What is hair follicle testing for drugs and alcohol?
(Testing hair (not it’s follicles) for traces of drugs or alcohol)
Hair testing is a process where a sample of hair is taken and tested in a laboratory to determine the history of a person’s drug or alcohol use over a defined period of time. Hair testing may also be called “hair drug testing” or “alcohol hair testing” depending on the circumstance but is most commonly known as “hair follicle testing”. Ironically, the testing process does not involve the hair follicle at all as this would require ripping the hair out by the root. Hair tests are actually done by cutting hair as close to the skin as possible.
Since the term “hair follicle testing” is so prominent that it is almost a convention, even being used by professionals in the field on occasion, we will use this term too.
What can a hair follicle test be used for?
(Many things, but most commonly drug use)
From hair samples you can test for a huge number of substances that have been taken into and processed by the body, not just drugs and alcohol. From vitamins and minerals to toxins, almost everything that goes into the body leaves behind trace markers in the hair as it grows out. And while hair testing is being used in fields like health as well as the detection of poisons, by far the most widely used application for hair testing is to assess in the detection of illicit drugs.
Why is hair follicle testing used?
(It’s accurate, plus long term use and patterns of use can be determined)
Hair testing is used for a number of reasons from it’s accuracy to its unique ability to determine substance use over extensively long time frame (under the right conditions) and even to demonstrate historical patterns of drug use.
Hair testing is accurate
Once substances like alcohol or drugs are consumed, injected or inhaled, they quickly find their way into the bloodstream. From here they are distributed throughout the entire body. This includes the follicles of newly growing hairs. As hairs grow they absorb trace amounts of substance that are present in the body at the time of growth, these substances include drugs, alcohol and their metabolites.
While you may imagine hair testing is just looking for drugs and alcohol trapped within the hair, in reality hair testing often looks for drug metabolites as well. In short, metabolites are the chemical byproducts created as a person’s body processes (or metabolises) a drug. Unique drugs or groups of drugs are broken down into unique metabolites, so finding a drug metabolite trapped within the hair can be just as telling as finding the drug itself.
Hair testing allows you to look into the past (sometimes a long way into the past)
Because hair is always growing it is always recording drug use. The hairs act like mini record keepers and can be used to show drug use from as little as a week up to many years into the past if the hair length permits.
Hair testing can show patterns of use and amounts of use
This is often overlooked but there are times when this unique aspect of hair testing can be incredibly valuable. Hair can not only show when drugs were being used (and to some capacity how much), but it can also show when they weren’t being used. This can be priceless for a person looking to show they have cleaned themselves up, or to demonstrate a person is being deceitful about how much and how often they have been using.
Of course, there are natural limits to how precise timeframes and predicted levels of usage can be. Even so, the predictions that can be made far exceed a simple “yes” a person has or “no” a person hasn’t taken drugs.
How is hair follicle testing done?
(Hair is cut, sent to the lab, processed, and the results are returned)
Hair testing starts with collection
The hair is collected by taking a small sample of hair from a person, generally from their head, by cutting it as close to the scalp as possible. If head hair is not present or of suitable length for collection, body hair may be used instead. This includes collecting facial hair (from men), and body hair (generally from men but sometimes from women).
Since almost all women have head hair and the vast majority of men have either head, face or body hair, most people can be tested easily.
It should be noted that on most occasions collection of head hair, when taken by an experienced collector, who takes their time, is skillful in their technique, and makes the effort to collect the hair in a way as to avoid its removal being obvious, can be collected so that the missing hair is unnoticeable. While the correct amount of hair must be taken to perform the test, minimising any obvious signs of missing hair on a person’s head should be a top priority for any professional.
Hair is then sent to a lab
After the hair is removed from a person’s head it will be wrapped, recorded, and packaged following a strict set of procedures. It is then sent to a lab to undergo scientific testing.
Hair is tested under laboratory conditions following a standard practice
Once the lab has the sample they will follow a precise protocol, taking the original sample, cleaning it, and then testing it. Many steps are involved and each lab may do things slightly different but all labs will comply to some kind of standard. Generally standards are set out by the government or a governing body and outlining what they believe to be an acceptably rigorous hair testing practice, what type of tests are acceptable to use, and what cutoff levels will define drug use and non-use.
Testing periods of time
Testing varies depending on what information is sought. Commonly hair is tested for drug use over the most recent 3-month period but time frames may be shorter or longer. Individual tests might be done for each month in a 3-month period, giving the results for usage in each month. Or 2 or more 3-month periods may be tested showing drug use in 3-month blocks back into the past over an extended period of time. It all depends on what the testing is being done for and the money that is able to be spent.
As a rule, the more individual tests that are done, the more man hours are required, and the more time using expensive testing machinery is required. Thus more tests equal more costs.
Amounts of drug use, positives and negative results
The amount of drugs or their metabolites found in a sample are often given in the results, especially when a “Positive” result is returned. Some labs will give an interpretation of what different levels mean, others won’t. Some will report advanced findings, for example, “the results are indicative of concurrent alcohol and Cocaine use…” and others won’t. However all labs will report a “Positive” or “Negative” result in reference to a predetermined cutoff level.
A “Negative” result means that no drugs were detected in amounts that meet or exceed the cutoff. A “Positive” result means that drugs were detected in an amount that meets or exceeds the cutoff. As mentioned earlier, cutoff levels are generally defined by the government or a governing body and are the point where the result moves from assumed non-drug use to assumed use.
Equipment used to test hair
While each lab will have different equipment, the piece of equipment most commonly used for the detection of drugs and their metabolites is a Mass Spectrometer. Different types exist but they all work in similar ways, by separating a sample into individual molecules and detecting how much of each specific molecule exists in a sample. When the lab finds molecules that are indicative of drug use (like drugs or their metabolites) they then determine if the amount found is above or below the cutoff and return the results.
Mobile Drug and DNA
(Local, experienced, and customer focused as well as the cheapest, fastest & best)
Who we are
Mobile Drug and DNA is a nationally certified company based in South Australia and we have been performing drug and DNA testing and collection since 2012. All hair follicle testing through our company is processed at one of the world’s top laboratories, the same laboratory used by the FBI and many other high profile organisations.
What we do
We have the ability to test for alcohol use as well as a wide number of drugs. Standard drugs like Marijuana, Amphetamines (Meth, MDMA etc.), Opiates (Morphine, prescription pain killers etc), Cocaine and PCP can all be tested in a single standard test. There is also a host of others like Benzodiazepines (Diazepam, prescription medications, etc.), Dexamphetamine, Synthetic Cannabinoids, Fentanyl, and Tobacco that can be tested if desired.
Why are we the best:
We care about our clients not their results
Whether a client returns a positive or negative result is of no interest to us. Nor is their lifestyle, their house, or their job. Infact, the only thing we care about (beyond making sure test samples are collected correctly) is how the client feels. Why?
Because we are aware that drug testing can make people feel stressed, afraid, ashamed, embarrassed and humiliated. Often people being tested are going through some rough times anyway. Maybe they are splitting from a partner, or fighting for their kids, or dealing with the courts, or trying to get a new job. The last thing they need is to feel looked down upon, humiliated, worried about a test result, or concerned that their medication might show up and cause problems.
Our testers are all friendly well trained “people” people. We encourage people to ask questions and put their mind at ease letting them know that their conversations with us, like their results, are private. We can’t change the test results, but we can change the way our clients feel before, during, and after the test and for us as a company, that’s the most important thing.
We care about our clients dignity
Let’s talk about the hair sampling process itself. Our priority is to ensure any hair taken is not noticeable (especially on the head and face). We have seen the result of poorly trained and uncaring collectors, and leaving obvious bald patches on a person’s head is not acceptable.
Anonymity is important
Our mobile services arrives in a standard car so as to not arouse any suspicion. No advertising on the car, no climbing into the back of a big van, no walking into a testing center. It’s as simple as having someone come to your house, knock on your door and walk in, just like a friend might do.
Flexibility is important
While most clients prefer to have us come to their home, we can go to a person’s workplace or meet them elsewhere too. Whatever suits them, we can generally make it happen.
After hours and weekend service
We work after hours and weekends to help people who struggle because of their job or other commitments. We know for some people it’s hard to find free time between 9 and 5 weekdays.
Local company with a world class reputation
We are one of the most highly regarded testing organisations in Adelaide and in South Australia. We have tested thousands of client and each week we work with everyone from individuals to top law firms, from small businesses to large government organisations.
Lab reports are easy to understand
The lab results are sent back with simple explanations so the results can be understood easily. Lawyers love our lab, clients love our lab, and we love our lab for this.
Fastest, cheapest and the best
We have the fastest turnaround time from collection to results and because we come to you and don’t pay for an expensive commercial space we have some of the lowest rates anywhere!