On a long enough timeline, every weed smoker has experienced it. That moment when your heart drops after you hear those two words: drug test. It’s impossible to count the number of crushed stoners who have lost prospective dream jobs to drug tests. And that’s not even counting the hordes of smokers who need to take drug tests for any other reason. Regardless of why you’re taking a drug test, you need to know: how long does THC stay in your system?
The answer to that question might not be as simple as you think. There are several different types of drug tests, and each of them can detect different thresholds of THC. Certain areas of the body also cling to THC for longer than others do, which can complicate things for anyone who needs to pass a drug test.
Don’t panic – we’re here to help. Below, we’ll discuss how the body stores THC. Then, we’ll cover THC’s presence in different areas of the body. Finally, we’ll cover some of the most common types of drug tests.
THC and the Body
There are more than 420 chemicals in the average cannabis plant, and once you spark it up, that number balloons to more than 2000. However, every common drug test only checks for the presence of a single one of them: THC. THC – specifically delta-9-THC – is the psychoactive ingredient in weed that makes smokers feel “high.” As a result, it’s one of the metrics that marijuana drug tests use.
How Does the Body Store THC?
THC is a fat-soluble molecule, meaning that the body stores it in fat cells. This is in contrast to the vast majority of illegal drugs, which are muscle-soluble. Because the body stores fat cells as energy reserves, THC can linger in a person’s body for days, weeks, or months after their last smoke.
The average half-life of delta-9-THC is about 1.3 days for casual users, and up to two weeks for infrequent smokers, according to some data. This is the amount of time it takes for half a given amount of THC to disappear from the bloodstream – it will still be present in fat cells.
It doesn’t actually take your body very long to process and expel THC from fat cells. However, because it’s so easy for fat to absorb THC, it often gets re-absorbed even after the body “clears it.” This is why it’s so easy to detect for lingering traces of THC in your system.
How Long is THC Present in My Body?
There are several variables that can affect how long THC stays in your body. One of the most significant is how often you smoke.
As a general rule, heavier smokers seem to hold THC in their bodies for longer than casual smokers do. For example, casual smokers blood THC concentration falls below 1 ng/mL (nanogram per millilitre) within the first 12 hours after smoking. Heavy smokers’ blood THC levels can remain above this level for up to 7 days, even if they don’t smoke during this period.
Depending on the test that you need to take, you’ll be looking at different timeframes to come up clean. Common THC tests check for THC metabolites in urine, hair, and blood samples. It’s important to understand that drug tests don’t actually check for the presence of THC in your body. Instead, they check for metabolites – different chemicals your body converts THC into. One of the most common of these is THC-COOH.
THC in Urine
Checking urine THC levels is one of the most common ways for employers and other powers to determine if someone is a smoker. About 20 percent of all the THC your body absorbs is expelled through urine. Employers, in particular, like urine tests because they’re the cheapest way to check THC levels.
As with blood concentration, urine THC concentration lasts longer depending on how heavily the person being tested smokes. The first time someone smokes weed, it will remain in their system for up to 8 days. A regular smoker’s urine can test positive for THC even 30 days after their last toke. It’s worst for heavy smokers, who have been shown testing positive for up to 90 days after they stop smoking.
Although urine tests are the most common type of drug test for weed, it’s also possible to beat them. Occasional smokers may be able to turn up a negative test if they are extremely hydrated before they take it.
THC in Hair
Hair follicle tests are one of the most stringent types of drug tests available today. These kinds of tests are usually reserved for important, high-security jobs and law enforcement.
Hair follicle tests detect the presence of THC-COOH, a metabolite of delta-9-THC that the body expels through hair and urine. Interestingly enough, THC-COOH doesn’t actually occur in marijuana smoke. Hair tests can determine the presence of THC after long stretches of time – up to 90 days or more.
Sometimes, smokers will try to beat a hair follicle test by shaving their bodies. Don’t count on this, though. The test checks hair follicles, not hair itself, so this isn’t a viable tactic.
THC in Saliva
Saliva tests are check for the presence of THC in your spit. Usually, spit only contains THC for about 12 hours after use. However, heavy smokers may fail saliva tests even after 36 hours. As a result, these kinds of tests aren’t very common among potential employers. Instead, they’re typically used for roadside checks, since THC breaks down so quickly in saliva.
THC and Drug Tests
Regardless of why you’re taking a drug test, if you don’t have a significant amount of time to prepare, you’re nearly sure to fail. However, even a regular smoker will be able to beat a marijuana test with enough time to prepare. The most sure-fire way to pass a marijuana test is to stop smoking entirely and let your body filter THC and its metabolites out of your system.
Armed with a better understanding of how drug tests work, you’ll be ready to tackle them head-on. Don’t be scare about that drug test for your dream job – there’s still hope. Good luck!