urine, saliva or hair…oh my!

When it comes to drug testing choices, the most common specimen types are urine, saliva or hair follicle testing.  The differences in costs,  the ability to cheat the test as well as the window of detection of various drugs vary depending on the specimen type tested.  Depending on the reason for the drug testing, it is important to understand these differences when choosing a drug test for your particular needs.

urine specimens

The most popular, cost effective and widely available drug test is the urine drug screen. Urine specimen testing can be completed via rapid testing or laboratory testing. Urine testing allows for the largest number of drugs to be tested. When choosing a rapid test, it is imperative to have any presumptive positive results confirmed by a laboratory before taking any kind of action.  Laboratory testing is the gold standard when it comes to drug testing and provides the most accurate and scientifically valid results, period. 


Drug detection times for urine specimens are fairly short – most drugs only being detectable for 2-3 days. THC, the metabolite found in marijuana can be detected for a longer period (up to 30+ days) depending on the frequency of use of the substance.


The ability to adulterate or cheat a urine drug test is moderate in comparison to other options. Given the short window of detection, a user may be able to refrain from use for a few days prior to an anticipated drug test like a pre-employment drug test. As a result, they may be able to pass the test giving the appearance of a drug free lifestyle.  Where most urine collections are conducted in private and not observed, the opportunity to adulterate or substitute the specimen is always a possibility.

saliva specimens

Saliva drug testing is often a little more expensive than urine testing in that it is not as widely used at this time. It is, however, growing in popularity as an option for testing. Saliva testing can be completed using rapid tests or laboratory testing. Unlike urine rapid tests, saliva rapid testing is not as effective or accurate in drug detection or use. WE DO NOT RECOMMEND RAPID TESTING FOR SALIVA SPECIMENS. Laboratory testing of saliva specimens is far more accurate and scientifically valid in terms of results.


Drug detection times for saliva are actually shorter than urine testing for all drugs, including THC. Saliva is the only specimen type that can detect from immediate usage up to 3 days, depending on the drug.


The ability to cheat or adulterate a saliva specimen is very difficult as the entire collection process is observed by the collector. This eliminates the opportunity for the donor of the specimen to provide someone else’s specimen or to try and adulterate the specimen in other ways.


Hair follicle testing is more expensive than urine testing or saliva testing – and for good reason. Hair follicle testing can only be completed via laboratory testing and provides many benefits above and beyond urine or saliva.  Some companies and attorneys prefer hair follicle testing by itself or in combination with urine or saliva testing.


The detection window for hair testing is much larger than urine or saliva, however detection of drug use can only be detected approximately two weeks after the last usage. For this reason, hair follicle testing in not a good option if looking to detect recent usage of drugs.  Detection of drug use can be detected up to 90 days or more depending on the length of hair being tested.


The ability to cheat or adulterate a hair follicle test is very difficult as the collection is an observed collection by a collector. This eliminates the ability to use someone else’s specimen or to adulterate the specimen in other ways.  The use of bleach or harsh chemicals may affect or mask the drug test results for some types of drugs, but not all.


When deciding on which drug test to use, consider the potential drug use time frame you are concerned with (recent or long term) as well as the ability for the donor to be able to cheat or adulterate the specimen.  Consideration for the specific drug(s) of concern may also play a factor. Not all specimen types can test for all drugs. 

Urine testing provides  the most affordable option as well as the widest availability of drugs that can be tested. To combat concerns of cheating a urine test, an observed collection may be an option. 

If privacy concerns are a factor, saliva and hair follicle specimens provide observed collections by default and offer more accurate results for the short and long term.

The most important consideration is to have a certified collector performing specimen collections and use an approved and certified laboratory to test  all specimens.





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