Hair Drug Test Vs Urine Drug Test

Drug test candidates don't usually get to choose between a hair drug test vs a urine drug test, so know what you can expect and what you can rely on.


Drug testing is a practice that is not as remote to average people as it once was. 

There has been a steady increase in standardized drug screening in workplaces, schools, and athletic associations. With increasing legalization and access to prescription medication, drug screening may be a very real possibility for most people in the near future. 

Typically, when we think of drug testing, we think of a urine test. Pop culture is filled with movies and TV shows where characters seek "clean" urine so they can pass the test they need to stay on the team, get into the school, or keep their job. But, as drug abuse becomes more common and varied (think of the variety of prescriptions drugs that have become commonly abused), hair tests have gained in popularity for accurate and quick drug testing. What is the difference between the two? 

Testing urine for drugs

Urine-based drug testing is the most common and relied-on test for drug screening in most situations. Urine tests are typically administered by employers, schools, or sports teams that are trying to rule out drug abuse among their group. Urine testing is cost effective, and can even be conducted on-site when needed. More commonly, urine is sent out to labs for testing, and is less expensive than blood work. 

Urine-based testing works to detect whether a drug is in someone's system, but is not a good test for finding out when the drug was taken. Some substances will be detectable in urine for up to three weeks. Because of this, urine-based drug testing is best-used for screenings that aren't specific, simply to identify whether a drug has been consumed recently. 

The practice of relying on urine has come into question in the last decade for two reasons. First, urine tests may miss the presence of drugs if ingestion was not very recent. Second, there have been an alarmingly high number of false-positives reported as a result of urine testing, and as a result, more and more hair testing will be conducted. 

Urine testing can and still is used as an effective drug test, depending on the reason for screening. It can be a cost-effective method of finding the presence of a drug, and works when a simple yes or no is needed about recent drug consumption. 

Because of these issues, hair-testing has gained in popularity in the past few years. If you are administering or being subjected to a drug test, and are concerned about the accuracy of the results, you might want to consider hair or even blood testing as a backup result. 

Testing hair for drugs

Testing hair for drug screening purposes has become increasingly common in the past few years. Hair testing provides much more reliable and accurate results than testing urine, and drugs are detectable for a much longer period of time. 

Those undergoing the drug-testing are not usually in favor of hair testing. The test requires the removal of 80 to 120 strands of hair, which can be a significant chunk. Generally, hair from the scalp is tested, but body hair of any kind can also be used (and will actually show the presence of a drug for much longer than hair from the scalp). While some people have attempted to shave their head to pass this test, the reliability of body hair makes this impossible. 

Hair testing can show the presence of drugs in the system for weeks or months at a time, much longer than any other form of testing. As a result, this test is the best choice when accuracy of the results is critical, or when it is absolutely imperative that someone not have drugs in their system, even occasionally. Hair testing is relied on, for example, when someone is in a position of extreme responsibility, and needs to be drug-free at all times, and not just when on duty. With this accuracy comes a price, and hair testing can be more expensive to conduct than urine-based screens. 

Other drug testing

There are a number of other ways that drugs can be detected in someone, though these tests are administered less commonly, it is helpful to be aware of them. 

  • Blood Test: Blood testing is used most commonly to detect if a drug is in someone's system at that time, or if they are intoxicated. This may be done if someone is having a medical emergency. Blood testing is not often used for screening because it is very expensive to administer, and requires specialists and lab equipment. That said, it is a very reliable test for determining if someone is on a drug in the moment
  • Saliva Test: Saliva or oral fluid testing is generally used to detect drug use within recent days. It is most often used to test for alcohol or marijuana use. As marijuana use becomes legalized, many police departments have begun experimenting with roadside swab tests for marijuana intoxication that are similar to breathalyzers 

There are a number of ways that drug screening can be administered, and the most effective test will depend on the drug being used, the time of screening, and how the test is being conducted and interpreted.

There has been heightened concern about drug use of all kinds in many workplaces, schools, and in among sports teams, and drug testing is only going to increase in regularity. You can prepare yourself for this. If you are administering, or about to undergo a drug test, consider doing your research into the strengths and weaknesses of each test, and consider the choice carefully. 

Annie Kiely
Annie Kiely

Annie Kiely is a freelance writer, editor and researcher who lives in the 'burbs of Toronto with her pets and her partner. Annie is an advocate for wellness, mental health education, and literacy. She loves animals and gardening (and food). 

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Hair Drug Test Vs Urine Drug Test