Marijuana Detection Window—How Long Does it Stay in Your System

Much of our nation accepts marijuana as socially acceptable to some degree. It’s medical use is legal in the majority of the states and recreational use is on the rise. In fact, Illinois recently legalized the drug without even putting it to a vote. With all this new found freedom, many people believe it is only right to remove pot from company drug tests. Mainly, because the detection windows show the drug in your system long after the impairment stage has passed.

They claim it isn’t fair for someone to have to risk losing their job because they partook of a legal substance off the clock.

At the same time

It’s a proven fact that drug testing in the workplace is a huge deterrent. The risk of losing your job is great incentive to straighten up and fly right. Hopefully, not only during work hours, but 24/7.

Employers who drug test are striving to provide the safest work environment possible. Marijuana use affects judgment, motor coordination, and reaction time. Even though studies show that impairment only lasts for a few hours after using the drug, currently, there is no way to determine immediate impairment. Subsequently, then, employers and advocates are actually on the same page.

Employers drug test because without a way to know if someone is under the influence of marijuana at a specific moment in time, knowing they have used the drug is far better than nothing. The risk outweighs the intrusion factor as far as business owners are concerned.

Reasons for testing

There are a number of types of drug testing policies set up within drug free or zero tolerance workplace policies. Those who provide safety-sensitive jobs must adhere to the DOT’s regulations. However, a large number of employers that hire the general workforce choose to use their drug testing protocol as a guideline.

The five types of employee drug testing most often used in company protocol. If not mandated by the DOT or another federal entity, employers are free to choose any or all of them.

  • Pre-employment drug tests are usually the final part of the hiring process.
  • Random drug testing entails randomly selecting employee names from a pool periodically throughout the year. The employees immediately report to the testing site.
  • Post-accident drug tests are self-explanatory, employers need to know if drugs were a factor to determine responsibility.
  • Probation drug tests consist of a number of random drug tests during a set probationary period determined by the employer.
  • Reasonable suspicion drug tests are performed after documentation of an employee’s suspected drug use.

Methods of testing

The length of time that marijuana is detected in someone’s system links directly to the type of test that employer’s use. All of the methods are extremely accurate. As a matter of fact, technology is making it harder and harder for  an employee to attempt to adulterate or falsify the test. No matter what drug it is, the laboratories mission is to find it.

Urine drug test

The amount of time that tests detect marijuana in the urine varies from a few days up to a month. There are many contributing factors in play. Marijuana drug metabolites, named THC-COOH, store themselves throughout the body. They mainly collect in the fat cells though.

As anyone who’s tried to drop a few pounds knows, our bodies tend to hang on to those cells with a vengeance! Therefore, heavy people test positive for marijuana longer than someone who stays fit. Working out to drop a few pounds right before the test backfires though because that releases metabolites into the system for excretion. This in turn increases the levels found on a drug test.

Another factor in how long a urine test detects marijuana is how often someone uses the drug. Occasional users only test positive for a few days. Chronic users, on the other hand, test positive for a month or more!

Hair follicle drug test

Employers who use the hair follicle drug test have the benefit of knowing if an employee has used drugs for the previous 90 days. That’s a huge detection window! The body stores THC-COOH in the hair follicle too. Once there, it takes about three days for it to grow out into the center of the hair shaft. It leaves a permanent record of marijuana use. As a matter of fact, the length of the hair tested directly relates to the detection period. Human hair usually grows about one-half inch a month. The typical hair follicle test uses a one and one-half inch hair sample.

Saliva drug test

This test is also known as a mouth swab drug test. Employers and law enforcement agencies often choose this type of drug test when they want to detect recent drug use. The window of detection for marijuana opens almost immediately upon someone smoking the drug. It usually lasts for about 12 to 24 hours after consumption.

Preventative maintenance

Employers choose to keep marijuana on their employee drug tests for safety’s sake. If ever the old saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” applied, it is now. It will be much easier for employees when the marijuana drug test is positive because someone is impaired right then and there. It will benefit both employers and responsible pot smoking employees.

Alcohol is a socially accepted drug, but everyone knows it is not acceptable in the workplace. Employers enforce this fact stringently. Marijuana use deserves the same treatment.

In fact, several companies are working on a marijuana breathalyzer. One company has completed testing and is set to soon be on the market. It certainly warrants keeping an eye on.

Until that time comes, employees who use marijuana products on their off time, or for medication, need to realize the risk. If they pop positive on a test, odds are company policy says “You’re fired.” It’s a “just can’t risk it” situation for your boss.

Sorry, dude.

Stoned never equals safety first.