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Drug Testing Hair - Alternative Drug Testing: Hair Follicle Tests

sample body samples follicles

Drug testing the hair is very effective because it provides a record of drug-use that detects consumption up to 90 days before the test is conducted. This drug testing method is used for pre-employment screening, for random drug testing at work or at home, and sometimes is included in legal proceedings. When drug testing hair the five most common substances tested for are: Cocaine, Marijuana (THC), Amphetamines, Opiates, and Phencyclidine (PCP). Other substances may also be tested using the hair sample, including alcohol.

Why use Drug Testing on Hair?

Drug testing hair follicles is a very accurate method for identifying illicit drug activity. Many drug testing methods that sample an individual’s urine, saliva, blood, or sweat, only show very recent drug use. Most illegal drugs leave the body within 24 to 48 hours after consumption; with the exception of marijuana, which stores trace amounts of THC in the fat cells of the body up to one month after smoking or digesting. Testing the urine or saliva does not give an accurate account of the individual’s drug use activity. It is easy to avoid being tested for most drugs because they leave the body quickly. It is also easy to get a false impression of an individual’s drug use when using these testing methods. For example, they may have consumed a drug once in their life and then been subjected to a random drug test the next day where they tested positive. This does not provide an accurate description of their drug use history. Drug testing hair, though, gives a 90 day history of the individual’s drug use, which makes it a good method for determining drug abuse problems. It takes 4 to 5 days for substances to appear in the hair follicles, though. For this reason, other drug testing methods are still used to determine drug activity within the 24 to 72 hours before the drug test is performed. Also, drug testing of hair samples is not used as frequently because the lab procedure is much more expensive than other drug testing methods.

How Do Hair Samples Indicate Drug Use?

A strand of hair begins its growth beneath the skin’s surface. New hair cells develop and push the old cells through the skin, forming visible hair strands. The portion of hair beneath the skin’s surface is known as a hair follicle and is attached to the body’s circulatory system with an artery. The arteries feed the growing hair follicles and support them in their development. When a person consumes a drug, the bloodstream circulates the substance throughout the body and every artery comes in contact with the drug. Hair follicles trap toxins and substances inside their cells, which are later made into new hair as it grows from the scalp. In this way, drug testing hair can be very accurate at determining drug use in an individual because the strands of hair provide a time-line of drug use.

How are Drug Tests on Hair Samples Performed?

When drug testing hair follicles a small piece of hair is clipped from the person’s body, as close to the skin as possible. The sample is usually taken from a discreet location on the scalp; however, the test can also be done on arm hair, leg hair, armpit hair, or chest hair, if the candidate does not have enough scalp hair. For affective drug testing on hair, a sample needs to be about 1 ½ to 2 inches long. The test is usually administered by a qualified person at a clinic, who then mails the hair test sample to a lab for testing. However, some clinics or drug-testing facilities have their own lab where they perform the chemical procedures. Drug testing can be done on hair samples taken from brushes or combs. Some testing facilities allow “anonymous” drug testing on hair samples, also.

Using hair dye, bleach, or shampoo will have no effect on the outcome of drug testing the hair sample. Also, hair exposed to external smoke from illegal drugs will not read a “positive” result in lab testing; unless the individual has breathed the smoke into their body or allowed the substance to enter their bloodstream.

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