What is hair drug testing ?
Hair drug testing is a method of analyzing a person’s hair to detect the presence of various drugs or their metabolites (by-products) in his/her body. It is a type of forensic testing commonly used for drug screening in various contexts, including for peace of mind, employment, legal cases, athletic competitions, and probation monitoring. The reason hair is used for drug testing is that drugs or their metabolites can be trapped in the hair shaft as it grows. Hair grows at a relatively steady rate, and each centimeter of hair corresponds to approximately one month of growth. This allows for a timeline of drug use to be established. Hair drug testing is known for its ability to provide a longer detection window compared to other methods like blood, urine or saliva testing. Furthermore, it is considered to be a relatively non-invasive and difficult-to-cheat method of drug testing.
How is hair drug testing done ?
The process involves collecting a small sample of hair, usually from the scalp, although body hair can also be used if scalp hair is unavailable. The hair sample is then analyzed in a laboratory. Here’s how the process generally works:
1. Sample collection: A small sample of hair is collected from the individual being tested. The hair is usually cut close to the scalp from various locations on the head. The length of the hair sample required varies depending on the timeframe over which drug use is being assessed.
2. Preparation: The collected hair sample is washed to remove external contaminants that might affect the accuracy of the test.
3. Laboratory analysis: The hair sample is then subjected to various testing methods, such as enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) or liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS). These methods allow for the detection and quantification of specific drugs or their metabolites present in the hair shaft.
5. Cutoff levels: Like other drug tests, hair drug tests have cutoff levels. If the concentration of a drug metabolite in the hair is above the established cutoff, the test result is considered positive. If it’s below the cutoff, the test is negative.
6. Interpretation and reporting results: The test results are interpreted based on the presence and concentration of specific drugs or their metabolites. Different drugs have different incorporation rates into hair, so the detection window can vary for different substances. Once the analysis is complete, the laboratory generates a report detailing the drugs or metabolites detected and their concentrations in the hair. For peace of mind hair drug testing, the report is sent directly to the client. However, for legal hair drug testing, the report is usually sent to the entity or organization that requested the test, such as an employer or a legal authority.
Why is hair drug testing important ?
Hair drug testing is considered important for several reasons:
1. Longer detection window: One of the key advantages of hair drug testing is its ability to detect a longer history of drug use compared to other methods such as saliva, urine or blood testing. Hair can retain evidence of drug use for up to 90 days or even longer, depending on the length of the hair sample collected. This makes it useful for identifying patterns of substance abuse over an extended period.
2. Difficult to cheat: Hair drug testing is more difficult to cheat compared to other methods. While individuals might try to dilute or alter their urine to pass a urine test, it’s much harder to tamper with hair samples without being obvious. Hair testing can detect external contaminants as well, making it harder for someone to claim that the drugs were externally introduced. Furthermore, attempts to cleanse the hair or use shampoos to remove drug residues are often less effective.
3. Establishing patterns of use and comprehensive overview: Because hair grows at a relatively steady rate, the segments of hair can be analyzed to create a timeline of drug use. This can help in determining when drug use occurred and whether it was a one-time occurrence or part of a recurring pattern. Therefore, hair drug testing can provide a comprehensive overview of an individual’s drug use history. This is particularly valuable in contexts such as legal cases, workplace safety, or monitoring of individuals on probation or parole.
4. Non-Invasive: Collecting hair samples is a relatively non-invasive procedure compared to blood or urine tests. It simply involves cutting a small amount of hair close to the scalp. This makes it less uncomfortable for the person being tested.
5. Objective evidence in legal cases: Hair drug testing can be used as evidence in legal cases to support or refute claims of drug use. In cases involving child custody, criminal offenses, or other legal matters, the historical perspective offered by hair testing can be valuable in determining the credibility of statements.
6. Deterrence: The possibility of undergoing hair drug testing can act as a deterrent for drug use, especially in workplaces or organizations that have a strict drug-free policy where regular testing is conducted. Knowing that they could be tested for drug use at any time might discourage individuals from using illegal substances. This can influence individuals to make healthier choices and abstain from drug use.
7. Legal and workplace compliance: In certain legal cases and workplaces, regular drug testing is required to ensure compliance with regulations, maintain a safe working environment, and meet legal standards. Hair drug testing can be a part of such compliance measures.
8. Long-term monitoring and rehabilitation: Hair drug testing is particularly useful for long-term monitoring of drug abstinence, such as in cases of probation, parole, or for those who are recovering from substance abuse in drug rehabilitation programs. It helps track an individual’s progress and commitment to staying drug-free over an extended period. It also helps professionals track their progress and compliance with treatment plans.
9. Athletic competitions: In sports, hair drug testing can be used to detect the use of performance-enhancing substances over an extended period. This helps ensure fair play and maintain the integrity of athletic competitions.
10. Elimination of short-term evasion strategies: Some individuals might attempt to abstain from drug use shortly before a drug test to evade detection. Hair drug testing reduces the effectiveness of this strategy by providing a historical record of drug use that cannot be easily manipulated in the short term.
It’s important to note that while hair drug testing is considered reliable for detecting past drug use, it may not accurately reflect recent or occasional drug use. Saliva, urine and blood drug testing methods may be used as supplemental alternatives to detect recent drug use. Additionally, interpretation of results can be complex due to factors like drug dose, hair growth rates, and individual variations. Furthermore, depending on what laboratory technique is used factors such as hair color, hair treatments, and external contamination can potentially affect the accuracy of the results. So in conclusion, hair drug testing is often used in conjunction with other testing methods to provide a more comprehensive view of a person’s drug history. The choice of hair drug testing method depends on the specific requirements of the situation and the desired detection window.
To learn more about CEN4GEN hair drug testing options, contact CEN4GEN at [email protected], and a representative will guide you with the testing process and provide relevant information for you. CEN4GEN is a Molecular Diagnostic testing company / Molecular Diagnostic organization offering affordable hair drug testing services in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
Order a test or contact us