Hair Follicle Testing: Definition, Substances Detected, And Understanding The Results
14 November, 2023
Substance testing has become a common practice in many industries. Employers are now turning to hair follicle testing as a reliable method. It examines a small sample of hair to detect the presence of drugs or toxins in the body. Authorities usually utilise it to detect illegal substances such as marijuana, cocaine, amphetamine, phencyclidine and opiates. The accuracy of the test is higher than others, as it can identify drugs in hair up to 90 days after use.
Using illicit drugs and misusing prescription medications can result in a variety of consequences. It can harm the user and those around them. Testing provides individuals and companies with extra security to prevent substance abuse. Specifically, hair tests are beneficial due to their relatively non-invasive nature. The article will present more information about what it is, what substances it can detect, and what factors affect the reliability of the test results.
What is Hair Follicle Testing
Hair follicle testing is a method that detects drugs and other substances. The test involves taking a sample of head hair or body hair. Technicians cut the hair sample close to the scalp. After collecting strands of hair, they send it to a laboratory for analysis. Professionals check for the presence of drug metabolites. Hair analysis consists of washing and extraction to remove any external contaminants.
The metabolites are typically found in the hair matrix. This is located in the innermost layer of the hair shaft. There are guidelines for the collection process and laboratory procedures. This is to ensure reliable and consistent testing. This type is commonly used in workplace testing, as it can provide a comprehensive overview of substance use history.
Additionally, hair testing is less invasive than other forms of testing. No needles are necessary to collect the specimen. This makes it much easier for employers to implement into their drug testing procedures. The sample collection process is also more discreet than urine tests, which can be awkward and embarrassing for the individual being tested.
Advantages Over Other Methods
- Difficult to adulterate – A hair follicle drug test is difficult to adulterate. Tampering with hair samples is challenging, making it a more reliable method for drug testing.
- Rich drug history information – The tests can provide a detailed drug history. Hence, it is a valuable tool for monitoring long-term use or for assessing substance abuse patterns.
- Trustworthy results – External factors cannot easily affect the outcome, and people cannot alter it chemically to create false positives.
- Easy collection – Taking a hair sample for testing is not as intrusive as others like blood tests. This makes it more comfortable and convenient for both the donor and collector.
What Substances Can Hair Follicle Testing Detect
Hair follicle testing can detect a wide range of substances. It can identify various types of illicit drugs, including but not limited to cocaine, marijuana, opiates, amphetamines, methamphetamines, and PCP. Moreover, it can find prescription drugs such as benzodiazepines and opioids. Thus, it is a comprehensive method for monitoring substance abuse.
Additionally, hair tests can identify alcohol and its metabolites in the hair shaft. Hence, it can also provide valuable information about alcohol use patterns. Furthermore, it can detect external contaminants that may be present in the hair. While external contamination is not common, it is important to consider the possibility of environmental exposure to substances such as marijuana smoke or traces of drugs transferred through physical contact.
Laboratories conducting hair sample testing have measures in place to distinguish between substance use and external contaminants to ensure accurate results. In addition, collectors conduct the procedure carefully to ensure they obtain an adequate amount of hair. A sufficient sample length is typically around 1.5 inches, representing approximately 90 days of substance use history.
Detection Window for Different Substances
Hair drug testing has a longer window of detection than others, like saliva testing. However, it can vary for different substances. For instance, the test can typically identify marijuana in the hair for up to 90 days. Meanwhile, it can detect substances like cocaine and opioids for a shorter period, usually around 30 days.
However, factors such as the frequency of use and overall health can influence the detection window. Also, it varies depending on the length and growth rate of the hair of an individual. This comprehensive approach makes hair testing a valuable tool in workplace programs, rehabilitation programs, and forensic investigations.
Accuracy of Results of Hair Follicle Testing and Factors That May Affect Them
Hair follicle testing is an accurate testing method. Its thoroughness is because drugs get into the hair shaft as it grows. Consequently, it provides a historical record of substance use. However, several factors can affect the accuracy of the results. One factor is hair products, such as shampoos or treatments. They may contain substances that can interfere with the testing process and lead to inaccurate results. It is crucial for individuals undergoing testing to disclose any of their use.
The length of the hair sample also affects the accuracy of a hair test. If the specimen is insufficient or shorter than the required length, the detection period may be limited. Thus, it can potentially miss substance presence used within a certain timeframe. Genetic factors can also lead to a decrease in accuracy.
Another factor that may influence the outcome of testing is its timing. The body may excrete metabolites before being incorporated into the hair. As such, if collectors take the sample too soon after drug use, it may not detect any substance. Plus, the concentration in the sample may be too low for reliable testing.
Is There a Possibility of a False Positive
There is a possibility of a false positive in hair testing. If substances are present or if the individual comes into contact with contaminated surfaces, the hair can absorb them. This potentially results in incorrect results. It is important to disclose any potential external exposure that may interfere with the procedure.
Another factor that can contribute to a false positive is the sensitivity of the testing equipment. Different labs use different sensitivities for their drug tests. Thus, it is important to ensure that the drug tests are conducted in a lab that has the correct sensitivity settings for the type of drug being tested.
Hair follicle testing is an effective and reliable way to test for substance presence in the body. It is an important tool in helping employers to identify potential abuse in their workforce. Moreover, it provides law enforcement with the evidence they need to prosecute offences. A hair test is also a valuable tool in forensic science investigation. It allows scientists to determine when a person was exposed to a particular substance to help solve crimes.
Hair testing works by extracting tiny strands of hair, typically from the scalp. Lab technicians analyse them for traces of drugs or alcohol. It can detect up to 90 days after use, depending on factors like the length of the hair sample. It can identify a wide range of substances, such as marijuana, cocaine, opioids, amphetamines, and benzodiazepines. The accuracy of the test is high compared to other methods. However, false positives are still a possibility.