Research has shown that a hair drug test is the fastest growing method of drug screening in the U.S. They’re considered to be more accurate than both mouth swab and urine tests, which not too long ago were the most common method of testing. It will take about five days for weed to show up in your hair, but it can continue to be detectable in a hair follicle drug test for several months.
Interesting to note is that back in 2015, as many as 7% of American employees failed their hair follicle test because of weed. Even more surprising, these weren’t one-off, irregular smokers who had been caught by bad luck or bad timing. Those who fail the hair drug test are typically habitual users. Essentially, this is the purpose of the hair follicle test, to detect regular cannabis use.
The presence of weed (and/or any other illicit substance) that can be found in your hair can be understood by one single principle; when weed is ingested into your body, it circulates through the bloodstream and into your urine, saliva, blood, and hair follicles via the bloodstream. The drug metabolites that enter into your hair follicles are then trapped in the hair structure as it starts to grow out. Hair grows at a rate of approximately 0.5 inches per month, and drug testing labs will typically test for toxin metabolites that are trapped in the shaft core. The length of your hair sample can measure historical drug use, but it’s not possible to determine a specific timeline of usage. In short, a hair follicle test cannot tell the difference between THC metabolites that were introduced two weeks ago, from ones that were only introduced two days ago.
Now, this possibly sounds a little confusing, so let’s break it down a little. Your body will react to THC and other cannabinoids in a complex way, and as a result, these cannabinoids and their metabolic byproducts will end up scattered in various systems throughout the body. Weed ends up in your hair via your bloodstream, and while it only stays there for a very short time (usually only as long as you are high), signs of weed use can be detected in your hair for a significantly longer time. Before the body rapidly breaks down the cannabinoids in the blood, they will bind to the sheath of tissue and cells surrounding the root of your hair. This initially happens underneath the surface of your scalp, but eventually the cannabinoids will become incorporated into the follicle and ultimately the hair strand itself. Finally, after about five to ten days, the “weed-infused hair” pops out the top of your head. This is why it’s not easy to cheat a hair follicle drug test.
Hair samples are used because the drugs in the bloodstream will bind to hair follicles underneath the scalp (it generally takes five to 10 days for the hair that contains the drugs to reach the surface of the scalp). The standard hair sample is 1.5 inches from the scalp, and since head hair grows at an average rate of half an inch per month, we can estimate that 1.5 inches of hair would give results over a period of three months (1.5 inches divided by 0.5 inches).
So why are more institutions opting for the hair follicle test over other methods, you might be wondering? Well, as it turns out, there are many reasons for this. Some of the most noteworthy are that the hair follicle tests are known to give more accurate and precise results, as opposed to urine or oral swab tests. Secondly, these tests can detect a longer history of substance abuse when compared to other tests. And lastly, it’s thought that beating a hair follicle test is a lot more challenging and difficult than other tests.
The good news, however, is that it’s not impossible to pass.
How to Pass a Hair Drug Test
The bad news for a few of you is that if you are a regular smoker and a hair follicle testing is thrown your way at the last minute, there’s not much you can do. In fact, you best start job-hunting because unfortunately, things probably won’t be looking too good for you.
The good news, however, is that if you’ve only smoked recently, you have nothing to worry about since the weed will only show up in your hair five to ten days after consumption. Technically you could even take a puff of the good stuff the very day of your hair test, and it still wouldn’t be detected. Also, if you’ve only smoked a couple of times in the last 90 days, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about. Although the hair follicle drug test is relatively sensitive, only regular weed use will put enough THC into the hair to trigger a positive result.
In short, passing a hair drug test is all in the timing. If you are aware of an upcoming drug test, you could always abstain from weed for the time being. We know it’s not fun, but it may just be necessary.
As we have already mentioned, passing a hair drug test is not an easy task. The very moment that you find out that you will be submitting to a follicle test, you should stop using cannabis right away. It’s also important to avoid all skin-to-skin contact with anybody who consumes cannabis, since there is always the risk that this type of contact could transfer weed metabolites onto the follicles of the hair (sounds crazy, but it’s true).
Detoxing the Hair
Now, one of the methods that you could try – although it is by no means foolproof and demands some seriously hard work – is detoxing the hair. The first thing you must do is get your hands on three different shampoos, each of which will serve a different purpose in your detox regime. These shampoos consist of Zydot Ultra-Clean shampoo, Neutrogena T/Sal, and Nexxus Aloe Rid. The Zydot package contains packets of specially formulated conditioner and purifier, the T/Sal contains salicylic acid (which will help to remove all dirt and grease buildup in your hair), and the Aloe Rid performs the real detoxifying functions that will (hopefully) get rid of pollutants, medicines, and other stressors from the hair.
Method: Start off by massaging either distilled white vinegar or apple cider vinegar across your hair and scalp. This loosens the oil in your hair. Wait for about 10-15 minutes before applying the T/Sal on the scalp (with the vinegar still in there). Now place a plastic shower cap over your hair and wait for about thirty minutes before carefully rinsing the hair. Next, you will need to apply the Aloe Rid detox. You can wash your hair with this shampoo at least twice. Lastly, put the smallest amount of Zydot onto your hair, and massage it across the scalp. Then rinse it immediately. The aftercare is also quite important, so make sure to use your normal conditioner. It’s important to leave the conditioner on your hair for at least an hour, and then carefully rinse it out.
Keep in mind that detoxing the hair can cause serious damage to your hair, even if just temporarily. It will be necessary to spend a great deal of time re-nourishing, hydrating, and conditioning your hair after your detox routine.
In a last-ditch effort to pass a hair test for drugs (and this is only if you are feeling exceptionally brave), you could consider using a hair piece or hair extension. The only way this would work is if you could somehow trick the technician into taking a sample of hair that is THC-free. In other words, fake hair. There is, however, no guarantee that they wouldn’t get a piece of your actual hair, but as long as they didn’t realize that they were taking a sample of hair that wasn’t really yours, you could potentially sneak through.
There is no doubt that cheating a hair follicle drug test requires a great deal of creativity, and a lot of luck. If you’re not willing to give up your weed regime for a period of time, you best start thinking of some creative ways to get yourself out of taking the test.
How Does A Hair Follicle Drug Test Work?
There is a growing amount of interest to replace urine drug testing programs with 90-day hair analysis screenings, since hair testing has shown to stop twice as many drug users at the door before they are employed. Also, urine is considered to be more susceptible to tampering, using adulteration, hydration, and substitution. As we’ve mentioned above, hair analysis is thought to pose a much greater challenge to applicants who are wanting to cheat the drug test.
Here are a few reasons that hair analysis is thought to be a more effective means of drug testing:
- The applicant can’t tamper with hair by placing anything else in or on the sample while it’s in the specimen collection area
- The applicant can’t eat or drink anything that will dilute a hair sample
- The applicant technically can’t replace their hair with someone else’s hair (although we have mentioned above that you could always try using hair extensions or a hair piece)
- Generally speaking, shaving or dying the hair will not help for regular users. The cutoff level used by most labs is low enough that stripping hair won’t remove the entire drug that has been deposited.
When compared to urine testing, the marijuana hair test is a simple and non-intrusive process. The institution conducting the test should also always consider a few important things, which include the following:
- They should always have enough hair to repeat the test if necessary (this is to be fair to the donor).
- If the hair is over 1.5 inches long, then a width of 0.5 inch of hair is required when spread out flat on a ruler.
- If the hair is shorter than 1.5 inches in length, then more hair is required (1 inch length requires ¾ inch width; 0.5 inch requires 1.5 inch width). This is because although the lab describes the sample quantity in width per sample for collectors, the test requirements are actually 100 mg of hair by weight.
Hair follicle test samples can be collected from several locations on the head, and can be combined to get the necessary amount of hair for a sample testing. Generally, hair will be taken from the crown of the skull, but if your head hair is too short, they can actually use body hair. Body hair is even worse than head hair, as it represents a time frame of approximately one year because of the different growth pattern that occurs in the hair below the neck.
Tricks That Won’t Help You Pass a Hair Follicle Drug Test
As we have already determined, a hair follicle test is very difficult to cheat. But that doesn’t stop people from trying all sorts of methods to try to help them pass the test, many of which have been documented (to rather comic effect) all over the internet. However, just like many things on the internet, you can’t believe everything that you read.
1. Shaving the Head
One of the most common approaches that likely won’t get you anywhere is shaving the head. Not only would this most likely only be applicable for men (we’re pretty sure that most women wouldn’t be up for shaving their head, even if it is to pass a drug test), but a shaved head probably won’t impede any testing technician. In fact, they would just take a hair from another part of your body (most likely the armpit or chest).
2. Bleaching or Dying the Hair
This one has a little more common sense to it, but unfortunately, it also won’t do you much good. Dying or bleaching your hair (or cleaning it with special shampoos or gels) may seem like a good idea, but in reality it won’t be very effective. Quest Diagnostics, which is one of the largest drug testing and diagnostics companies in the country, found that hair treatments have very little effect on the hair follicle test results.
Are Hair Follicle Tests Accurate?
Let’s get right down to it; hair follicle drug tests can’t be regarded as 100% accurate. One of the more noteworthy studies was conducted by German researchers in 2015, in which a team conducted two small studies. They treated two participants with THC (the primary psychoactive compound that is found in weed), and one participant with THCA, which is a non-psychoactive precursor to THC.
The two who were receiving THC were dosed with 2.5 milligrams of dronabinol (a synthetic THC) three times per day for 30 days. Researchers then tested a sample of new hair growth for THC-COOH, which is a THC metabolite (actually, THC-COOH is the main metabolite that is formed from the breakdown of THC after you ingest cannabis. It’s long been believed that THC-COOH travels through the bloodstream and eventually makes its way into the hair, but new research is suggesting otherwise).
In reality, hair follicle tests should search for the presence of THC-COOH to indicate whether a person has been consuming weed on a regular basis, but much to the surprise of many, the German researchers didn’t find much THC-COOH during their study.
They then went on to test segments of older hair from a time before the participant had consumed cannabis, and interestingly enough, the participants received positive THC results for the older samples. So what does this mean? Essentially, it can be concluded that THC found in the hair must come from external sources (i.e. second hand smoke), rather than circulation through the bloodstream.
The Society of Hair Testing21 has given a recommended cut-off of 50 mg of THC concentration. This means that for THC to reach the hair from the bloodstream, a person would have had to consume extremely high amounts of high-potency weed. Having said that, people who consume cannabis on a regular basis are more likely to be exposed to it from external sources, which of course would cause more of it to end up on their hair.
Researchers have thus concluded that THC findings in hair can’t be regarded as proof of cannabis consumption. You should keep in mind that a few problems have been found in this study. One of those being that a very small sample of participants was used. This means we cannot say with absolute certainty that these results would ring true for all cannabis hair testing.
How Does Cannabis End Up in the Hair?
There are two primary ways in which cannabis can end up in your hair. As we have already touched on, a hair test screens for the presence of THC-COOH. This is a metabolite that is formed during the breakdown of THC. It forms when the THC in your blood passes through the liver, and is then stored in the fatty tissue around your body (including body fat deposits and organs such as your lungs, kidneys, and heart).
One of the ways in which THC-COOH ends up in your hair is by traveling through your sebaceous gland. This is the gland that secretes natural oils (also known as sebum) on the skin and scalp. The THC-COOH is then secreted in your body’s natural oils along with sweat, which is what coats the strains of hair.
Secondly, THC and other compounds associated with cannabis can even end up on the hair of non-consumers. Just by interacting with the cannabis plant or with people who have consumed cannabis, the cannabinoids can be transferred to the non-users hair. Cannabinoids have been shown to be “successfully” transferred via either sebum, smoke, sweat or even hand-to-hand contact. In other words, don’t let someone who’s just rolled a joint run their fingers through your hair!
How Long Do You Have to be Clean to Pass a Hair Follicle Test?
This is probably the primary reason why it is very difficult for regular smokers to give up weed before a test; you will need to be clean for at least 90 consecutive days in order to pass a hair follicle test. This is because hair samples are cut as close to the scalp as possible (something that we have already briefly touched on in this article). The clipping is usually 1.5 inches long, and this represents about 90 days of hair growth.
It’s worth mentioning that 90-days is by no means an exact number, though. As you can imagine, hair growth will differ from person to person, so think of it this way: what’s 90 days for one person, could be 110 days for someone else.
Yet another factor that plays a part in hair growth is age. The older you are, the slower your hair growth rate.
Essentially what this all boils down to is that cannabinoids, such as THC-COOH, will stay in your hair strands until your hair is either cut off or falls out. It’s crazy to think of just how long drug use can be detected in the human hair for.
Final Thoughts on Hair Follicle Drug Tests
Hopefully this article has given you a little more insight into the ever increasing hair follicle drug test. For the most part, it’s probably not what you wanted to hear (we all want nothing more than a quick fix method and “easy-tricks” to get us through the dreaded drug test), but unfortunately, when it comes to the hair follicle test, there’s very little you can do to beat it other than abstaining from weed for at least three months before.
The good news, however, is that research is pointing towards hair follicle tests not being 100% accurate. This means that, since it’s possible for cannabis to be detected in the hair of non-consumers merely because they were either in contact with the cannabis plant or with cannabis users, we can’t wholeheartedly rely on these tests. Hopefully this will lead to either the elimination of or reduction in hair follicle tests, but if not, you could always go the route of denying any consumption of cannabis, and technically they couldn’t prove otherwise.