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Hair Drug Test: What Can It Detect?

03 July, 2023

A professional extracting a small hair sample from a petri dish.

A hair drug test is a method used to determine if someone has used drugs by examining a sample of their hair. It is a reliable way to detect various substances in the body. These substances include marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, and others. The test analyse the hair itself to gather information about a person’s drug use over an extended period. Moreover, this test provides important details about someone’s drug history.

The use of illicit drugs can significantly harm a person’s health and safety. It can lead to addiction and severely impair essential bodily functions, increasing the risk of accidents. Furthermore, individuals dependent on drugs may attempt to conceal their situation. However, signs of drug use can become apparent through a person’s appearance, behaviour, and actions. This article will present how a hair test works, the substances it can detect, and alternative methods.

How a Hair Drug Test Works

A hair drug test works by identifying the parent drug or its metabolites through hair strands. Drugs and alcohol present in the bloodstream passively diffuse into the hair as it grows, extending the detection period. This test can identify drug use over several months. Thus, it provides valuable information about consumption patterns, allowing for the identification of a person’s history of illegal substance use.

To conduct the test, a technician collects a 100mg sample of hair, which is approximately 90 to 120 strands, from the scalp. The collected sample is carefully wrapped in foil for proper documentation and transportation to the laboratory for analysis. This transparent collection process reduces the risk of tampering or contamination.

Substances generally enter the hair through a process called passive diffusion at the base of the hair follicle. Recent research suggests that drugs can also enter the hair during the formation of the hair shaft. Additionally, hair growth varies among individuals, allowing the hair test to identify substances consumed within 7 to 10 days. A 1.5-inch hair sample can detect drug use up to 90 days before the test.

What Can Hair Detect

  • Ethanol is a type of alcohol commonly found in alcoholic beverages and can cause intoxication and impairment.
  • Cocaine is a powerful stimulant drug that stimulates the central nervous system and produces feelings of euphoria.
  • Opiates (such as codeine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, methadone) are a group of drugs used for pain relief.
  • Amphetamine and methamphetamine are stimulant drugs that increase energy, focus, and alertness.
  • Phencyclidine (PCP) is a dissociative drug that alters perception and can cause hallucinations and delusions.
  • Cannabis is a psychoactive drug that can induce relaxation and changes in sensory perception.
  • Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) is a synthetic drug that combines stimulant and hallucinogenic effects.

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Practical Uses of a Hair Drug Test

In various settings, a hair drug test plays a crucial role in maintaining safety and promoting accountability. For instance, treatment centers utilise this test to enhance their services and provide effective care to individuals seeking help. The test enables treatment centers to assess the presence of drugs in a person’s system. Hence, it aids in the development of tailored rehabilitation plans, resulting in improved outcomes for patients.

Moreover, workplaces leverage the benefits of the hair test to maintain a safe and productive environment for employees. The test helps employers identify people who may be using drugs, which can impact job performance, and safety. By implementing this test, companies can minimise the risk of accidents and create a healthier work atmosphere.

Furthermore, the legal system relies on hair follicle tests to support fair and just legal proceedings. It assists law enforcement agencies in gathering evidence of drug use, which can be crucial in criminal investigations. Therefore, the test provides a reliable means of identifying long-term drug usage and contributes to the accuracy of legal outcomes.

Benefits

Hair follicle tests offer advantages over other methods. Firstly, they have a longer detection window compared to oral fluid or blood tests, allowing for extended identification of drug use. Secondly, the non-invasive collection process makes them more comfortable, while hair samples are easy to store and transport.

Thirdly, these tests are difficult to cheat or adulterate, unlike urine tests. Hair samples cannot be easily manipulated, ensuring the integrity of the test. Furthermore, the same sample can be retested multiple times in the lab, enhancing accuracy and reliability. This ability to conduct retests boosts confidence in the results and ensures the reliability of the testing process.

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Alternative Methods for Hair Drug Tests

There are alternative methods available for detecting substances aside from hair drug tests. One such method is the saliva drug test, which involves collecting a sample of oral fluids to analyse for drug metabolites. Another option is the blood test, which measures drug levels in the bloodstream. Additionally, the urine test examines the urine sample for the presence of substances.

Moreover, breath tests serve as a specific alternative for detecting alcohol consumption. These tests employ breathalysers to measure the Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) in a person’s breath. They can identify alcohol within 15 minutes up to 24 hours after the last intake. Moreover, breath tests offer a convenient and non-invasive method to assess alcohol impairment.

Furthermore, BACtrack breathalysers from Breathalysers New Zealand utilise fuel cell sensors to provide highly accurate readings of BAC. These devices use an electrochemical process to oxidise alcohol present in the breath. As a result of this oxidation, small electrical currents are generated, which are then converted into BAC values.

Advantages of BACtrack Breathalysers

BACtrack breathalysers provide several advantages in alcohol detection. Firstly, they deliver fast results, providing readings within 10 to 15 seconds of processing a breath sample. This saves time for both employers and employees. Secondly, these breathalysers are portable, enabling on-site testing without the need for workers to leave their workplace.

Thirdly, BACtrack breathalysers have a remote monitoring feature. Employers can track off-site employees, such as truck operators, by using smartphone breathalysers like the BACtrack Mobile Gen2. This capability enhances safety and ensures compliance with alcohol-related policies. Lastly, these breathalysers offer easy sample collection by simply blowing into the mouthpiece.

Conclusion

A hair drug test has proven effective in detecting a broad range of substances. These include marijuana, cocaine, opiates, amphetamines, ethanol, PCP, and more. Through hair analysis, this test offers valuable insights into an individual’s drug use patterns over an extended period. The collection process ensures transparency and minimises the risk of tampering. Moreover, the hair test finds practical use in various settings, including workplaces, treatment centres, and the legal system.

When it comes to alternative methods for drug testing, oral fluid, urine, and blood tests can be employed. Additionally, breath tests serve as a specific option for alcohol testing. BACtrack breathalysers from Breathalysers New Zealand offer several advantages in measuring the person’s BAC. They provide fast results, are portable for on-site testing, offer remote monitoring capabilities, and make sample collection easy. These characteristics make BACtrack breathalysers a valuable tool in ensuring workplace safety and compliance with alcohol-related policies.

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      A professional extracting a small hair sample from a petri dish.

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