The science and secrets behind drug testing

The science and secrets behind drug testing

The science and secrets behind drug testing

In Italy, as in many countries, driving under the influence of drugs, including cannabis, is taken very seriously due to the risks it poses to road safety.

Last June, the council of ministers discussed a bill to reform the road code consisting of eighteen articles. Goals include creating safer roads, safeguarding vulnerable users such as cyclists and motorcyclists, simplifying regulations and providing guidelines for emerging forms of mobility. In particular, Minister Matteo Salvini has promised a zero-tolerance approach to impaired driving, particularly by targeting repeat offenders.

The proposed changes in drug law suggest a significant shift in how cases will be prosecuted. In this scenario, a positive result in a saliva test conducted during a road stop would be enough to trigger an immediate suspension of the license, followed by the subsequent revocation and the ban on obtaining a new license for three years. This potential law change would also mean that people who drive days after using the drug could face legal consequences. The new approach would eliminate the need to prove impairment and would rely solely on the positive test result.

While waiting to find out whether or not this proposal will be approved, we want to inform you about the methods and science behind the tests that identify the presence of narcotic substances in our body, in particular those used to find cannabis and cannabinoids.

Drug tests detect the presence of specific compounds or their metabolites in body fluids, such as urine, blood, saliva and hair. When it comes to cannabis, the target compound is mainly delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and its metabolites, especially THC-COOH. The purpose of the tests is to determine if someone has recently consumed cannabis or if metabolites from past use are present, mainly aiming to trace the THC in the body of those who undergo such a test.

While the immediate effects of THC diminish rapidly, trace amounts of THC and other cannabinoids can remain within the body well beyond the last use. How long THC stays in the human body depends on several variables, including method of consumption, frequency of use, and the specific type of testing performed. In subsequent sections, we'll delve into the key factors that shape how long THC stays in the body, along with strategies for facilitating its elimination.

Cannabis can be found in the body through various methods, each with its own detection window and sensitivity. Here are the most common types of drug tests used for this purpose:

Urine test

Urinalysis is the most common method of detecting cannabis use, popular due to its convenience and speed. These drug tests look for and detect the presence of THC-COOH, a metabolite of THC, which is stored in fat cells and slowly eliminated in urine. Detection windows for THC in urine vary from a few days to several weeks after ingesting cannabis, depending on consumption habits and individual factors such as frequency of use, metabolism, and amounts of body fat.

Blood analysis

Blood tests measure the presence of THC in the blood, providing a more immediate indicator of recent cannabis use. THC is rapidly metabolized and may remain detectable in the blood for a short time, usually a few hours to a day after use.

Saliva tests

Saliva tests, or oral fluid tests, are becoming increasingly popular for detecting recent cannabis use. Detection times of cannabis in saliva are relatively short compared to other methods such as urine or hair tests. For casual users, it typically takes about three days for all traces of THC to dissipate. Conversely, for a regular cannabis user this time frame could extend up to about a month. These tests are often used during road stops to determine whether drivers have recently used cannabis.

Hair test

Hair tests have a longer detection window than urine, blood or saliva tests. With this type of test the THC present in our body is deposited in the hair follicles and can be detected up to about 90 days after use, facilitated by extraordinarily sensitive laboratory equipment. While more expensive than alternative screening methods, these tests are predominantly employed by institutions or law enforcement agencies to authenticate a broader historical usage history.

Detection factors

Several key factors influence the detectability of cannabis in tests. 

First, the frequency and quantity of cannabis use play a crucial role. Habitual use of marijuana can lead to the buildup of cannabinoids in the body, prolonging the time they can be detected. 

Also, the potency of the cannabis product intended for consumption matters; high power products may result in extended detection periods.

The method of consumption also affects detection. Inhalation methods such as smoking and vaping generally lead to shorter windows of detection than edible consumption due to the rapid uptake of cannabinoids when inhaled.

Individual metabolism is another significant factor to take into consideration. People with slower metabolisms may process cannabinoids more slowly, leading to longer detection times. Also, an individual's body fat percentage can affect detectability. Cannabis compounds are fat-soluble and can be stored in fat cells, resulting in a longer detection window for individuals with higher body fat percentages.

In summary, detectability of cannabis is affected by frequency of use, product potency, method of consumption, metabolism, and body fat percentage. Understanding these factors is crucial for people who need to get tested and want to manage their cannabis use accordingly.

How to excrete cannabinoids before a test

To help your body clear cannabinoids before a drug test there are several steps that can be taken. First of all, it is essential to drink plenty of water to help eliminate toxins, including cannabinoids. However, it's important to be careful not to overhydrate, as consuming too much water can lead to water intoxication.

Another tip to follow is to ingest nutritious foods to support your metabolism and overall health. Focus on fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains. Since cannabinoids are stored in fat cells, opting for low-fat foods can reduce the risk of storing more cannabinoids.

Engaging in regular physical activity can boost your metabolism and aid in the elimination of cannabinoids. Cardiovascular exercises such as running, cycling or swimming are particularly effective.

Even saunas or hot baths can help you expel toxins, promoting perspiration and activating the elimination process through it.

Some herbs, such as dandelion, fennel, and horsetail have diuretic properties that can aid in detoxification. Taken in herbal tea or as supplements they can help dispose of THC and other cannabinoids.

While these steps could potentially help your body reduce THC levels and eliminate cannabinoids faster, there is no fully effective method to guarantee their complete removal in a short amount of time or to successfully evade a test. Always approach drug testing situations with honesty and awareness of potential results.

Is CBD detectable in tests?

As for the CBD (cannabidiol), present in legal cannabis, there is currently no standardized method for measuring its levels within the body. Most tests focus primarily on detecting THC, and CBD itself does not usually show up in typical drug tests, as it does not produce the same mind-altering effects as THC.

However, there is a caveat: some CBD products may contain percentages of THC, especially if they are derived from full-spectrum extracts. While these amounts are typically very small, they may be enough to generate a positive result in particularly sensitive drug tests. CBD isolate products, on the other hand, contain negligible amounts of THC and are less likely to show up in tests.


In a world where drug testing exists in a variety of scenarios, understanding the intricacies of cannabis detection is more important than ever. The different tests, from urine to hair, along with the methods they employ, shed light on an individual's history of cannabis use. As factors such as frequency, power and metabolism interact to influence windows of detection, it is clear that a combination of knowledge and awareness is required to interface with this reality. By learning these notions you can undergo any tests equipped with the fundamental information to be able to navigate this experience with awareness and prudence.

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