Employers Turn To Hair Follicle Testing For Cannabis Use

Drug testing can take many forms. Many times, cannabis users are subjected to saliva or urine test to test the level of the drug in the body. However, there are many ways in which cannabis and other drugs can be tested.

Workplaces can test the blood for drugs, they can use hair follicle testing – which can be taken from the head or the body, and even perspiration tests to determine whether a particular drug is in the body system.

However, it is important to note that these tests do not test for impairment which is a contentious issue in many North American cities. With the imminent legalization of cannabis in Canada, the country is trying to identify ways in which impairment can be tested by law enforcement authorities, but none such test thus far has been discovered.

So far, employers do drug testing to ensure workplace safety and health hazards. Drug use can negatively impact workplace morale and productivity, but it can also increase company spending through short-term disability claims and other health care expenses.

Hair follicle drug testing can check for a variety of drugs such as amphetamines, ecstasy, cocaine, phencyclidine (PCP), and opioids. These drugs are very easily excreted from the body, with many solutes dispersed from the body within 72 hours.

Why many employers gravitate towards hair follicle testing is because, unlike urine drug screens which check for substance use within the past few days, hair follicle testing can check for drug use within the past ninety days. Some samples, especially ones taken closer to the hair scalp can even provide results from several months.

How the test is performed

Follicle testing must be sent to a laboratory, however, the test itself can be done in a hospital setting on in the workplace itself with a lab kit and then sent to the laboratory for analysis.

Hair dye, washing the hair, and styling products will not affect test accuracy. If there is little hair for collection on the head, then body hair may be used – around 300 or 1.5 inches of hair for accuracy of the test. Usually strands from hair brushes will not be considered valid due to legal reasons.

A negative test is determined within 24 hours of taking the test. An enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) is used to screen for drugs. A positive result is determined after 72 hours of taking the test. Usually, any test that is not negative are subjected to an additional test which specifies which drug was used.

An inconclusive test can be resulted if proper collection of the follicle was not taken. The test may be repeated to ensure a more conclusive result.

It is to be noted that some prescription medication may result in a false-positive, so it is advisable for patients to let their employers or test technician to know of their prescription medications before undergoing the test.

For many medical cannabis users, this test can potentially pose a problem. While tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is thought to be the psychoactive component of cannabis, cannabidiol (CBD) is used therapeutically due to its non-psychoactive effects.

Even THCA, a non-psychoactive precursor to THC, has been used medically by many patients for treatment of their conditions. When it comes to these two compounds, which generally do not cause impairment, the hair follicle test can still show a positive result. The test may not be as sensitive to the different variations in strains of cannabis.

Taking all these into consideration, those using cannabis – either medically or recreationally – should be aware of their workplace policies surrounding drug use. It is highly recommended for patients using cannabis medically to be straightforward with their employers regarding their prescription and to provide proper medical documentation supporting their diagnoses and treatment. Knowing one’s rights is essential.