a real test. 1 For this reason, it is important to know about the various options available to patients for at-home drug testing.
The most common drug test used by employers that can be found in the OTC section is a urine home drug test. 2 Urine tests often screen for drugs like marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, PCP, and opiates. 1,3 Unlike saliva test, urine screens can reveal drug use for an extended period after the effects of the drug have worn off. 4
Fortunately, many OTC home drug test options can give patients a good idea about the likelihood of passing a professionally administered test. These screens can be found at most pharmacy chains providing a selection of different options to choose from. Some tests come with the capability of only testing for one illicit substance, such as marijuana, where others may screen for multiple drugs including amphetamines, opioids, cocaine, and others. 3 Generally, the tests designed for only one drug are cheaper, but patients may benefit from a more comprehensive panel depending on their situation.
At-home urine screens are less accurate than ones done professionally. These tests are only designed to give a pass/fail reading to patients at a specific threshold.2 This means that some tests done professionally may be stricter, requiring a lower concentration of drug to be found in the urine to pass. 2 In addition, urine screens can occasionally give false positives when trying to detect usage. Certain foods, OTC medications, vitamins, and prescriptions can trigger a positive result on a drug test.5 Therefore it is important to consider this when positive results do occur.
Unlike urine screens, saliva tests will only show as positive if a substance was used recently, usually within a 24-hour period. 3 Therefore, it is important to know exactly what kind of test the patient will be undergoing before recommending an OTC home drug test.
However, if the patient is reasonably sure they will undergo a saliva test it will often prove to be the cheapest option when purchasing over the counter. 2 Saliva testing kits will often come with additional tests, unlike most urine screen alternatives, making them an excellent option for people that may be screened frequently. The major downside stems from the fact that this option will not provide an accurate reading for those who undergo a urine or hair screen.
Hair screens are widely known to be the most accurate option with the longest testing period compared to their counterparts. Hair tests can often reveal drug use for a period of up to 90 days in most people – as the hair follicles can come from almost any location on the body. 3 These screens are by far the most expensive option to consider when looking to purchase an at-home drug test. 2
At-home drug tests for hair are best fitted for people who will undergo more extensive or strict screens. These screens are often regarded as “cheat-proof” since the user cannot simply abstain from drugs for a short period of time as they could with saliva or urine tests. 3 People subjected to hair tests would have to be drug-free for at least three months if not longer to pass their screen. However, hair screens may fail to catch drug usage within the first 7-10 days after consumption – making them less reliable to detect recent usage. 5 People who may work for institutions with strict drug and alcohol policies may want to become familiar with this option.
Hair screens may also be used in the event of a positive urine test where the individual challenges the result. Since hair screens are so accurate, they can be used to definitively say whether a person had used drugs within the last 90 days. In the event of a positive urine screen with an OTC drug test – using a hair screen may be advised to best predict the odds of passing or failing a professional screen. However, due to the cost of these kits compared to urine and saliva tests it is always important to determine the requirements established by their institution.
Parental Drug Testing
Another common use for at-home drug tests are parents who suspect their children are using illicit substances. Parents considering this option need to understand how to start difficult conversations about drug abuse, when drug testing for their children would be appropriate, which method is best to use, and how to do it sensitively.
The primary reason to consider drug testing as a parent concerns the long-term physical and mental health of their child. Numerous studies have been conducted to assess the risks associated with drug use in children. Children who use drugs under the age of 18 have been found to be at an increased risk of dependence to drugs extending into adulthood. 5
The American Academy of Pediatrics lists several symptoms that a child may exhibit if they are using illicit substances. Common symptoms include excessive fatigue, unusual moodiness, or problems at school. 5 When parents observe these behaviors in excess, it may be reasonable to consider drug testing their child. However, it is important to consider them as an adjunct to other changes in their lifestyle to avoid breaching their privacy.
Parents must use caution when choosing to drug test their children as it can lead to several issues resulting in further damage to their relationship. One thing to consider when testing is that results can sometimes be misinterpreted. For example, these tests can yield false-positive results (especially urine screens). For the best results, parents need to be aware of the most effective type of test they should use and the time frame in which they use these tests. For example, results may be inaccurate if parents choose to use a hair screen too soon after drug use or a urine test too long after substances were consumed.
Testing a child may help to prevent substance abuse but can come at a cost to their relationship and trust. Remember if a positive drug test is observed, it may not represent actual substance use as these screens can sometimes trigger false positives. Parents need to be careful when interpreting results and remain open-minded. The American Academy of Pediatrics views such a situation as an opportunity to have an honest discussion with their kid to gather more information before making accusations. 5 Doing so will help maintain trust and prevent damage to relationships.
Over The Counter Drug Tests Explained By A Pharmacist For Pharmacists There are several different reasons why an over-the-counter (OTC) drug test may prove beneficial to patients throughout