You or I would never do drugs, or attempt to cheat on something as important as a drug test. But perhaps you have a “friend” who is curious about how the tests work. Here’s what your “friend” needs to know.
It's Evil Week at Lifehacker, which means we're looking into less-than-seemly methods for getting shit done. We like to think we're shedding light on these tactics as a way to help you do the opposite, but if you are, in fact, evil, you might find this week unironically helpful. That's up to you.
Depending on timing, you may not need to cheat
Urine drug tests are the most common type of testing, and in many cases they won’t reveal drugs you did last week, much less anything that happened months or years ago.
Quest Diagnostics, which sells testing services to employers, has a chart here of what each of their tests can detect. Here’s what they can find in urine, (While this is a clinical laboratory based in the US, testing methodology remains similar around the world.)
Amphetamines: 24 to 72 hours
Cocaine: 24 to 72 hours
Opiates: 24 to 72 hours
PCP: 1 to 5 days if you use occasionally; 30 days for heavy, frequent use
Cannabis: 1 to 3 days occasional use; 30 days heavy, frequent use
Hair tests are the opposite: they can’t pick up recent use (within the past two weeks or so) but they can reveal drug use within the last three months. Hair grows about half an inch per month, and a test will usually use a sample of your most recent (closest to the scalp) 5cm of hair.
The lab can’t test hair you don’t have, but if you suddenly show up to work bald the day of a drug test, you’ll look suspicious. (They may also be able to collect what they need from body hair, which is sure to be a fun experience.) But if you’re starting a job search now, why not try a cute, professional pixie cut to leave some ancient history on the salon floor?
Improve your odds
We’ll get to the outright cheating in a minute, but first, consider if these totally legal strategies might be all you need:
Find out the date (or approximate date) of the test, and adjust your drug use accordingly. Three days’ notice is enough to clear most drugs out of your system (see the chart above). Probation tests tend to be on a set schedule, and workplace tests tend to occur in a predictable pattern, so even “random” testing won’t necessarily take you by surprise. Watch the calendar.
Drink plenty of water. The more dilute your urine is, the less detectable any drugs will be. Don’t go overboard, though; the lab will reject samples that are too watery. (They do this through chemical testing, so no, turning your pee neon yellow with vitamin pills is not going to help.)
Pee (not into a cup) first thing in the morning. That first morning pee tends to be the most concentrated, so get it out of the way before heading to the lab.
Try these sneaky strategies — with caution
There are a ton of products, strategies, and home remedies that might work, but all of them are risky in one way or another. You could get caught. You also don’t know what exactly you might be putting in your body if you’re buying a sketchy “detox” — and isn’t taking questionable drugs the way you got into this mess?
Still, here are some of the things that could work:
Someone else’s urine
Typically, for employer tests, nobody watches you pee; they just give you a minute to do your thing. However, you probably won’t be able to bring anything like a bag into the bathroom with you. You also have to ensure that the urine is warm enough (sometimes they take the specimen’s temperature). Could you tuck a baggie of urine into your bra or underwear undetected?
This is a powder that, when mixed with warm water, will look like urine and turn up correct results on all the basic “is this urine” tests (they check pH, creatinine, and specific gravity, for example). The caution here is that there might not be warm water onsite to mix it with. Labs have been known to turn off bathroom taps (clean hands be damned), and even dye the toilet water blue.
These are chemicals you add to your sample to try to destroy traces of drugs. Many are effective. Hooray! But the testing labs know about them, so they just test for them. Quest says: “The most common adulterants screened include oxidizing agents – such as, nitrites, chromates and halogens (e.g., bleach and iodine).” The American Association for Clinical Chemistry describes some popular adulterants and their associated tests here. An interesting fact: one of the more effective chemicals, sold under the otherwise genius brand name Urine Luck, can actually cause a false-positive result for amphetamines on some tests.
The idea of “detoxing” your body for health is basically bullshit, but there are a few supplements you can take that can alter the results of a drug test. Some are just diuretics, so they make you pee more and can help water down your urine. Others, like zinc, can actually bind to certain drugs so they end up in your poop rather than your pee. The brave folks at Vice tested three brands of detoxes that seemed to work as advertised. But, again, the testing companies may be looking for telltale signs that you’ve used these, so proceed with caution.
Get Expert Advice
There’s kind of an arms race going on between the people who make and advertise stuff to help you cheat, and the people who develop the lab tests. Each wants to outsmart the other, and you’re caught in the middle.
For example, tests exist for almost every popular adulterant, but the more diligent the testing lab, the more expensive the test. So if your employer (or whover ordered the testing) is cheap, some of the cheats might get through. The trick is knowing which one.
On the flip side, some adulterants and detox formulas may be considered difficult or impossible to detect, but how do you know the lab didn’t figure them out recently? For example, the AACC implies that Visine eye drops can alter results and aren’t detectable, but that article is from 2015 and I’m not sure I’d trust it to be up-to-date.
Fortunately, two experts who spoke to Vice have a way to get some inside information on what’s likely to work. Go to a local head shop and ask, in oblique terms, for their best “detoxifier.” The people who work there will have a sense of what tends to work with your area’s most popular testing labs. Their information isn’t guaranteed correct, but it might be the best you can get.