5 Panel vs. 10 Panel vs. 15 Panel Drug Tests: All the Details Explained

Understand the difference!


Nowadays, many Americans are using marijuana. The herb is legal for medicinal use in over half of the 50 states, and a few have even legalized recreational use of the plant. In theory, this is excellent news, because it means that people have the freedom to do whatever they choose when off the job. This is particularly good news if you use marijuana for therapeutic purposes.

However, things aren’t as rosy as they seem. Although attitudes are shifting, many employers frown upon the use of marijuana – even if you’re using it outside of work hours. This is why employers conduct workplace drug tests, either pre-employment or during your time at work.

Laws on drug testing differ from state to state. In Maine, the Labor Department has removed cannabis from the list of substances a company can test for. In other words, employees can use pot outside of work without having to worry – a positive test for marijuana is not considered proof that you are under the influence at work.

On the other hand, there are states such as California. Although weed is recreationally legal here, pre-employment drug tests can see applicants being turned away for pot. Even though you are doing nothing illegal, employers can conduct drug tests on anyone they choose! The tests are supposed to be held in a “fair and consistent manner,” but this kind of vague language gives companies a lot of leeway.

Most businesses use urine drug tests. They are cheap and easy to use. Most people don’t realize that there are different types of urine tests, and that’s what we’re going to look at today. Read on so you can find out how best to prepare for a workplace urinalysis.

What Is a 5-Panel Drug Test?

Drug tests are named by ‘panels’ according to the number of drugs they test for. It follows, then, that a 5-panel drug test tests for five different drugs. This is the most common workplace drug test because it is the simplest and cheapest. It also covers the main drugs employers are concerned about.

Here are the five drugs tested for in a 5-panel drug test:

  • Marijuana: A urinalysis tests for marijuana by looking at the number of THC metabolites in the system. THC breaks down into the metabolite THC-COOH, which is what testers are looking for. You will fail the test if your reading is at 50ng/ml or above.
  • Cocaine: At the moment, cocaine is a Schule 2 drug under the Controlled Substance Act. Theoretically, this means it is less dangerous than weed!
  • Amphetamines: Often, amphetamines come in the form of pills which are crushed and snorted up the nostrils. They are sometimes found in prescription medications like Ritalin. This group also includes illegal substances like methamphetamines or crystal meth.
  • Opiates: These come from the poppy plant, and can be used to make drugs like heroin. A 5-panel test also looks for legal substances like codeine and morphine. Right now, the USA is in the midst of a severe opioid epidemic, so it’s no wonder employers want to know what their staff is using.
  • Phencyclidine: More commonly referred to as PCP, this synthetic compound comes in either liquid or powder form.

5-panel drug tests are used by most employers. They are simple, cheap, and tend to get the job done by testing for the most common drugs.

What Is a 10-Panel Drug Test?

A 10-panel drug test includes more drugs – ten, to be exact. It tests for all the same drugs as above, but with five extras added in:

  • Barbiturates
  • Propoxyphene
  • Methaqualone (also called Quaaludes)
  • Benzodiazepines (including Xanax, Prozac, Lorazepam, Valium)
  • Methadone

Most employers don’t bother with a 10-panel test as it isn’t standard practice. Specific sectors of employment will use these tests, namely those where the safety of others is at stake. Medical professionals, law enforcement, and those in the federal or local government can expect to undergo a 10-panel test.

What Is a 15-Panel Drug Test?

A 15-panel drug test builds upon the 10-panel version, with five additional drugs tested for:

  • Buprenorphine
  • Oxycodone
  • MDMA
  • Meperidine
  • Tramadol

This type of test is extremely uncommon, and will likely only take place in very specialized positions.

What Happens During a Drug Test?

A urinalysis is a pretty simple procedure. Sometimes you will be given some notice, but other times drug testing may be completely random. As a result, it’s best to just stick to the laws in your state, so you aren’t caught unawares.

The test can occur at your workplace or at a testing facility or medical clinic. A technician will be present to carry out the procedure, and they will give you your instructions. You will be given a cup by the tester to urinate into. Often, there is a single-stall bathroom in which you will do so, so at least you have some privacy.

A lot of people try to cheat on drug tests. They feel it is unfair to be tested for marijuana use when they often aren’t doing anything illegal. There are plenty of ways to cheat on a test, but don’t think that technicians are easily fooled!

There are often measures in place, such as:

  • Patting you down to make sure you aren’t taking a fake sample into the stall
  • Turning off tap water and securing water sources
  • Dying the toilet water blue to prevent dilution of the sample
  • Measuring the temperature of the sample after you have provided it

It’s pretty hard to cheat a test, so it would be wise not to bother. Once you have provided the sample, simply give the tub back to the technician for testing.

Reading the Results of a Drug Test

The sample is then sent to a lab where an immunoassay is performed. This type of screening is fast and accurate, which uses test strips containing antibodies to detect drug residue. Of course, every kind of test only tests for a certain number of drugs. If you have used MDMA and your employer only commissions a 5-panel or 10-panel test, the drug use won’t show up.

A positive result means that a substance was detected, and you have failed the test. Here is a breakdown of different positive results:

  • True positive: The analysis correctly identifies the use of substances.
  • False positive: A testing error leads to a positive, even though substances were not used.
  • True positive, but with medically acceptable documentation: Depending on the state you live in, employers sometimes accept medical prescriptions as an excuse if something shows up on the test. Often, this is for things like opioids, but marijuana may now be included by some employers in some states.

If any of the above positives show up on the test, the results must be confirmed using a gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) test, which is more accurate. This test looks for metabolites and is thus much more specific. If you fail this test, a Medical Review Officer (MRO) will be required to find fault in the procedure if you contest the result.

Many people are worried about a false positive, but you can rest easy. There are ways to fight your case and ensure that you don’t face repercussions for something you didn’t do.

If you test negative or have a valid reason for a positive test (such as a medical prescription), then you have absolutely nothing to worry about!

Limitations of Drug Testing

One of the insurmountable problems faced by drug testing is that it can’t determine whether you were using the substance while at work. Numerous lawsuits have been carried out on this basis, with many of them centering around marijuana use. Some people win their cases, and others don’t. It’s a sad fact that there is no concrete legislation right now.

A second issue is that 5-panel, 10-panel, and 15-panel drug tests don’t test for all the drugs an employee could be using. For example, even 15-panel tests don’t check for things like LSD, magic mushrooms, peyote, or mescaline. With the use of psychoactive substances like kratom growing in the USA, it’s unfortunate that drug tests can’t catch everything.

Final Thoughts: The Difference Between Drug Tests

Drug testing is something that strikes fear into the hearts of many Americans. It seems unfair that marijuana is legal, and yet citizens can be punished and fired for using it in their own leisure time.

The most you can do is stay clued up on the laws in your state and be prepared to fight your case. You can also try to be as educated as possible on drug tests, too. There are ways to try and cheat a test but at your own risk, of course. Perhaps you should try one of the many detox drinks online or even try using synthetic urine. Whatever you choose, be careful.

The only way to be certain that you’ll pass a drug test is to be truthful and abstain from use before the test.