At-Home Drug Tests: How Do They Compare?

Millions of Americans are subject to drug tests every year. Just one company, Quest Diagnostics, reported handling over 10 million drug screenings by themselves in 2017.

Some of the more common reasons for being drug tested are:

  • Drug testing by employer; pre-screen/post-accident
  • Drug screening of athletes (amateur and professional)
  • Police or parole officer testing for illicit substances
  • Medical professional drug test; either for medical diagnosis or after law enforcement provide a search warrant
  • Pre-screen testing for life insurance policy
  • Court ordered drug testin

At-Home Drug Testing

photo of a man with his sleeve rolled up getting a blood test done in a lab as opposed to taking a home drug test

If you’re expecting to be drug tested and aren’t sure if you’ll pass, there are at-home drug tests you can use to determine if you’ll pass or fail. A home test may be your best option to check your THC metabolites before you submit to a drug screening that could have possible negative consequences if you get a positive result.

But before you buy an at-home drug test, it’s important to know how accurate home drug tests are, and what kind of drug test you’re going to need to pass.

Methods of At-Home Drug Tests

The most common forms of laboratory drug testing are:

  • Sweat patch test>
  • Saliva/oral fluid swab
  • Hair follicle analysis
  • Blood sample analysis
  • Urine sample analysis

Sweat Patch Tests

Sweat tests are fairly uncommon; they’re often used by high school athletic departments for student tests. Test subjects wear a patch on their skin for a period of hours or days and the patch is sent to a lab for analysis.

The accuracy of this type of test is questionable because of possible contamination as a result of the placement on the skin.

Saliva Analysisimage shows a woman doing a saliva swab drug test

Oral swab tests have the shortest window of detection and are only useful in detecting recent drug use. These tests are non-invasive, and relatively easy to administer, though they can result in false positives through improper handling.
Saliva tests are also looking for activated THC, also known as delta-9 THC. This is a different metabolite than other tests look for.

There’s also no standard testing threshold for delta-9 THC, so results can depend on the brand of test. These tests cost anywhere between $15-$75, so they’re fairly inexpensive.

Hair Follicle Analysis

Hair follicle tests detect a drug metabolite that’s diffused from the bloodstream into the follicle. Hair tests have the longest window of detection and can show a history of cannabis use, usually about 2-4 months.

A chop-stick diameter piece of hair, about an inch and a half in length, is taken for testing. This length of hair allows lab technicians to look for traces of cannabinoids, as well as a wide range of substances accumulated in the hair shaft.

False positives can occur if the test subject had walked through second-hand marijuana smoke. Experts have even warned that certain ethnicity's hair types are more susceptible to false positive results through outside contamination.

Blood Sample Analysis

Blood tests are the most intrusive, most accurate, and the most expensive drug tests to conduct. These tests measure the cannabinoids in your blood stream, but they can also gauge the chemical impairment of the test subject.

Blood tests can detect the presence of parent drugs, not just their metabolites, in our systems. THC metabolites in particular linger in our bodies for long periods of time, making blood tests harder for long-term pot consumers to pass.

Due to the invasiveness and expense of these tests, they’re not common outside of the justice system or professional athletic programs.

Urine Sample Analysisto think about how accurate home drug tests are this is a photo of test strip next to the drug test bottle key for which colors signify which drug is present

This means of drug testing is by far the most common for pre-employment screenings and law enforcement. Upwards of 90 percent of all drug screenings are done by urine analysis. This test is cheap and has a wider detection time frame than similar tests conducted with blood or saliva.

Urine analysis tests detect tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) in your urine. THCA is a metabolite that is created after THC is consumed and oxidized.

THCA is also stored in fat cells in the body, slowly releasing stored THCA as energy is released. This is how marijuana can be detected in urine for long periods of time.

Urine analysis tests are known to give false positives from non-illicit substances such as poppy seeds or CBD consumption.

Bringing Your Test Home

Several drug tests can easily be done at home, oral swab and urine tests are the most common. These home test kits can be found online or over the counter at your nearest drugstore.

These home tests are easy to administer, and all rely on chemically sensitive paper test-strips to detect illicit substances.

Home drug tests will ask you to collect a sample of either saliva or urine, dunk the test-strip into the sample for a specific amount of time, and then review the result. Most tests come with detailed instructions for proper use.

Prices for home drug tests range from $7 to more than $50 for urine tests. The more expensive tests detect a wider range of substances, anywhere from 5 panel to 16 panel tests are available.

How Accurate Are Home Drug Tests?

Most home drug tests will claim to have a 99 percent or higher accuracy rate. A better description of the tests would be sensitivity, rather than accuracy. But a good rule of thumb is, if you fail an at-home drug test, you will fail a lab screening.

The test-strips used in home drug tests are very sensitive, outside contaminants or improper handling of test strips can lead to false positives.  A false positive result is much more likely than a false negative, though they are known to happen in older, expired test strips.

Home kits can provide accurate results if they are administered carefully and properly. But all home tests, especially cheap kits, have the potential for inaccurate or misleading results based on external factors.

At-Home Results Compared to Lab Resultsimage of a gloved hand holding a drug test strip with bottles of urine in the background

Drug screenings conducted by lab technicians will always be more accurate than home drug tests.

Labs tests are standardized and sterile to keep samples free of contamination, but what truly makes a laboratory drug test accurate is the two-step process that includes a confirmation screening and a measured substance reading. Most at-home drug tests only involve a simple dip test, confirming a detectable substance.

An at-home test will tell you if you pass/fail for a detectable substance, a laboratory test will tell you if you pass/fail and let you see how close you were to the limit.

Parole Model

Even if you only indulge in cannabis, your parole officer will screen for more than just THC.

These are the drugs most often tested for by parole officers:

  • Alcohol (ALC)
  • Amphetamines (AMP)
  • Marijuana (THC)
  • Cocaine (COC)
  • Opiates (OPI)
  • Benzodiazepine (BZO)
  • Barbiturates (BAR)
  • Fentanyl (FEN)

Whether your parole officer gives you a NIDA 5 panel test or the more popular 10 panel T-Cup CLIA Waived Urine Drug Test, both test for THC metabolites at 50 nanograms per milliliter (50ng/ml).

The 10 panel T-Cup CLIA test frequently used by parole officers is popular because it provides accurate results within minutes of administration.

How Can I Get Weed out of My System Faster? THC detox kit

Passing a drug test in a short amount of time can be really stressful. There are ways to try to get your system clear like drinking cranberry juice to detox, or exercising a lot leading up to the test, but every body will respond differently. If you want your body to metabolize faster in order to get the substances out, Green Gone has products to do just that. They offer THC detox kits to clear your system, and test strips to see if you’re on track to pass.