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Hair Test: What Can It Detect?

19 January, 2024

A professional placing a hair sample in a container using a tweezer

A hair test is a procedure that involves collecting hair samples. This sample is then sent to a laboratory for analysis. At the facility, the sample of hair undergoes an examination to identify and analyse different substances. In terms of illicit drug detection, hair drug tests can identify a wide range of drug classes. This includes cocaine, opiates, and amphetamines. Accordingly, the testing can also be used to analyse DNA for genetic profiling. Also, it can monitor heavy metal toxins.

Hair follicle testing has gained attention in recent years. This is due to its ability to provide a more comprehensive and accurate assessment than urine, saliva, and blood tests. By analysing a small human hair sample or head hair, professionals can uncover a wealth of information about the lifestyle, drug history, and potential health issues of a person. This article will present hair follicle tests to detect or analyse illicit drugs and alcohol misuse, DNA, and metal toxic elements.

Hair Test to Detect Drug and Alcohol Use

A hair test is a method of drug testing to detect drug and alcohol use. This is done by analysing scalp hair. Accordingly, this type of test is often preferred by organisations as it can provide a longer window of detection. Nevertheless, when a person consumes substances, it is metabolised in the body. This can be incorporated into the hair follicle, along with the strands of hair, as it grows.

The process begins with the collection of a sample of hair from the individual. This sample is usually from the back of the head, close to the scalp, to minimise the impact of any hair treatments. Subsequently, the sample is then sent to a laboratory for hair evaluation. In the facility, the conductor will wash the hair to remove any external contaminants.

Then, the remaining hair undergoes chemical processes to extract any drug or alcohol metabolites. Furthermore, the conductor will analyse the compounds using highly sensitive techniques. This may include chromatography or mass spectrometry to identify and quantify the substance of interest. The results of the hair follicle drug tests typically present the presence or absence of substances.

Types of Drugs and Metabolites Tested

  • Cannabis (THC): the testing can detect the metabolites of THC, the active compound in cannabis, which provides information about past marijuana use.
  • Cocaine: hair follicle drug testing can identify cocaine and its metabolites, such as benzoylecgonine.
  • Opioids: various opioids, including heroin, codeine, morphine, and oxycodone, can leave traces in hair samples.
  • Amphetamine: hair collection can reveal the presence of amphetamines and their metabolites. This may include substances like ecstasy.
  • Misuse of prescription medications: the testing can also monitor the presence of over-the-counter medications and their misuse.
  • Ethanol: it is an active compound present in most alcoholic beverages.

A technician placing a hair specimen in a vial using a tweezer

Hair Test to Analyse Your DNA

hair test to analyse DNA involves extracting and analysing hair for genetic material. This process allows for the identification of unique genetic profiles, offering valuable information for various applications. Accordingly, this is beneficial in forensic investigations and paternity testing. Nevertheless, the first step is to isolate the root of the hair. This contains cells with the DNA of the individual.

After the collection of hair roots, the DNA extraction process begins. This involves breaking down the cells to release the genetic material. Various common methods, such as organic extraction, can isolate DNA from the hair sample. This ensures that the genetic material is suitable for analysis. Once there is an extraction of DNA, it undergoes analysis to determine unique genetic markers.

Nevertheless, this technique involves genotyping. This identifies specific genetic variations known as Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs). Furthermore, the conductor can compare the resulting DNA profile to a reference sample for identification. However, it is important to note that the quality and quantity of DNA depends on factors such as the presence of root cells and environmental exposure.

Role of Hair in DNA

In the realm of DNA analysis, hair plays a crucial role as a potential reservoir of genetic material. When there is a hair sample, the root is the primary focus. This is because it houses the nucleated cells that retain the genetic blueprint of an individual. Accordingly, the extraction of DNA from the hair roots involves breaking down the cells to release the genetic material.

Hair DNA testing provides advantages due to the relative stability of hair samples than the other biological materials. Hence, the robust nature of hair makes it suitable for long-term storage and transportation. This offers a reliable source for DNA analysis.

Three professionals working in a laboratory

Hair Test to Analyse Metal Toxins

When it comes to analysing metal toxins, a hair test serves as a valuable method. This assesses the exposure of individuals to various metals over an extended period. Accordingly, the use of hair for metal toxin analysis is permissible as it incorporates elements from the blood as it grows. This includes any metals present in the bloodstream.

Moreover, this allows for the identification of metal exposure patterns over time. Hence, it offers insights into chronic or long-term exposure rather than capturing only a snapshot of metal levels. Subsequently, testing hair for metal toxins involves the collection of hair samples. This is preferably close to the scalp to capture recent metal exposure. After collection, it undergoes washing to remove contaminants.

Once the hair specimen is clean, it undergoes analytical techniques. This may include Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS). Nevertheless, this method can detect and quantify levels of various metals present in the sample. The non-invasive nature of hair sampling makes hair analysis a valuable tool for assessing environmental and occupational exposure to metals.

Results Analysis

After subjecting the hair sample to analytical techniques like ICP-MS, the resulting date reveals concentrations of different metals present in the sample. These metals may include lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, and others. However, in interpreting the results of the hair analysis, it requires consideration of various factors. This may involve age, gender, and environmental influences.

Additionally, it is essential to note that establishing standard reference ranges for interpreting metal concentrations presents challenges. This may be due to variations in sample collection, processing, and laboratory methods. Therefore, the interpretation should consider specific circumstances and potential confounding factors.

Conclusion

Overall, the hair test is a valuable tool in determining various aspects of individual health and well-being. Foremost, the testing method is common to detect drugs and alcohol. Organisations often use the assessment to monitor the substance use of individuals over a period of time. Accordingly, it detects substances like cannabis, cocaine, opioids, prescription medications, and ethanol. Hence, experts can gather information about the long-term habits of a person and make recommendations for improvement.

Furthermore, the testing of hair is beneficial for analysing DNA. This involves extracting and analysing hair for genetic material. Nevertheless, the form of testing allows for the identification of genetic profiles. Hair DNA testing is beneficial in forensic investigation and paternity testing. Also, the method of testing is valuable for analysing metal toxins. This identifies the exposure of individuals to various metals. Hence, it may reveal the concentration of metals like mercury, arsenic, and cadmium.

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