Drug testing is a standard tool used to determine if a person fulfills qualifications for employment, sobriety for those struggling with addiction, legal purposes by law enforcement, or health providers to devise a course of treatment.
Historically, these tests have been conducted using urine, hair follicles, or blood samples in a clinical environment. In recent years, the use of mouth swabs to obtain saliva samples has become increasingly popular because they are non-invasive, easier to collect than urine or blood, and faster to process. The major drawback to this form of testing is a relatively short detection window.
Mouth Swab Testing For Common Drugs
A standard cotton swab is rubbed on the cheek’s inside to collect biological material in a saliva testing. Swabs are then processed in a laboratory for foreign chemicals. Like other means of drug testing, oral swabs look for drug metabolites, or the byproducts left behind after the body has processed a specific substance.
Mouth swabs are typically screened using enzyme immunoassay technology. Any samples that test positive will be tested again using more specific methods, including liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry to confirm findings.
Meth is a stimulant usually found illicitly that causes euphoric effects and can be smoked, snorted, consumed orally, and injected. Meth tends to last longer in the body than other stimulant drugs, such as cocaine, and its byproducts peak in amount around 12 hours after use. Meth can be identified as soon as 10 minutes after use via oral swab and can be detected for up to four days later in those who use the drug excessively.
Marijuana is a popular drug that induces mind-altering effects when ingested. Although it is still considered illegal on the federal level, many states have legalized its use for medical or recreational purposes under certain conditions. THC, the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, remains in the body is far longer than most intoxicating substances, as metabolites are stored in fat cells and slowly released into the bloodstream.
THC remains active in the saliva before being broken down in the body, so mouth swabs are designed to identify its presence rather than its metabolites. Saliva tests can detect marijuana use within the last 24 hours, making it an ideal choice for law enforcement or others looking to determine recent use.
Cocaine is a stimulant that is frequently snorted in its pure form or smoked or injected in an impure form known as crack. The detection window for cocaine is generally brief, with metabolites, as metabolites tend to only remain in the body for around 48 hours. An oral swab cannot identify the presence of cocaine or its metabolites beyond 72 hours.
Heroin and Other Opiates
Heroin is a potent, illegal, and potentially life-threatening narcotic currently subject to unprecedented abuse in the U.S. As such, heroin, as well as other opioids and prescription painkillers such as oxycodone and fentanyl, are popular targets for drug screens. Opioids are found in different potencies and duration of effects, so the amount of time they can be detected in the body varies.
In general, however, heroin and many other opioids are detectable for 24-36 hours in saliva, shorter in duration than its presence in urine or hair tests. Some opioids may be detectable for a more extended period, such as extended formulations (e.g., oxycodone), leading to more uncertainty in testing times.
Benzos are used legitimately for various medical purposes, including the treatment of anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, and seizures. However, benzos also have a relatively high potential for dependence and addiction, especially when misused.
Due to the regular misuse of benzos such as Xanax, Valium, and Ativan, they have become commonly tested for in drug screens. Metabolites of these drugs, especially those that are particularly long-acting such as Valium (diazepam), can yield detection up to 10 days after use. An intermediate-acting benzodiazepine like Ativan (lorazepam) is only detectable for around 5 days due to the increased speed at which the body breaks it down.
Limitations In Oral Drug Testing
The most notable disadvantage regarding mouth swab testing is the time in which drugs or their metabolites are present in saliva. The testing time tends to be shorter than other methods, which means that users can take a brief hiatus from use, test clean, and go back to business as usual. Further, the use of prescription medication use can interfere with testing, leading to inconclusive results. Also, some drugs cannot be detected in the saliva at all.
Getting Treatment for Drug Abuse and Addiction
If you are worried about passing a drug test for an employer or legal purposes, we urge you to seek professional help as soon as possible. Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery centers offer state-of-the-art, comprehensive treatment programs that feature evidence-based services such as psychotherapy, counseling, group support, mindfulness therapy, aftercare planning, and much more.