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Hair Folicle Test: What It Is, How It Works, & The Collection Process

12 March, 2024

A professional placing the hair samples in a petri dish using a tweezer

A hair follicle test is a method of drug testing that can detect drug molecules over a long period of time. It works by analysing the hair samples of an individual for the presence of drug metabolites. Accordingly, the sample collection process begins by taking a small sample of hair. Then, the conductor will forward the specimens to a laboratory for analysis. In the facility, it undergoes a series of tests to identify the presence or absence of substances.

Drug testing is a common practice in many industries. It ensures the safety and the well-being of individuals. There are various types of drug tests. This may include urine testing, oral fluid testing, and blood tests. However, hair drug testing is gaining traction and is a preferred method. This is due to its ability to detect a more extended history of drug use. The following sections will present the hair follicle drug testing, how it works, and the collection process.

What is a Hair Follicle Test?

The hair follicle test is a type of testing that can identify the presence of substances in a person. It can detect different drug classes (illicit drugs and prescription medications) and alcohol abuse or alcohol misuse. Accordingly, it involves collecting hair strands and forwarding them to a laboratory for testing. This method has the most extended window of detection, typically up to 90 days.

Various entities and individuals commonly employ a hair drug test. Foremost, employers frequently utilise testing to ensure workplace safety. They conduct it as part of pre-employment or random drug testing programs. Furthermore, law enforcement agencies employ this testing method. This is for legal testing, forensic testing, and providing evidence of drug use.

In healthcare settings, the test is used to monitor substance abuse among patients and make informed treatment decisions. Similarly, rehabilitation centres use the test to assess and monitor the progress of individuals undergoing substance abuse treatment. Additionally, individuals may opt for the hair follicle drug test to gain insights into their drug use history or fulfil specific requirements.

Advantages of Hair Testing

  • Long detection window: The extended detection window of hair testing allows for identifying past drug use patterns over a longer period.
  • Reliable results: The stability of drug metabolites in hair samples and the rigorous testing process contribute to the reliability and accuracy of results.
  • Non-invasive collection procedure: The collection process is non-invasive. This makes it a convenient and comfortable procedure for individuals.
  • Difficult to manipulate: The hair samples are challenging to adulterate or substitute without detection.
  • Adaptable in various settings: It is a versatile tool for different applications. This includes employment screening, legal proceedings, healthcare diagnostics, and substance abuse treatment.

Three professionals working in a laboratory

How Hair Follicle Test Works

The hair follicle test works on the principle that when substances are ingested, their metabolites can circulate through the bloodstream. This will eventually deposited into the hair follicles as the hair grows. As a result, the test results provide a valuable snapshot of substance usage. Accordingly, the process begins with collecting a small sample of hair. Then, the conductor will forward it to a laboratory.

In the facility, the specimens undergo washing to remove external contaminants. After washing, the hair sample undergoes a series of chemical analyses to extract drug metabolites within the hair shaft. The extracted drug metabolites are then subjected to screening and confirmation testing. This may include immunoassay testing or mass spectrometry testing like GC-MS or LC-MS.

Furthermore, the laboratory will analyse the sample for the presence of specific drugs or their metabolites depending on testing requirements. A professional will interpret the results to determine the presence or absence of substances. Finally, the professional will generate a result once the testing and analysis are complete. The testing facility will give the reports to the requesting party.

What Can It Detect?

Hair sample testing is capable of detecting a wide range of substances, especially illegal drugs and their metabolites, within an extended period. This may include marijuana (THC), cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, ecstasy, and Phencyclidine (PCP). These substances are illicit and can pose significant risks to users.

In addition, hair follicle testing can detect certain prescription medications. This may include oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, codeine, benzodiazepines, and other regulated substances. Detecting these substances is crucial to eliminating the abuse or misuse. Furthermore, the testing method can detect the presence of ethanol. This is an active ingredient in alcoholic drinks.

A lab technician storing the hair specimens in a vial

Collection of Samples for Hair Follicle Test

Collecting samples for a hair follicle test is a precise and standardised process. The first step is to choose an appropriate collection site. The standard practice is to select a discreet area on the back of the head near the scalp. This location ensures that hair samples represent recent hair growth and minimises the visual impact of the collection. Accordingly, a conductor will collect the hair specimens using a tool or scissors.

Moreover, the collector parts the hair and selects a small section for sampling. It typically requires 1.5 inches of hair length. The administrator documents the collection process to maintain a clear chain of custody collection and ensure accurate tracking. This includes the date, time, and location of the collection. Additionally, it provides an identification of the individual from whom the sample is obtained.

Once there is a hair sample, the conductor will carefully pack and label it to prevent contamination and to ensure proper identification. The sample is typically placed in a sealed envelope or container with a unique identifier that links it to the individual. Furthermore, the conductor will forward it to a laboratory for analysis.

Factors that Can Affect Hair Samples

Firstly, the rate at which hair grows varies. This impacts the length of the detection window for substances in the hair. Secondly, the colour, thickness, and structure of the hair of an individual can affect the retention and detection of substances. Thirdly, external factors, such as environmental exposure to substances, can introduce contaminants to the hair.

Additionally, chemical treatments, such as bleaching, dyeing, and other hair products, can affect the composition of the hair and potentially alter the detection of substances. These treatments may impact the accuracy of test results and should be considered when interpreting the findings.

Conclusion

Overall, a hair follicle test is a reliable method for detecting substance use over a longer period. It is commonly employed by employers, law enforcement agencies, health professionals, and rehabilitation centres. Additionally, hair testing holds various importance. It provides a long detection window, reliable results, a non-invasive collection procedure, and is difficult to manipulate. Furthermore, the test is based on the principle that when a person ingests substances, their metabolites will eventually deposited in the hair follicles.

The testing process begins with the collection of hair samples. Then, the conductor will forward it to a testing facility. In the lab, the specimen undergoes a series of testing. Moreover, a professional will interpret the results and generate a report. This can detect illegal drugs, prescription medications, and ethanol. However, it is crucial to know the factors that can affect the hair samples. This may include external factors, chemical treatments, and hair products.

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