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The Science Behind Drug Testing (and How to Beat It)

Although various countries, states, and people in general are gradually becoming more understanding of personal drug use for medicine and recreation, drug tests are still commonly used both by employers and law enforcement entities.

Test Tubes With Dropper

In many cases, drug tests will incriminate occasional and weekend users that pose no more of a threat to the workplace environment (or society, for that matter) than someone who has a nightly glass of wine. Until the stigma associated with drug use dissolves, these tests will remain the norm.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that these tests are not infallible, and those trying to figure out how to pass a drug test are not alone.

Different Tests for Different Drugs

Those with no knowledge of chemistry must understand that the testing process is far more complicated than it may seem. Some may conjure an image of a machine that takes a sample of your bodily fluids and just spits out results, but that could not be further from the truth.

Drug Test Result Form

In reality, each substance must be tested individually in order to ensure that lab technicians know which substance they’ve detected in the sample. This means that your sample (whether it’s urine, hair, or saliva) must be large enough to cover the range of drugs for which you are being tested.

Five–Panel Drug Tests

The most common type of testing kit detects the presence of:

  • Marijuana (THC)
  • Cocaine
  • PCP
  • Opiates (like morphine or codeine)
  • Amphetamines

Since these are the drugs that are classified as illegal by most municipalities, the five-panel test is considered to be the “standard” drug test.

Ten-Panel Drug Tests and More

These are less common, and test for the presence of legal, prescription drugs (like oxycodone and Vicodin) that are sometimes abused, especially by those recovering from former injuries. Depending on the reason for testing, the number of tests performed can vary and can even include socially acceptable drugs like alcohol.

The Chemistry Behind the Test

Woman Scientist in Lab

Drug tests rely on antibodies, the building blocks of your body’s immune system, to detect any illicit substances within your sample. Immunoglobulin proteins (better known as “antibodies”) come from our white blood cells, and help our bodies fight off pathogens and other threats.

Because our bodies don’t know what threat to expect next (there are lots of internal and external threats to the human body on a daily basis), they produce millions of different types of antibodies to protect against anything that has ever been exposed to the body. This is why people who are exposed to a certain strain of illness (a bad cough that’s going around, for example) will find themselves seemingly immune to that illness for the rest of the season.

To simplify the process, a drug test involves searching for a specific antibody produced by your body as a byproduct of using a specific drug. For instance, although THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the psychoactive agent in marijuana, urine drug tests look for the presence of THC-COOH, a metabolite produced by the body when active THC is ingested.

In order to test for the presence of this antibody within a user’s system, drug researchers need to find a different antibody that will create a desired reaction to the “druggy” antibody. In some cases, they even use color dye or fluorescents to enhance the effect.

Microtiter Plate With Results

The key to passing a drug test is to make sure that these naturally-occurring antibodies and metabolites don’t show up in concentrated amounts in your sample. The method that you use to pass your test will largely depend on the drug in question, and the type of test administered.

How to Pass a Urine Drug Test

Urine Sample in Bottle

Urine drug tests are by far the most common type of test performed, and many specialty labs have specialized routine tests (typically the five-panel test mentioned above) that exist for the primary purpose of providing drug testing for companies, government organizations, and law enforcement officials.

Method #1 – Wait It Out

Since every drug has a different impact on the human body, they each leave the body at different rates. For urine tests, it will take the following amount of time to eliminate the corresponding drugs from the body:

Marijuana – 3-5 days for occasional users; 2-4 weeks for chronic users

Cocaine – 3-5 days

PCP – 3-7 days

Opiates – 2-3 days

Amphetamines – 1-3 days

Methamphetamine – 1-3 days

Ecstasy – 24 hours

Heroin – 3-4 days

Method # 2 – Dilute Your Body Fluids

Diluting your body fluids with water, teas, and even certain detox drinks prior to your test can help flood your system and make illicit substances more difficult to detect. However, keep in mind that diluting or tampering with the sample itself poses some risks.

Though some lab-tested additives have been proven to fool tests, there are a number of factors to be considered when using them. Temperature, color, and consistency are all taken into account when the test is administered, and watered-out samples or samples with detectable foreign agents present will be thrown out.

Method # 3 – Switch Out the Sample

Unless your drug test takes place as a surprise at your work facility, you have a certain amount of control over your test. By using synthetic urine, you can ensure that your sample will be completely free of the red flags commonly associated with drug use. Most come with heating pads or areas to store hot water to keep the synthesized substance from getting too cold before the testing process begins, and many even have temperature strips that will tell you if the sample is warm enough.

How to Pass a Hair Follicle Drug Test

Although most drug tests performed today are still urine tests, hair follicle tests are much better at detecting long-term use. It’s far more difficult to fool a hair follicle test, as a subject’s hair is made up of just about anything that gets into their bloodstream. In order to get a large enough sample, testers need to acquire 50-80 strands of hair that are about 1.5 inches long. Although hair from the back of the head is preferred, body hair can be used when no head hair is available.

Woman Shampooing

Method # 1 – Wait It Out

For hair follicle tests, waiting it out can prove to be a little more difficult, as the waiting period is often over three months for most types of drugs. The reason? It takes about three months for two inches of hair to grow.

Method # 2 – Use a Wash

Although you’ll need to be careful when choosing the wash that you’ll eventually use, some have proven effective for hair follicle tests by mimicking “clean” antibodies. Some have found that a home remedy of salicylic acid, white vinegar, and laundry detergent has helped, while other have sworn that hair dye does the trick. Most of this evidence is anecdotal at best, but some special soaps and rinses out there have gained a great reputation for success

Method # 3 – Shave Your Head and Body

It may seem extreme (and a little suspicious), but nobody can conduct a hair follicle test on you if you have no hair to give. This may cause problems if you require a drug test for employment, but, if worse comes to worse, this is always a good way to get out of one of the most stringent forms of drug testing.

How to Pass a Saliva Drug Test

Surprisingly, saliva drug tests are surging in popularity, no doubt due to their low invasiveness and their easy availability. They’re cheap, too, making them the soon-to-be favorite of employers everywhere. The only problem (or advantage, on your part) is that these tests are easy to fool. Even at their best, they are only designed to test whether the subject has ingested drugs within the past 24-72 hours.

Method # 1 – Wait It Out

This is the easiest drug test to wait out. If it’s difficult to abstain for more than 3-4 days, then maybe passing the drug test isn’t the root of the problem. Of course, many people are caught by surprise when told that they need to get a saliva drug test, so waiting it out may not be an option.

Method # 2 – Brush Your Teeth

Although most mouthwashes contain alcohol (which will invalidate the test), brushing your teeth with toothpaste, baking soda, or even just plain water can help you out.

Method # 3 – Eat Food and Drink Water

Most test administrators will tell you that you cannot eat or drink in the hours before the test. Unless you’re being constantly monitored, there’s no reason why you can’t simply stop to get some lunch and a nice big soda right before the test. If all they can detect on your test is Dr. Pepper, then you’ll be in good shape.

There Are Many Reasons to Pass a Drug Test

Group of Employees Working Together

In most cases, people who want to know how to pass a drug test are simply trying to gain employment and find their rightful place in society. In some cases they are used to help people get healthy, or to help ensure that employers don’t accidentally hire someone who should be in a rehabilitation facility.

For good or for bad, drug tests will continue to be administered all over the country and all over the world. By learning more about how they work and how to potentially sidestep them in the future, you can ensure that no opportunities are closed off to you because of an occasional habit, or a medicinal necessity.



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Posted by A. Shapiro
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