While the standard for drug testing is the urine test, there are actually many different kinds of tests. Hair, saliva, and even perspiration can all be used as samples in accurate drug testing, and all of them come with unique advantages and disadvantages. We lay those out for you here:
- Urine test: The most common type and the only kind approved for federally-mandated testing, a urine test measures whether metabolites – the residue left in the body after drug use – are present or absent in the urine. Because metabolites last after the effects of drug use have worn off, a positive urine drug test does not indicate that the subject is currently using drugs, but rather that they have used drugs in a window of about 1-3 days prior to the test. A urine test can be used to detect amphetamines, cocaine, PCP, methadone, opioids, marijauna, benzodiazepines, and barbiturates — the most commonly used or misused drugs.
- Blood test: Blood testing is expensive and invasive, but it’s also the most accurate type of test, and it can test for a wider variety of drugs, including fentanyl, nicotine, LSD, and codeine. The “testing window” for blood tests are much shorter than other tests; some drugs can leave the system within 6 hours, though most last roughly 10-24 hours in the blood. Because of the cost, time, and invasiveness involved in blood testing, it’s not used very commonly — usually only for court-ordered or insurance reasons.
- Saliva tests: Saliva tests, or cheek swab tests, are another common type of drug testing. The sample is usually collected using a simple cheek swab, before which the donor should avoid eating or drinking anything. Generally, a saliva test’s detection window is 5-48 hours. The saliva test is better for detecting marijuana, cocaine, and amphetamines, and it’s less susceptible to tampering. Lab results typically take 24-48 hours.
- Hair Follicle tests: Hair drug tests have the longest detection window — it can detect drugs used up to 90 days prior to the test. However, it cannot detect drugs that were used very recently. The sample – usually around 1.5 inches of hair – must be cut directly from the subject’s head, or in some situations can be taken from other areas of the body. Hair drug testing is very accurate and nearly impossible to cheat, but it’s also more expensive and may have a longer turn-around time. It can accurately identify most drugs except for alcohol.
- Sweat tests: A sweat drug test is administered using a skin patch that looks similar to an adhesive bandage. The patch is applied to the skin and remains there for a period of time, often up to a week, during which it monitors sweat on the skin for any detectable drugs. Most skin patch drug tests have systems in place to prevent tampering. It tests for marijuana, cocaine, opiates, amphetamines, and PCP, and is almost always used for those on probation or parole.