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This was fact checked by our expert Medical Review Board for accuracy and objectivity. about our editorial policy and review process. Hair follicle drug testing detects evidence of drug use or misuse in a sample of hair. Drug testing can screen for the use of illegal drugs, as well as the misuse of prescription medications, over-the-counter medicines, and legal substances including alcohol and tobacco.
During hair follicle drug testing, scissors are used to remove a small sample of hair. Compared to other forms of drug testing, hair follicle drug testing offers advantages such as a long detection window and the ability to estimate patterns of drug use over time. Drug use refers to the use of illegal substances. Hair follicle drug testing may be used over other types of drug tests because of its ability to show a longer history of drug exposure. This type of test may be helpful when testing for chronic drug use or misuse, understanding long-term patterns of use, and confirming periods of abstinence.
Hair follicle drug testing may be used in several ways:. Hair follicle drug tests identify drugs or drug metabolites in a sample of hair. A drug metabolite is a substance that is generated in the body as a drug is being broken down and eliminated. Once a drug is consumed, it enters the bloodstream and travels throughout the body. As the drug is broken down in the body, drugs and drug metabolites enter the core of the hair through the hair follicle, sweat glands, and oil glands on the scalp. Drugs and drug metabolites remain in the hair as it grows, which occurs at a rate of about one-half inch each month.
Some drug metabolites attach to melanin, the part of a hair follicle that gives hair its color. Hair follicle drug testing has a longer window of detection than other types of drug tests. While drug use and misuse may not appear in the hair until 7 to 10 days after drug exposure, once it enters the hair it remains for weeks, months, or even years.
While testing hair can provide information about patterns of drug exposure, hair follicle drug testing cannot detect current intoxication. How long drugs remain detectable in hair is called the window of detection. The length of the detection window varies based on a of factors, including the amount and frequency of drug use or misuse and the rate at which the drug is metabolized in the body. The window of detection also varies based on the amount of hair tested.
Although longer samples of hair can be tested for drug exposure over a longer period of time, a standard sample of hair from the scalp is 1. A hair sample taken from a different part of the body where hair grows more slowly may have a detection window of up to 12 months. A hair follicle drug test may focus on detecting one specific drug in the hair or on detecting several substances in a hair follicle drug panel. One commonly used hair follicle drug panel looks for evidence of the use of five drugs or drug classes: marijuana, amphetamines, cocaine, PCP, and opioids. Hair follicle drug testing is used in workplace testing, legal and forensic testing, medical testing, and for measuring the patterns of illegal and prescription drug use.
The use of drug tests is impacted by federal, state, and local laws. Professional organizations advocate for the ethical use of drug testing, often emphasizing the importance of patient education and consent before conducting a drug test. Many parents consider using drug testing as a tool to prevent or confirm the use or misuse of drugs in children and adolescents. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises against this practice, citing the lack of evidence that drug testing reduces drug use in children and adolescents, the potential for misinterpreting test , and the negative impact on the relationships between parents and children caused by testing.
Hair follicle drug testing can be ordered by a doctor or an administrator of a program that requires drug testing. Hair follicle drug tests can also be purchased through retailers without a prescription. At-home collection kits allow users to collect hair samples and mail them to a laboratory for analysis. At-home hair follicle drug test kits are available for purchase online and over-the-counter at a variety of retailers. Some at-home hair follicle drug tests look for only one type of drug while others offer test panels that look for several drugs at once.
The cost of hair follicle drug testing depends on where a sample is collected, the type of hair follicle drug test ordered, and who is paying for testing. In other cases, patients may choose to pay out-of-pocket for laboratory-based or at-home collection kits. Once collected, hair samples are sent to a laboratory for testing. In some cases, the collection of a hair sample will be performed by a trained professional to prevent tampering, contamination, or substitution of the sample. Although there are no special precautions necessary before a hair follicle drug test, patients should inform their doctor of medications or supplements that have recently been taken.
Patients should also inform their doctor of any recent hair treatments, including shampooing, as these may affect test . When preparing to collect a hair sample using an at-home test kit, patients should begin by verifying that the test is deed to detect the drug of concern and read all instructions provided in the test kit. Collecting a sample of hair at a laboratory or at home involves cutting a lock of hair about the thickness of a pencil from the back of the head using scissors. During the collection process, the person cutting the hair should wear gloves to avoid contamination of the hair sample.
A standard sample of hair is around 1. Collecting hair is not associated with any risks, although some patients may experience embarrassment or anxiety during sample collection. After a hair sample is collected, it is packaged according to instructions contained in the collection kit and sent to a laboratory for testing. There are no restrictions on activity after a hair follicle drug test. Once received by the laboratory, the hair sample may be washed prior to testing. Specialized methods of washing the hair sample remove some external contaminants, dirt, and grease from the surface of the hair.
Drugs inside the hair are unaffected by washing. of hair follicle drug testing are generally available within a few business days after the laboratory receives the sample. Processing times vary, so patients may find it helpful to ask their doctor or the laboratory when to expect .
Depending on the reason for testing, patients may learn about their test through a health care professional or the organization that required testing. The of hair follicle drug tests may be reported as positive or negative. Positive test indicate that a drug or its metabolite was detected in the sample of hair submitted for testing. Negative test indicate that no drugs or drug metabolites were detected in the hair sample. When interpreting , it may be helpful to understand the laboratory method used for testing.
Laboratory methods used in hair follicle drug testing are similar or slightly modified versions of those used in more common forms of drug testing, like urine drug testing. Laboratory methods used in drug testing are generally categorized as initial or confirmatory methods:. Although cutoff values for positive test are not standard in all laboratories, the Society of Hair Testing, an organization that promotes research in hair testing, has proposed the following cutoff values:.
MDMA: 0. Cocaine Metabolites: 0. Norbuprenorphine: 0. Although hair follicle testing is an accepted form of drug testing, the of this test can be affected by a variety of factors, including environmental exposures, hair composition, use of hair products, and even hair color. Additionally, some drugs attach to the hair more easily, like nicotine and heroin, while other drugs are more difficult to detect in hair. Factors that affect test include:. Follow-up testing after a hair follicle drug test depends on the test and the purpose of drug testing.
If only an initial test was performed, a confirmatory test may be ordered to confirm preliminary . If a drug test result is positive, a health care provider may ask questions to evaluate the patient for a substance use disorder or addiction. Regardless of whether a patient meets the criteria to be diagnosed with a substance use disorder, treatment is available for drug use and misuse.
Drug test can be difficult to interpret and patients can ask their doctor or the testing facility about the meaning of test . Questions about test include:. Medical Encyclopedia. Updated February 7, Accessed July 6, Published ARUP Consult. Drug testing. Updated May Hair as a biological indicator of drug use, drug abuse or chronic exposure to environmental toxicants. Int J Toxicol. Society of Hair Testing guidelines for drug testing in hair. Forensic Sci Int.
Drug and Alcohol Testing Industry Association. Workplace drug testing. Date unknown. Gorelick DA. Cocaine use disorder in adults: Epidemiology, pharmacology, clinical manifestations, medical consequences, and diagnosis. In: Saxon AJ, ed.How long does alcohol show up in a hair test
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