What is a hair follicle drug test?

Tim Rosenberger Tim Rosenberger

March 23, 2022

Also known as a hair drug test, a hair follicle drug test screens for illicit drug use or the misuse of prescription medications. The hair sample can also be analyzed for any signs of drugs used during a timeline of 90 days preceding the test. Typically, the test can check for a specific drug or for different drugs or drug classes. That includes:

  • Marijuana
  • Cocaine
  • Amphetamine such as methamphetamine, MDEA (eve) and MDMA (ecstasy)
  • Phencyclidine (PCP)
  • Opiates including heroine, morphine, codeine, or 6-acetylmorphine

Worried about that upcoming hair drug test? Worry no more- read on to learn why it is being carried out, how accurate is it, and how you can pass the hair follicle drug test.

Why is the hair follicle drug test carried out?

A person might be required to undergo the drug testing for:

Employment– some organizations require potential employees to take the drug test as a part of your application process especially for jobs that pose high risk of injury. Employers can also carry out random drug testing for current employees or might request them following a severe incident or accident.

However, drug testing laws vary from one state to another. Some states forbid employers for testing their employees on a random basis. In such states, the employer has to provide evidence to support their decision to test an employee.

Legal purposes– courts can request drug testing for individuals on probation or during child adoption, custody, or domestic violence cases.

Medical purposes- healthcare providers can require drug testing for people at risk of alcohol misuse. This testing is used to monitor drug use in those at-risk individuals.

Essential note- drug testing typically requires an individual’s written consent.

How do drugs end up in the hair?

Typically, the body reacts with drugs in a complex way and the metabolic products will end up scattered in different systems of the body. While the metabolites stay in the bloodstream for a short time, they can remain in the hair for a longer time.

Usually, the metabolites bind to the sheath of the tissue and cells surrounding the hair root. That initially occurs underneath the scalp surface and eventually the metabolites become incorporated into the follicle and later the strand itself. After about 5-10 days, the drug-infused hair pops out of your head.

Why are testers turning to hair follicle drug test?

So why are institutions opting for the hair follicle drug test over other methods?

  • Unlike urine that is prone to adulteration, it is challenging to tamper with the hair sample by putting anything in or on the sample while it is in the specimen collection area
  • You cannot drink or eat anything that will dilute the hair sample
  • It is impossible to replace your hair with someone else’s hair
  • The test can detect longer history of drug abuse for up to 90 days prior to the testing day
  • It gives more precise and accurate results

How does a hair follicle drug test work?

The hair follicle test is a simple, non-intrusive process. It can be conducted in a lab or hospital setting. Your workplace can also perform the test using a kit that is then mailed to a lab.

Since the collector need 100 to 120 hairs from the crown of your head, hair samples are collected from several locations on the head so as to avoid creating a bald spot.

The standard hair sample is 1.5 inches from the scalp. That is based on the idea that head grows on average rate of half an inch per month. Thus, 1.5 inch length will give results over a period of three months.

If the head hair is too short, the collector can use body hair. But body hair is worse because it represents a time frame of about one year due to the different growth pattern that occurs in the hair below the neck.

The sample collected is washed and tested for environmental contamination that might impact the result of the test. But, the results aren’t affected if you wash, dye, or use styling products. The hair then undergoes two-step process to ensure accurate test results.

Step1: that involves a rapid screening method known as the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA).

Step 2: the chromatographic testing is done in all nonnegative ELISA results to rule out false positives.

Understanding your results for the hair follicle drug test

The lab responsible for testing will deliver the results confidentially usually using secure means like fax, phone calls or an online interface. The results can be:

Negative– this result can be determined within 24 hours after collection of sample. It indicates that the lab did not detect the presence of drug metabolites in your hair sample. It shows that you haven’t engaged in drug use over the last 90 days.

Positive– any sample that produces a positive result for the ELISA testing will have to undergo a second test called the gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS). A positive GC/MS confirms that your sample has drug metabolites. This test also identifies the specific drugs you have used.

Inconclusive– if the hair sample is contaminated or anything goes wrong during testing; the lab might declare the results as inconclusive. In such cases, you may need to provide another hair sample to the lab.

Tip- If you are currently taking prescription medicines, you should share the information with the employer or test administrator. That is because; the hair tests can detect the presence of some prescription medications that can lead to false-positive results.

How accurate is the hair follicle drug test?

The sample collection and testing of hair follows a very precise set of standards to enhance its accuracy. Even so, some factors can affect the concentration of the metabolites present in the hair sample, including:

  • The structure of drug compounds
  • How profuse a person sweats
  • The quantity of drugs a person has consumed
  • The amount of melanin in your hair- some drugs bind more readily to melanin (the dark hair pigment)

So, is the hair drug test always accurate?

While hair follicle drug test is considered one of the most accurate tests, it is not 100 percent accurate. One study carried out in 2017 found inconsistency between self-reporting of drug use from 3643 participants and the results of their hair drug tests. The research showed that the test results gave fewer false positives and more false negatives.

Another 2015 research examined the effectiveness of hair follicle drug tests. The researchers compared self-reporting with hair follicle drug test results from 360 adults. According to the results of this study, the testing identified correctly:

  • 65.2 percent of people who reported cocaine use
  • 52.3 percent of people who reported marijuana use
  • 24.2 percent of people who reported amphetamine use
  • 2.9 percent of people who reported opioid use

The kinds of research show inconsistency and so if you believe your drug test result is inaccurate, you can immediately request for a retest.

How to pass the hair drug follicle drug test

Many people panic when they find out they will be facing the hair follicle drug test. However, even the most frequent drug users can beat the test with the right method. Here is how to pass the hair strand drug test:

The Macujo Method

The Macujo is a seven step cleaning procedure that entails:

  1. Stop using the drugs immediately
  2. Dampen your hair with warm water
  3. Apply Heinz Vinegar in the scalp
  4. Massage a Clear and Clean into the vinegar/water mixture in your hair
  5. Cover with a shower cap and leave it for 30 minutes
  6. Wash the mixture out of your hair using the old-style Aloe Rid Shampoo
  7. Finally, wash the hair using Tide Liquid Laundry detergent. Be wary of this step as the detergent should never come into contact with the eyes.

To get clean results, you should repeat the Macujo procedure for seven times. Besides, its effectiveness, you can easily do this at home. You can purchase the required items at the local supermarket.

The Jerry G method

This is an 8-step method that will essentially change your hair. It entails exposing your hair to chemicals that will alter its makeup and texture. For the method to work, you will have to stop marijuana use for at least 10 days before the test. That offers you time to transform the hair.

First you need to bleach the hair and then dye it back using hair dye that contains ammonia. Ensure that you use a permanent dye. To avoid any suspicion, you should dye the hair a shade that is very close to your natural color.

Wash it thoroughly using the Toxin Rid shampoo and dry using a towel. Do not use a blow dryer as the hair cannot handle heat at this stage. Repeat the process for 10 days and on the test day, wash the hair using a baking soda paste and rinse it with Toxin Rid shampoo followed by the Ultra Clean Shampoo.

Note- While the Jerry G method is cheap; the chemicals used can completely damage your hair and cause skin irritations.

Tricks That Won’t Help You Pass a Hair Follicle Drug Test

You may come across hocus-pocus products and tricks promising to mask the drug metabolites and thereby help you beat the test. But, in end you may end up losing money and miss the opportunity for that potential job. Here are some of the most common urban legends that you should be wary of and why they never work:

Shaving hair– showing up with a clean shaved head may seem so clever to you. But it only makes you suspicious especially if you are not known to maintain a closely-shaven scalp. Besides, hair samples can come from anywhere in your body including the face or armpit. You may decide to get smart and wax every part of the body, but in such cases the lab can report that they were unable to test you for lack of hair. The institution may request another type of test or count it as a fail (most organizations take the latter option).

hair follicle drug test 7

Natural detoxing– dieting and exercising can help in passing virtually all the other types of tests including urine, saliva, and blood. But it will not help when it comes to the hair drug test. That is because, the drug metabolites are trapped in the follicle where they can remain trapped for as long as you have the hair on you.

Vinegar– this is one of the most renowned home remedies for cleaning hair follicles. But that is just what it does. While vinegar is an essential part of the Macujo method, it only unclogs pores and loosens buildup from styling products, oil, and dead cells. What you require is an ingredient that can infiltrate the shaft and remove the drug metabolites.

Baking soda– the hyped method of passing the hair drug test using baking soda entails mixing the baking soda, olive oil, and cinnamon powder. When applied to the scalp, the mixture can be effective at eliminating residuals from hair care products and chemicals and opening the pores on the scalp. But, it doesn’t change the hair itself where the metabolites are trapped.

Lemon juice– freshly squeezed lemon juice is full of Vitamin C that can stimulate re-growth of dormant hair follicles. It also contains antifungal properties that can help maintain your scalp health. However, it doesn’t impact (positive or negative) on the components making up your hair strands.

Bottom Line

The hair follicle drug test is the fastest growing method of screening in the US. More and more corporates are turning to hair follicle as a complementary approach to traditional testing. The hair follicle drug tests can identify drug use for up to the last 90 days. That is because, the chemicals from the drug that end up in the bloodstream can become part of the hair cells as the hair grows.

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