Saliva Drug Test: What It Is, How It Works, and Understanding the Results
07 November, 2023
A saliva drug test is a method of detecting the presence of illegal drugs through oral fluid samples. It involves collecting a sample of saliva and testing it using a chemical process to detect the presence of various drugs. It can give the results within minutes, making it the preferred method of law enforcement agencies and companies. The results can be negative, which is the absence of substances, or non-negative, which detects one or more drugs.
Saliva testing is used in many settings. It is becoming a sought-after method due to its convenience and efficiency. Organisations may use it as an alternative to urine tests if individuals cannot produce a urine sample. Likewise, it is more cost-efficient than laboratory procedures. Rapid test kits are also available for personal use. This article will cover what saliva testing is about, how it works, and understanding the results.
What is a Saliva Drug Test
A saliva drug test, also known as an oral fluid test, is a screening process to determine if a person has drugs in their system. The test usually uses a swab stick to collect a saliva sample from the mouth. This method is less invasive than other types, such as a blood test. This makes it a convenient and comfortable option for the person undergoing the procedure.
One of the main advantages of saliva testing is that it does not have privacy issues. It can be done in plain view, and the test administrator can directly collect the samples. Additionally, saliva samples are readily available. Moreover, it can deliver the results within five minutes, making it suitable for on-the-spot testing.
However, it is important to note that this test has several limitations. Factors like the type of drugs being tested for, the sensitivity of the test kit, and the collection process can impact the accuracy. In particular, saliva tests can detect limited substances than urine screening. Likewise, it has a short detection window.
Substances that Can Be Detected
A mouth swab test can detect multiple drug types depending on the number of panels. Typically, it tests for the commonly abused drugs, such as:
- Amphetamines – a type of stimulant drug that increases alertness and energy. It includes methamphetamines and ecstasy.
- Marijuana or cannabis – a psychoactive drug that affects memory, coordination, and mood.
- Cocaine – a powerful stimulant often used for its euphoric effects. The abuse of cocaine can lead to depressive disorders and other mental health issues.
- Opiates – a class of narcotic pain relieves that can be extremely addictive and dangerous in large amounts.
- Alcohol – the depressant substance in alcoholic beverages.
How a Saliva Drug Test Works
A saliva drug test using enzymatic assays. When a person consumes alcohol or drugs, the body breaks it down into metabolites. These compounds enter the bloodstream and into the salivary glands. This process takes within minutes to hours to show up in saliva samples. However, it would depend on the type of drug, dosage, and the metabolism of an individual.
The drug test kit includes a collection swab and a testing device. The test administrator inserts the collection stick inside the mouth of a person and dabs it to obtain a sample. It is then transferred to the test device and left for several minutes. The test kit contains a reagent that reacts to the presence of drug metabolites.
Upon saturation, the swab stick will change colour or show a number of lines if it detects alcohol or illicit drugs. For laboratory testing, the collector will send the specimens to a facility for analysis. Furthermore, other collection procedures include spitting into a container or placing a collector pad under the tongue.
Detection Times for Illicit Substances
The drug detection times in saliva tests vary for each type. Generally, it can trace drug use within a few hours to a few days. For marijuana, it can show up in saliva as soon as 2 to 24 hours from the last use. However, drug testing kits can trace THC for up to 72 hours for heavy or chronic users.
Other drugs, such as cocaine, amphetamines, and opioids, are detectable in saliva for up to 24-48 hours. On the other, alcohol can stay in saliva for up to 12 hours. The short window of detection makes it suitable for determining recent use.
Understanding the Results and Cut-off Levels of a Saliva Drug Test
The saliva drug test results can either be negative or non-negative. A negative result signifies the absence of common drugs of abuse. Meanwhile, a non-negative result indicates the presence of substances. In case of a non-negative result, it is necessary to send the samples to a laboratory for further analysis.
Depending on the type of testing kit, it will either show a change in colours or a number of lines. Users compare the colours based on the chart in the test kit to determine the detected substance. Moreover, the results of the drug test kits depend on the cut-off level. It refers to the minimum concentration of a particular substance to trigger a non-negative result.
The cut-off thresholds differ based on the type of drug and manufacturer of the drug testing kit. In addition, the test kit can detect potential abuse of prescription drugs. Typically, it has a higher cut-off level than illicit substances. Thus, it is vital to check these factors when selecting a testing method or equipment.
Factors that May Influence the Results
Several factors may impact the results of oral fluid testing. These include the frequency and amount of drug use. The detection time of drugs in chronic users tends to be longer than one-off or occasional use. Additionally, medications can interfere with the tests. OTC or prescription drugs may cause false non-negatives.
Another factor to consider is the storage and handling of the sample. It is essential to follow the instructions in the kit for a reliable outcome. Furthermore, other aspects to keep in mind are the time elapsed since drug use, the sensitivity of the device, and dry mouth in individuals.
The saliva drug test is a cost-effective and convenient solution for the detection of drugs. It is non-invasive and can trace substances up to 24 to 48 hours from the last use. Hence, it is efficient for confirming recent use or impairment. In addition, it can give rapid results in minutes. This makes it efficient for roadside or workplace drug testing, especially in post-incident or reasonable suspicion situations. Sample collection is also easier compared to blood or urine tests.
The test kit contains a swab stick and an immunoassay solution. A testing device will change colours if it detects a particular substance. However, the accuracy and reliability of the test depends on several factors. It includes the detection times, the type of drugs, medication, and handling of the samples. Substances that reach the cut-off trigger a non-negative result. Thus, it is advisable to undergo confirmatory laboratory testing to verify the result.