What to Know About Urine Drug Tests

Most drug tests are conducted in one of two ways: through a urine test (urinalysis) or a hair test. The lab tests do not look for the drug itself, but rather, for the drug metabolites—this refers to the products resulting from the metabolism of the drug.

For example, THC (technical name: 11-nor-D-9-tetrahyrocanibinol), the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, breaks down into 31 different metabolites, the most prevalent being 11-nor-D-9-tetrahyrocanibinol acid, or THCA. A drug test looks for these metabolites as evidence that the person being tested has used marijuana.

The metabolites from some drugs rapidly leave the body. Ethyl Glucuronide (EtG), the metabolite used to detect alcohol, for example, is generally not detectable beyond 72-80 hours.

Unlike alcohol, marijuana is detectable for much longer. This is because it is liposoluble, meaning it is absorbed into the fat cells. Marijuana passes from the lungs (when smoked) to the blood stream, and is absorbed into fat cells where it is stored until the body burns the cells for energy. This can take quite a while, which is why the drug can be detected in the body for up to 30 days when a person has consumed a substantial amount.

Drug Screen vs. Drug Test

There is a big difference between a drug screening and a drug test. Drug screens are much less costly than drug tests, which is why many companies opt for them. Drug screens are highly reactive, meaning that they can reliably “react” to the presence of drugs. The major drawback of drug screens is that they often produce false positives, detecting the presence of a legal drug, such as ibuprofen, without distinguishing it from an illicit drug like cocaine or methamphetamine.

A drug test (versus a screen) more accurately detects the presence of illegal drugs, as it is both reactive and selective. Drug tests are more accurate and result in false positives much less frequently, but they are more expensive. They also require more sophisticated analysis and expertise on the part of the tester, and the results take longer to come back.

False Positives

If a drug screen produces a false positive result, it may be followed up with another test called a gas-chromatography mass spectrometry (GC-MS) to confirm the result, especially if the person being tested denies drug use.

How Long Are Drugs Detected in Urine?

Here’s a snapshot of how long some common drugs can be detected in urine:

  • Amphetamines: 1 to 2 days
  • Barbiturates: 1 day to 3 weeks
  • Benzodiazepines: 3 days to 6 weeks
  • Cannabinoids (THC): 4 days to 30 days
  • Cocaine: 2 to 4 days
  • Methadone: 3 days
  • Methamphetamines: 2 to 10 days
  • Opiates: 2 days
  • Phencyclidine (PCP): 14 to 30 days

When Are Drug Tests Used?

Drug tests are used for a variety of reasons and in a variety of settings, including:

  • By primary care doctors: If the doctor suspects a patient may have a drug or alcohol problem he or she will conduct a test. Emergency room doctors may also order drug tests to determine whether a patient is under the influence of drugs in order to provide the right medical treatment. This information may also be needed by law enforcement, especially in situations involving auto accidents. If a patient is behaving erratically, violently, or otherwise presents a danger to themselves or others, the ER doctor may order drug tests.
  • By employers: Employers commonly require prospective employees to get a drug test as a prerequisite to hiring, and they may also conduct random drug tests during employment.
  • By parents: Parents may ask their teens to take a drug test to prove they are not using.
  • By drug and alcohol rehab centers: Staff members at rehab facilities routinely test residents to ensure they haven’t relapsed.
  • By law enforcement: Parolees and those on probation for a drug-related offense may be required to take routine drug tests as a condition of their parole/probation.

The Problem with Drug Testing

Drug tests are not infallible, and many see them as an invasion of privacy.

It’s perfectly reasonable for an employer to expect employees to be alert, sharp, and productive on the job, especially employees who operate machinery or whose jobs require acute concentration, such as air traffic controllers. However, it’s a common misconception that drug testing measures impairment. In reality, a drug test simply provides evidence of past drug use that has no relation to on-the-job performance.

Most drug tests completely disregard alcohol, but are highly sensitive to marijuana. Additionally, because drugs like cocaine are flushed from the body in a short period of time, someone who uses this drug fairly frequently gets a “pass,” while an occasional nighttime marijuana smoker gets a “fail.”

There are alternatives to blanket drug testing every employee. Computer video game tests, for example, could be used to measure concentration and actual reaction times—a more accurate measure of impairment.

Passing a Urine Test or Other Drug Test

Regardless of the true efficacy or fairness of drug testing, most of us will be required to take a drug test at some point in our lives, either as a condition of employment, or for another reason.

The good news is that there are options for those who are concerned about testing drug free. These include:

  • Urine Additives: Ideal for on-the-spot use during random urine tests, urine additives destroy toxins on contact.
  • Synthetic Urine: A concentrated urine substitute, synthetic urine has become so sophisticated it is guaranteed to pass a drug test, even a gas-chromatography mass spectrometry (GC-MS) test.
  • Detox Formulas: Sold in drink form, similar to a sports drink, detox drinks work by preventing the body from releasing toxins into the urine. They can work in as little as 60 minutes prior to a test and last for up to 5 hours.
  • Hair Follicle Products: Ridding the hair of toxins, hair follicle shampoos can help you pass a drug test and are guaranteed to work. Cut hair samples remain free of toxins forever.
  • Saliva Products: There are several fast-acting saliva products that can help you pass an oral saliva test, including mouthwash and a special gum.

Don’t let a drug test prevent you from landing your dream job, ending an existing one, or otherwise damaging your personal or professional life. Cleartest offers a variety of products guaranteed to help you pass your next drug test.

View all of our clean drug test products.