Getting Tested for THC? Here’s What You Need to Know
Pursuing a new job can be both an exciting and nerve-wracking experience, but for cannabis users or anyone considering using cannabis, it can also induce the gut-wrenching fear of an unexpected drug test followed by a frantic search for quick ways to do a marijuana cleanse.
Even in states with medical or adult-use cannabis legalization in full swing, some jobs still maintain stringent drug policies that forbid employees from consuming cannabis on their own time.
Having advance notice of an upcoming drug test may give you enough time to take a tolerance break and abstain from consuming, regardless it’s important to understand how THC operates throughout the body and how to healthily and effectively move cannabinoids out of your system.
How Does THC Move Through the Body?
You might have heard rumors that cannabis can stay in your system for days, weeks, or maybe even months, but the way THC travels and interacts with the body paints a slightly more complex picture.
If cannabis is smoked or vaporized, THC enters the bloodstream from the lungs and goes directly to the heart, where it is then pumped throughout the body to the two types of cannabinoid receptors found in the human body.
“THC travels in the blood to the CB1 receptors located in the brain and central nervous system, and the CB2 receptors located in the spleen and immune system,” said Itzhak Kurerk, Ph.D., CEO and co-founder of Cannformatics, a Northern California biotech company researching improvements to medical cannabis.
THC molecules binding to the cannabinoid receptor.
Every time the blood circulates throughout the body, a certain portion of THC passes through the liver. When THC is broken down in the liver, it forms at least 80 different metabolites, including 11-hydroxy-THC (11-OH-THC) and 11-nor-9-carboxy-THC (THC-COOH), both of which are inactive forms of THC that remain in the body far longer than active THC. Some of these metabolites, such as THC-COOH, are stored in body fat and gradually eliminated from the body through urine and feces.
“Tests for cannabis consumption mainly detect a metabolite of THC found in urine,” Kurek explained. “This metabolite [THC-COOH] is a result of the detoxification process in the liver by cytochrome P450 enzymes and further oxidation.”
When cannabis is ingested in the form of an edible or capsule , THC enters the bloodstream through the walls of the stomach and intestine. THC will travel directly to the liver where a substantial amount is eliminated or metabolized before the cannabinoid receptors are activated. After that, the remaining THC and its corresponding metabolites are put into circulation by the heart, where they both reach the brain.
So, contrary to what some might think, most cannabis drug tests aren’t only specifically looking for THC, but also metabolites such as THC-COOH that are created as the cannabinoid is rapidly broken down in the body.
Types of Drug Tests
Currently, there are drug screening methods designed to detect the presence of THC and THC metabolites in urine, blood, saliva, and hair.
A urine test is the preferred method used to screen for cannabis use, as this is the recommended test by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a branch of the U.S Department of Health and Human Services that creates drug testing standards for government employees.
A 2012 study published in the Iranian Journal of Psychiatry explained why urine tests are more effective than blood, saliva, or hair. “Urine is the preferred sample because of higher concentration and longer detection time of metabolites in it. Moreover, urine can easily be sampled,” the study stated.
Urine drug tests have a specific sensitivity regarding the cutoff concentration of THC-COOH, the benchmark used to determine the results of the test. While the cutoff point can generally range from 15 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL) to 100ng/mL, the most common cutoff used for urine tests is 50 ng/mL, which is the value recommended by SAMHSA. This cutoff concentration determines the timeframe that a drug test will show up positive or negative for cannabis use. To fully grasp the finite scope of this cutoff limit measurement, consider that a nanogram is one-billionth of a gram, while a milliliter measures fluid volume equal to 1/1,000 of a liter. In the case of a marijuana drug screening, the test results would be positive if the amount of THC metabolites in the sample exceeded 50 ng/mL.
The researchers from the same 2012 study also stated that blood tests can only detect cannabis use a few hours after consumption.
“Maximum delta-9-THC plasma concentration was observed approximately 8 minutes after onset of smoking, while 11-OH-THC peaked at 15 minutes and THC-COOH at 81 minutes. This delta-9-THC concentration rapidly decreases to 1-4 ng/mL within 3-4 hours,” the study stated.
Cannabis use can also be detected in saliva, but this also has a more limited window. A 2014 review on cannabinoids in oral fluid found that THC could be detected in occasional users one to three days after use, while saliva in chronic users could be detected up to 29 days after use.
Hair tests are the most sensitive type of drug tests, and can detect THC and THC-COOH up to 90 days after consumption. But these tests have proven to be inaccurate, and even non-consumers could trigger a false positive if they come into contact with a cannabis user. A 2015 study published in Scientific Reports, bluntly titled “Finding cannabinoids in hair does not prove cannabis consumption,” stated: “At first glance, differentiation of the route of THC-COOH incorporation into hair seems irrelevant as long as positive THC-COOH findings in hair require THC uptake by the individual under investigation. However, considering the presence of THC-COOH in sebum/sweat, a transfer to other persons’ hair is possible.”
How Long Does it Take for THC to Move Out of Your System?
As for the question of how long THC can be detected in your system, it depends not only on the type of drug tests, but also relies on a variety of individual factors, such as the consumer’s metabolism and amount of cannabis used.
“How long cannabis stays in your system is still an open question, and depends on many factors,” Kurek explained. “Experiments on frequent cannabis users have found residual THC can be detected for 5-13 days post-consumption.”
There are a variety of factors that might impact the amount of time that THC will stay in your system, including:
- Dosage: The greater the amount of THC, the longer it will take the body to detoxify and excrete THC and its metabolites.
- Frequency of use: How much and for how long does a consumer use marijuana?
- Genetics: People inherit different variants of the cytochrome P450 superfamily of enzymes, which modify THC in the body resulting in excretion in the urine, according to Kurek.
- Sex:Some studies have shown that men who smoke marijuana may have higher circulating levels of THC than women.
- Weight: The more body fat the cannabis user has, more THC metabolites are stored in the body and for longer periods.
- Metabolism: What’s the rate at which the body can eliminate the presence of cannabis from the system?
Although we’ve established that there’s no clear cut answer on how long it takes to get THC out of your system, past research on THC detection methods allows us to estimate the time it takes to cleanse the body of marijuana.
A 2005 review by Paul Cary, director of the Toxicology and Drug Monitoring Laboratory at the University of Missouri, found that while detection times in excess of 30 days do occur in some cases, they are largely an exception. The study acknowledges the various factors that determine how long THC metabolites remain in the body, but also provides “practical cannabinoid detection guidance” to offer a general idea of how long marijuana will stay in an individual’s system.
“Based upon recent scientific evidence, at the 50 ng/mL cutoff concentration for the detection of cannabinoids in urine (using the currently available laboratory-based screening methods) it would be unlikely for a chronic user to produce a positive urine drug test result for longer than 10 days after the last smoking episode,” the study stated.
At a lower 20 ng/mL cutoff concentration, the study also states that it would be uncommon for a chronic marijuana smoker to produce a positive urine drug test result longer than 21 days after consumption. For those who only use cannabis occasionally, the review states that it would be unusual for cannabinoids to be detected in urine three to four days after consumption at the 50 ng/mL cutoff level. For one-time marijuana use, the most stringent 20 ng/mL cutoff concentration point shouldn’t detect cannabinoids after 7 days.
Using a specified cutoff concentration point and time frame, drug testing laboratories are essentially able to look at levels of THC metabolites and figure out the last time the subject used cannabis.
“If the lab quantitates how much THC-11-hydroxy or THC-11-carboxy is found, that can be used to date when your last use of THC was, approximately,” explained Dr. Joseph Morgan, Senior Medical Director at Onconova Therapeutics, Inc., a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company focused on developing small-molecule drug candidates to treat cancer.
“In other words, somebody who tests for no THC, no 11-hydroxy-THC, and a small amount of 11-carboxy-THC [THC-COOH], they can reliably say they were not stoned at the time of the test, and most likely their most recent use was at least a week before, possibly even one or 2 months before,” he added.
While these guidances help construct a framework for the court system and employers to follow, random drug screenings have a tendency of catching cannabis users by surprise. In the event you have a surprise drug test coming up and you’re unsure whether you still have THC in your system, it’s possible to give your body a marijuana cleanse that is legal and healthy.
Easy, Ethical Ways to Do a Marijuana Cleanse
It might be hard to admit, but the most effective way to give your body a marijuana cleanse is simple: Don’t consume any cannabis for one to three months. If abstaining from THC is not an option for you, know that because the most common type of drug test is a urine screening, the terms “marijuana cleanse” or “detox” typically refer to cleaning THC metabolites out of urine until they’re undetectable.
First, don’t try to cheat a drug screening under any circumstances, especially not by purchasing fake urine or other strange products that could get you into trouble,” Morgan warns of the risk of using products that supply fake chemical urine. “If you’re found doing that, then they’ll know you’re obviously guilty of something,” he said.
There are plenty of detox products that claim to assist with a marijuana cleanse, but keep in mind that these detox methods may not be 100% effective. One popular way to detoxify the body is by using bentonite clay, a clay made from volcanic ash that is purported to absorb toxicants, chemicals, and other impurities from the body. It can be used internally by mixing some into a glass of water.
Outside of detox formulas, there are other effective practices you can integrate into your daily routine. Focus on things like physical health, vitamin and food intake, while also recognizing how THC metabolites enter the urine. Morgan added an important caveat, explaining that exercising a day or two before a drug screening could cause THC-COOH to be released from fat cells into the urine stream.
“Try to be healthy and not fat, be well-hydrated, but don’t exercise vigorously the day before or the day of your drug test,” Morgan explained.
How Long Do I Have to Detox if I Just Took One Puff?
Research has shown that someone who infrequently smokes marijuana will have THC in their system for anywhere from five to 13 days, and for a frequent marijuana smoker, THC could remain as long as 30 days. The duration of time that cannabis is detectable in the body depends on a lot of individual-specific factors, including weight, age, sex, genetics, metabolism, and more.
For example, if you have a high metabolism, little body fat, have not smoked recently, and are not a frequent marijuana user, then “one puff” of cannabis would likely remain in your system for around three to five days. However, it’s important to note that the exact answer will vary depending on factors such as dosage size and physical health.
How Accurate Are Home Drug Tests Compared to Lab Tests?
At-home drug tests are usually relatively accurate, but there are a lot of external factors that could alter the result. In addition, many at-home drug testing brands will differ in their sensitivity. In 2015, 90% of the 55 million drug tests performed were urine tests. There is a possibility a person will fail a drug test at home if they have certain levels of THC in their system, and there is also the possibility that the test will be inaccurate due to external factors including temperature and time.
In general, at home drug tests are as accurate as lab tests, as long as the external factors at home are controlled, but the lab test is not as complex as a blood analysis. At-home kits from reputable brands that analyze urine, mouth swabs, and hair follicles, have been found to be as accurate as in-lab tests.
The most common drug screening method used both at home and in the lab setting is called an immunoassay (IA) panel, which includes the SAMHSA-5, a standard established by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The types of tests range in their sensitivity to certain drugs in the person’s system. Some more expensive tests will be more sensitive, but at-home tests often reflect what will appear in the lab. The “more sensitive” test means a test at a lab may have lower “cutoff levels” of substances, which refers to the amount of a substance that is in a person’s system.
Does Alcohol Help Cleanse the Body for a Drug Test?
It is a myth that alcohol can help “cleanse” the body or fat cells of THC. At best, alcohol is known as a diuretic , which means it will help a person excrete more urine than one would otherwise. Research shows alcohol could prolong the detoxification of the body because alcohol has been found to further dehydrate the body . Currently, there is no research that suggests alcohol can cleanse the body any faster than drinking water or liquids over the course of a week.
Can I Use a Sauna to Help Detox From THC?
A person can increase sweat excretion by using a sauna. THC is stored in fat cells, so sweating is one of the major ways to speed the process up. But sitting in a sauna does not guarantee that that drug test results will change, because there are so many other individual-specific variables at play.
How Much Urine is Needed for a Drug Test?
The average amount of urine in milliliters needed for a drug test is 30 milliliters. This amount can vary, for example, tests done for employees of the U.S. Department of Transportation require 45 milliliters of urine for a test.
Is 14 Days Enough Time to Prepare for a Drug Test?
The amount of time needed to prepare for a drug test depends on a person’s metabolism, age, sex, weight, and most importantly, how much they consumed. For instance, if a highly concentrated THC product is consumed, it will likely remain in one’s system longer than a low-dosage THC product would. Furthermore, frequent marijuana users will take longer for THC to fully leave their system, possibly twice the amount of time depending on other factors.
How Will Water Fasting Affect a Urine Test?
While drinking water helps cleanse the body by increasing urination, it is not recommended to fast using water before taking a drug test. One reason is that water fasts could further dehydrate you . One 2016 study published in the journal Nutrients found about 20% to 30% of your daily water intake comes from the foods you eat.
The information contained in this site is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical or legal advice.
Here's everything you need to know about how to get THC out of your system, along with advice on how to give your body a marijuana cleanse.
How to Flush Marijuana Out of Your System
Friday September 18, 2015
M arijuana can be good for a lot of things, but helping you pass a drug test isn’t one of them. Many people ask us how to flush marijuana out of your system. Well, it starts with a bit of knowledge and a marijuana detox.
How can I clean weed out of my system?
There are many reasons why people want to ‘flush’ their system of marijuana. The most common situation is a drug test for employment purposes.
Workplace drug tests typically involve urinalysis (testing your pee) for metabolites. Metabolites are a byproduct of a substance after it has been processed by your body. When you consume marijuana, the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) levels in your blood stream will immediately increase. As your body cleanses the THC out of your blood stream, metabolites are left behind.
Note that THC, the cannabinoid known for its psychoactive effects, is responsible for getting you “high.” Having said this, both THC and the non-psychoactive metabolite, THC-COOH, will remain in your body’s fat tissue for varying lengths of time depending on a variety of factors.
To figure out if you are ‘clean’ for a drug test and how to get weed out of your system, you need to be able to determine the following:
- The amount of THC and its metabolites in your system
- The type of test you’ll be required to take
- The testing levels for your drug screen
How Much THC is in My Body?
There are a handful of factors that will help you determine how much THC and THC-COOH are in your body after any length of time, post-consumption.
How often you consume:
When determining how much THC is in your system, you must take the frequency of consumption into consideration, first and foremost. Do you smoke once a month, once a week, everyday? When you do smoke, are you only taking one hit or enjoying an entire joint (or two)? Obviously, the more frequently you use (and the actual amount you consume), the more THC and THC-COOH will accrue in the fatty tissue throughout your body.
Total body fat:
As we just mentioned, THC and THC-COOH store itself in fat cells, no matter how often or little you use. As a result, the more body fat you have, the more THC and its metabolites will be inevitably stored.
Metabolism & overall health:
It makes sense that the healthier you are, the better off you’ll be (in all aspects in life). When it comes to THC and its metabolites, they have less of a chance of storing themselves in your body fat, if there isn’t a lot of body fat in the first place! Having said this, everyone has varying metabolisms that break down THC at different rates. Although exercise can potentially push THC back into your blood stream at a faster rate, this doesn’t mean that you should throw away healthy habits into the wind. Simply maintain a healthy lifestyle and don’t work out too much before a test.
What you’re consuming:
Depending on what you consume (flower vs. concentrates) and even the quality of what you consume (top shelf flower vs. schwag) will greatly effect how much THC and THC-COOH are released into your body.
How Long Does THC Stay in My Body?
Typically speaking, psychoactive THC cannabinoids can be found in the system for 1-2 days after consumption for very infrequent users, while those who consume everyday can expect it to remain in your body for longer.
The half-life of THC metabolites is 7 days. Meaning every 7 days, the amount in your body will decrease by 50%.
With this number in mind, most people can assume their body will be clean of THC metabolites within 3-4 weeks — more or less depending on frequency, body weight and amount consumed.
THC is fat soluble and as a result, it gets stored in your fatty lipid tissue. Because of this, your fat cells will secrete THC metabolites into your bloodstream at a constant rate. As a result, many different cleansing techniques are ineffective, as your fat cells will continue to release THC metabolites into your system over time.
Types of Drug Tests
Similar to the variety of factors that can define how much THC is in your system, there are a number of ways your (future) employer can test you. They include urine, blood and hair.
- Urinalysis (UA) is the most common type of drug test. It’s used in many businesses because it’s less expensive than other modes of testing and is fairly accurate. Note that urine drug tests detect THC-COOH (metabolized THC), versus THC itself.
- Blood Test identifies THC in your bloodstream. Unlike urinalysis, a blood test will show impairment. For those who rarely consume, THC might not be measurable several hours afterwards, however for those who use everyday, THC could remain in your bloodstream for a much longer period of time.
- Hair Test is a less common form of testing, however does take place in some work places. Because it measures THC-COOH remainders in the hair follicle over the past several months, it’s often difficult to get around this one. Don’t worry though, you do have options available which we address below.
How Do I Pass a Drug Test?
The best way to pass any drug test is to not consume at all. Having said that, don’t worry if it’s “too late.” There are ways to mask THC in your system, so do your best to follow our tips below – and think about a backup plan in case you might need the extra help.
Typically, random drug tests are delivered with short notice, which means you won’t have as much time as you’d like to prepare for a drug test. It may sound silly, but as soon as you know that you’re going to have to take a marijuana drug test, stop consuming cannabis in any form! Whether you’re a heavy user or casual user, do yourself a favor and stop all cannabis consumption.
Note that the longer you have before your drug test, the better your chances will be of actually passing.
It’s important to realize that marijuana cannot be flushed out of your system using cranberry juice, niacin, vinegar, large amounts of water, creatine pills, ginger root tea, surejell, bleach, etc. In fact, most of these products continue to remain top of mind due to incorrect drug testing myths but they won’t actually help you pass modern drug testing techniques.
Instead, here are three ways to pass a drug test:
Forget detox pills, detox programs or detox kits! A normal healthy, in shape person can rid their body of toxins in 4-6 weeks with a great diet, water and plenty of exercise. Obviously, those with a fast metabolism, lower water retention and overall low BMI will be able to do this faster.
Detox in 3-6 days, with detoxification products.
If you’re on a tight time frame, then you probably just received notice about a marijuana drug test and need answers now. Thankfully, there are many detoxification products available (which we cover below) to help your body rid itself of harmful toxins in approximately a week. They’re successful by leveraging herbal supplements to cleanse your body. Be sure to use a home drug test kit after to ensure you’re fully clean of THC.
Detox in 24 hours, with same day cleansers.
If you’re truly panicking a day or two before your test, it might be worth your while to try a same day cleanser from a company like TestClear.com (available online). Such products temporarily target the urinary tract to flush metabolites to give you a brief period for which to give a clean urine sample, meaning you could technically pass a drug test in 24 hours.
Tips to Pass a Urine Drug Test:
As we mentioned, piss tests are more common than a hair drug test. To pass a marijuana urine test, also known as a urinalysis test, you don’t need to be 100% free of THC metabolites. Rather, you need to have levels below the threshold for the test. Typically the threshold is 50 ng/mL, which is higher than you may think. As long as you register under this value, your test result will be negative.
The primary method of passing a urine drug test is to dilute your urine enough where it will be below the 50 ng/mL threshold. It’s a simple as that, but with a hitch. Drug testing labs are on the lookout for diluted urine samples. So in order to be an effective technique, you need not only dilute your urine, but to mask the fact that your urine is diluted.
There is no reason to start drinking excessive amounts of water weeks or days before your test. It’s a waste of time as it only temporarily dilutes your urine. Your best bet is to drink 2-3 liters throughout the day before your test, and then around 1-2 liters several hours before your test. Don’t drink too much water though, as it can be dangerous. Start with 2 liters max and be sure to know your limits.
After drinking this much water, your pee will be colorless and have low levels of creatinine. These are both red flags for any testing lab to indicate diluted urine, so there are some additional steps you need to take.
You’ll need to make your pee yellow, and the best way to do this is by using vitamin B. Vitamin B-2 or B-12 seem to be the most effective for this purpose, so stop by your local drug store and take 50-100mg several hours before your test.
Creatinine is a chemical waste product produced by muscle metabolism. Creatinine is naturally occurring in the human body and is one method labs use to determine if your urine is diluted. It has a half-life of three hours, so no reason to start taking it more than a day or so before your test.
You can buy creatine supplements from almost any health food store. Creatine then gets broken down into creatinine by your body and is flushed out in your urine. You should take an above-average dose several hours before your test.
Whether you’re applying for a new job or trying to hold on to the one you’ve got, passing a marijuana drug test can be an important step. Here are several tips on how to clean THC out of your system, starting with a weed detox.