How Long Does Marijuana Stay in Your System: Drug Testing 101

How long does marijuana stay in your system? With two-thirds of the most powerful companies in the US test their employees for drugs and with marijuana being one of the main drugs people use, it’s a question worth pondering as marijuana can stay in your system up to 12 weeks after consuming it.

How Long Does Marijuana Stay In Your System: Highlights

  • It’s estimated that 71 percent of employers perform drug tests regularly, half of them relying on random drug testing.
  • Seventy-five percent of illicit drug users admit to going to work in an altered mental state.
  • THC can be detected in your urine for up to 12 weeks.
  • Blood drug tests can reveal the presence of marijuana in your system seven days after consuming it.
  • Modern drug tests have an accuracy of 99 percent, but they also have a fallibility rate of 15 percent.

Understanding How Drug Tests Work

Drug tests are just the technical analysis of a biological specimen. When it comes to drug tests, the biological specimen is represented by your urine, hair, blood, breath, sweat, and saliva.

The drug test is done in order to determine the presence or absence of specific drugs and/or their metabolites.

Some important applications of drug testing include the detection of performance-enhancing steroids in sport, probation officers screening for prohibited drugs by law (such as cannabis, cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin), and police officers testing for the presence and concentration of alcohol in the blood.

How Do Drug Tests Work?

Drug Test form

This basically depends on the type of drug tests being used. A urine test checks for the presence of drug metabolites, and it can detect said metabolites for up to 12 weeks. Saliva tests screen for recently taken drugs, and can only detect drugs taken in the last two days or so.

Who Performs Drug Tests? 

Drug testing is now done by almost two-thirds of Fortune 500 companies, and a notable number of mid-sized businesses as well. This trend will most likely continue into the foreseeable future.

In the past decade, as many as 71 percents of employers performed pre-employment drug screens, and nearly half of them have at one point used random drug testing.

Why Do Companies Perform Drug Tests?

It is estimated that over 75 percent of the current population of illicit drug users aged 18 and older are employed. That’s a large number of everyday employees, which means that on any given day, many people are coming to work in an already altered mental state.

In fact, a survey of callers to the 800-COCAINE hotline found that 75 percent used drugs while at work. While different establishments may have their own reasons for drug testing, some companies, like those who operate in transportation, require drug testing for safety and liability reasons.

Other companies perform drug tests to receive worker compensation discounts, insurance discounts, and to avoid legal liability.

Types Of Drugs Tests

Urine test

A urine test, or urinalysis, is the most common drug test used. This is because metabolites, the byproducts of ingested substances present in your body, have a long halving time and they are eliminated from your system through urine.

Some metabolites are eliminated from your system in a couple of days, while others are excreted after a few weeks.

There are multiple analytical methods used to detect drug metabolites. Analytical methods such as immunoassays, thin layer chromatography, gas spectrometry, and mass spectrometry can detect traces of any drug from your urine.

Urine sample in container

There are two types of urinalysis — the drug screen and the drug test (or confirmation). When you’re screened for marijuana, the urine sample is first taken to the laboratory then screened for a threshold sensitivity level.

If the targeted metabolites (THC-COOH) levels are found to be below the national standard of 50 ng/mL, then the sample is marked negative and you pass the test. However, if the levels are higher than 50 ng/mL, the sample is tested a second time for confirmation.

How Long Is THC Detectable In Urine?

If you are a chronic marijuana user, a urine test can detect the THC in your system for up to 12 weeks, depending on the quantity as well as the frequency of use. If you just used marijuana once and stopped, the odds of passing a test within the first week are decent but you can still test positive for up to 30 days.

It all comes down to how effective your metabolism is at breaking down the THC in your body.

Mouth Swab Drug Test

Saliva swab tests are less invasive and can be randomly administered at any time. This test is generally used to find out if you have used drugs recently.

Mouth swabs are the newest test for marijuana use and are not very common. A saliva test can produce positive results in the first 24-48 hours after taking the drugs. The advantage is that it is very difficult to tamper with the sample.

Hair Follicle Test   

Hair tests are often preferred because drugs can be detected in your hair for a long time. The testers might not be able to tell if you’re using drugs when the test is performed, but the hair provides a long window of detection.

Unlike urine or oral testing, hair testing is able to detect a pattern of repetitive drug use for up to 90 days. Tampering with the sample is also difficult.

Hair testing is usually twice as expensive as urine testing, making it cost prohibitive for pre-employment purposes. However, certain institutions and companies have the means to use this kind of tests, especially since it is the most effective way to detect long-term drug use.

The hair follicle test is not reliable if a person used marijuana only once in the past. However, its advantage is that this test can be used to detect the use of marijuana over the last few months.

Perspiration Tests

This test is commonly used to monitor those on probation or people involved in child custody cases. The test involves wearing a skin patch for 10-14 days. This patch detects any drug excreted via sweat, and it will show up the results once the detection period is over.

Blood Testing   

close up of vial with blood

Blood testing detects the presence of actual drugs and not their metabolites. This type of drug testing is invasive, but there is also very little chance of alteration. After a single use of marijuana, the blood test can produce positive results for 6-24 hours.

For regular users, blood testing can produce positive results for 7 days or more.

The Accuracy and Reliability of Drug Tests

Drug testing can be very accurate if it is done properly. However, the results can be extremely misleading if the tests are not performed correctly. The accuracy depends on the type of test relative to the drug being tested, how strictly the collection was done, and if the collection was done within the drug’s and the test’s ‘detection window’.

The accuracy is also influenced by the type of test performed. Random drug testing might be more accurate than tests performed when the subject had prior knowledge of the testing.

The Accuracy of Marijuana Urine Tests

The accuracy of marijuana tests depends on the type of test. Marijuana is usually better detected with urine or hair samples, and if the sample was collected within the detection window.

The Accuracy of Other Drug Tests

Other drug tests are equally reliable, but their level of accuracy is also reasonably dependent on the aforementioned factors.

Limitations of Marijuana Drug Tests

Drug tests can never be foolproof. Even tests with a 99 percent accuracy rating have a 15 percent chance of fallibility, and marijuana drug tests are no different. If the sample collection is not properly supervised, which is usually the case in urine tests, the subject can provide a fake specimen.

If the detection window is missed, the result will still come out negative, however strict you may be in sample collection. And if the individual has prior knowledge of the test, he or she may deliberately avoid the testing until he is in the clear, which is why random testing is sometimes preferred.

Ways to Pass Drug Tests

Test spelled out with weed in background

The simplest way to pass a drug test is to completely abstain from taking drugs. Not taking drugs means you don’t have to go through the rigors required to come out unscathed from a drug test. But if this advice came too late, here are a few other things you can try.

Synthetic urine

Synthetic urine may be the best way to pass urine tests with flying colors. The synthetic urine is a chemically formulated solution that looks, smells, feels, and maybe even tastes like urine. And the best part is, it has almost the exact same chemical composition as natural urine.

The similarities between the synthetic urine and the natural ones are so amazing that even the pH level and the specific gravity are matched. Some brands are available on the market sell products that have worked perfectly every time.

But you should keep in mind that synthetic urine is only useful for unsupervised lab tests.

Detox Methods

Drug detox drinks are used mainly to flush out or hide the drug metabolites in your body so they won’t be excreted via the urine before the testing. Detox is especially useful if you’re taking a supervised lab test and you have short notice.

Dilution Methods

Also known as Natural detox, the dilution method involves eating healthy, avoiding toxins, and drinking a lot of water daily. This method can take up to 4 weeks to remove the drug metabolites from your system, so it is mostly used by pre-employment folk.

Don’t Let a Drug Test Ruin Your Future

Staying clean is probably your best bet for beating a drug test. Passing a drug test could mean the difference between landing that dream job at your first attempt or continuing to wallow in the job search wilderness.

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