Analyzing Hair Drug Tests: Understanding Turnaround Time for Accurate Results

Ron Kilgarlin

July 18, 2023

In recent years, hair drug tests have gained popularity as a reliable method for detecting drug use. Unlike urine or saliva tests, hair tests provide a longer detection window, making them ideal for detecting substance abuse over an extended period. However, individuals and employers often wonder about the turnaround time for hair drug tests. In this article, we will explore the process of hair drug testing and delve into the factors that influence the turnaround time for accurate results.

Understanding Hair Drug Testing:

Hair drug testing involves analyzing a small sample of hair to detect the presence of drugs or their metabolites. When drugs are consumed, they enter the bloodstream and are eventually incorporated into the hair follicles. As hair grows, it preserves a record of drug use, making it an excellent medium for testing purposes.

Sample Collection and Processing:

To conduct a hair drug test, a trained professional collects a sample of hair from the scalp or other body regions. Typically, a 1.5-inch strand, representing approximately 90 days of drug use history, is sufficient for analysis. The hair sample is then sent to a laboratory where specialized techniques are employed to extract and analyze the drugs or their metabolites.

Factors Influencing Turnaround Time:

Laboratory Processing Time:

The primary factor that affects the turnaround time for hair drug tests is the processing time at the laboratory. Once the hair sample reaches the lab, it undergoes several stages of testing, including sample preparation, extraction, screening, and confirmation. The complexity of these procedures, coupled with the lab’s workload, can influence the overall processing time. On average, it takes about 24 to 72 hours for the laboratory to complete the analysis.

Testing Method:

The choice of testing method can also impact the turnaround time for hair drug tests. The two common techniques used are enzyme immunoassay (EIA) screening and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) confirmation. EIA screening provides quick results but may produce false positives or false negatives. To confirm the presence of drugs, positive EIA results are subjected to GC-MS analysis, which is a more time-consuming process. Depending on the testing method employed, the turnaround time can vary.

Type of Drugs Tested:

The specific drugs being tested for can affect the overall turnaround time. Some substances may require additional steps or specialized testing procedures, leading to longer processing times. For instance, detecting marijuana in hair samples can be more time-consuming due to the need for additional steps, such as extraction and derivatization, to ensure accurate results.

Shipping and Logistics:

The transit time for the hair sample from the collection site to the laboratory is another factor to consider. Delays in shipping or logistical issues can prolong the turnaround time. It is crucial to choose a reliable courier service that specializes in handling sensitive materials like hair samples to minimize transit delays.

Volume of Testing:

The volume of testing being conducted by the laboratory can significantly impact the turnaround time. If the laboratory is handling a large number of hair samples, it may take longer to process each one, resulting in increased turnaround times. Opting for a reputable laboratory with adequate resources can help mitigate delays due to high testing volumes.

When considering hair drug testing, it is essential to understand the factors that influence the turnaround time for accurate results. The laboratory’s processing time, testing method, type of drugs being tested, shipping and logistics, and volume of testing all play a role in determining how long it takes to receive the test results. By choosing a reputable laboratory, ensuring proper sample collection and shipping, and understanding the testing process, individuals and employers can better manage their expectations regarding turnaround time. Ultimately, hair drug tests provide a reliable method for detecting substance abuse and maintaining a safe and drug-free environment.