Q: I was just wondering how accurate hair follicle drug tests are. Are they pretty accurate or is there any way to beat or alter the result?
- Jeff, NYC
A: Good question. For the most part, hair follicle tests do a great job of detecting drug use. However, there are a few exceptions. First, let’s start with the obvious. The most common hair follicle test checks for five substances: amphetamines, marijuana, cocaine, opiates and PCP. Prescription drug abuse has become a prevalent problem in the U.S., and unfortunately the common five-point hair follicle test will not check for common prescription drugs such as oxycodon, vicodin, xanax and percocet among many others. If these drugs are a concern for you, you may consider a more extensive panel or a different type of testing.
Also, recent consumption tends to not show up on hair follicle testing. This is because the metabolites that are being tested for take 1-2 weeks to actually become embedded within the follicle. Also, extremely light usage of a drug is not incredibly likely to show up in a screen. There are specific cutoff levels within the test to determine a positive result, and often times a light usage falls short of this cutoff. If light usage is a concern, you may consider a urine drug screen or ask the testing counselors if there are any options for a lower cutoff level.
There are certainly an abundance of products and methods available that claim to help people pass their drug tests. Many of these are false, and many of them are debatable. When it comes to hair follicle testing, the most common methods involve washing your hair with a special shampoo, or dying your hair to mask the test. The products of course claim that they work; however, most labs state that these products will not affect the test result. In fact, hair samples are typically washed before analysis to remove any traces from secondhand exposure, so this could discredit the shampoo lines.
Many people also believe that shaving their head will keep them from having to submit to a hair follicle test. This myth could actually backfire for some people. If hair from the scalp cannot be taken, many labs will take hair from the underarm, chest, leg or other part of the body. Since body hair grows at a different rate than head hair, it has been said that the window for detection is 12 months instead of the 3 months with a head hair test.
Overall, if you are concerned with a specific time of consumption or type of drug, it is best to ask the person you arrange testing with what options are available. Hope this helps!