(Updated September 5th 2016)
The need to cleanse the system of indicators that point to drug use can arise for a number of reasons, including the potential for a new career with a zero tolerance employer or a requirement for participating in collegiate or professional sports leagues.
No matter the reason for a drug test, concerns can arise for someone who has recently used marijuana recreationally, and uncertainties about how long use is detectable and frequency of use can be a real cause for stress.
Failing to pass a drug test can cost you a job or a chance to participate in a sports league.
However, having a solid understanding of what drug screenings are searching for as well as what methods are appropriate for different levels of use can ease these concerns.
Let’s begin with understanding what chemicals in the body drug tests are designed to detect.
What is THC?
The active ingredient in marijuana is known as TetraHydroCannabinol, most commonly referred to as THC. The effects of smoking or ingesting marijuana that create a high for the user come directly from this ingredient, and while the effects may not last more than an hour or two, the body stores THC for an extended period of time.
This is based on how frequently the user smokes or ingests marijuana as well as the body type of that user.
Those who smoke marijuana feel the effects of the drug much quicker than those who may ingest it orally or mix it with feed to consumer it. Once it is consumed, however, the absorption of THC happens in the bloodstream first, and then is distributed throughout the body equally.
The chemical component of marijuana attaches itself to two different receptors of body cells – the CB1 receptor found in the brain and the CB2 receptor that is found in small numbers throughout the body, most notably in immune system tissue.
The CB1 receptor is responsible for brain function, including memory, fluid body movement as well as vomiting, explaining why marijuana use affects short term memory function and can help some users with easing the discomfort of nausea. Because of the location of the CB2 receptor, marijuana can be used to suppress an individual’s immune system.
Although THC is absorbed directly into the bloodstream, it is not present for that long. The half-life of the drug varies greatly among individual users, based on metabolism rate and frequency of use, discussed at length later in this article. Additionally, a user’s weight can play a part in detection of THC after use because of how THC moves through the body after it leaves the bloodstream.
Because THC is a highly soluble chemical, it is metabolized into molecules known as metabolites within the body. These particles are then absorbed selectively by fatty tissue within the body, creating a greater half-life for detection of the chemical in users who are heavier.
THC eventually is diluted and eliminated from the body through normal functions, including urination. Once a user smokes or ingests marijuana again, the process starts from the beginning and the cycle of elimination can take longer than the previously as more THC is absorbed and stored.
What is Detoxing?
Now that we have understanding of how marijuana use affects the body and how THC is stored, we can discuss the process of detoxing from THC for the purpose of passing a drug screening. But what is detoxing, exactly?
Cleansing the body of outside toxins, such as those found in marijuana and specifically THC, is known as a detox. This can be done for users who have used regularly for months or years as well as those who have only used marijuana once or twice in their lifetime.
Because THC is stored within the fat cells of the body, it can take time to fully cleanse the body of the chemical. Unlike alcohol or other recreational drugs, the presence of THC can remain in the body for months after use. This does not mean that detoxing is not an option for regular, frequent users, but it can mean planning ahead is a necessary step in order to pass a drug screening test.
Side Effects from Quitting Marijuana
Even when detoxing is a necessary reality, users can be hesitant to begin the process due to the potential side effects of giving up marijuana for a period of time.
As each marijuana user is different, so are the side effects that come hand in hand with quitting the drug; however, it is known that there are no physiological effects from marijuana addiction, but minor issues may arise for some users.
The greatest complaint from those detoxing from marijuana use is insomnia, lasting anywhere from a few nights to a few months. During the detox period, users can experience vivid dreams or nightmares as well, making the potential for a full night’s rest seem impossible.
For others, occasional sleeplessness is the worst of all symptoms they experience after quitting. Depression and anger can also be side effects, ranging in intensity and depth for different levels of users. These are most pressing in the first few days of detoxing and generally subside quickly with continued non-use of the drug.
Some users may also experience a decreased or increased sex drive, feelings of fear or anxiety, or a loss of sense of humor. Loss of concentration can be an issue for users at any level, but fades within a few weeks after beginning to detox.
Aside from the emotional effects of quitting marijuana, users can also experience physical symptoms including headaches, night sweats and excessive coughing. These symptoms can affect users for as little as a week to months after quitting, but gradually become less intense over time.
Loss of appetite can be an issue for a few days after quitting, as can digestive issues and stomach cramping. Prior users may also experience dizziness or shaking for days to weeks after beginning a detox.
Although the physical side effects of quitting marijuana use can seem extreme, they are less intrusive than detoxing from other recreational drugs, and generally subside in a short period of time.
Easing symptoms can be as easy as taking a long bath, hydrating regularly, eliminating high fat diets, and increasing exercise.
Half-Life of THC/Marijuana Detection Time Frame
Knowing what to expect when starting a detox program, especially for those users who smoke or ingest marijuana rather frequently, is the first step to being successful in cleansing the body of THC. It is equally important to understand how much lead time a user may need in order to pass a drug screening test.
As previously mentioned, the time it takes for THC to fully clear the body varies drastically from user to user. There are, however, guidelines that can be used to determine how much time it may take to detox based on frequency of use, body type and rate of metabolism.
The half-life of THC is typically 10 days, but the detection of THC in the urine can be much less or much greater than this. Those users who do not frequently use marijuana and who have a fast metabolism have the shortest detection time frame, while chronic users with a slower metabolism experience a longer detection time frame. The only way to accurately estimate the detection time of THC after last smoking or ingesting marijuana is to know both the upper and lower limits based on the following factors:
- Users who have smoked or ingested marijuana only one time – detection can range from five to eight days
- Users who have smoked or ingested marijuana two to four times per month for an extended period of time – detection can range from eleven to eighteen days
- Users who have smoked or ingested marijuana two to four times per week for an extended period of time – detection can range from twenty-three to thirty-five days
- Users who have smoked or ingested marijuana five to six times per week for an extended period of time – detection can range from thirty-three to forty-eight days
- Users who have smoked or ingested marijuana on a daily basis for an extended period of time – detection can range from forty-nine to sixty-three days
It is important to remember that those with a higher metabolism may experience lower detection time frames, while those with a lower metabolism may experience higher detection time frames.
Additionally, the potency of the marijuana used can affect detection, as well as the user’s tolerance, body weight, fluid intake at the time of test, and the amount of exercise the user typically engages in.
Drug Testing Methods
Whether a test is designed for pre-employment screening for a zero tolerance employer or for athletes wishing to participate in collegiate or professional sports leagues, drug testing can be administered in a number of ways. The four most common types of drug testing include:
- Urine testing – This is the most common type of drug testing with both employers and other entities because results are fairly accurate and are processed quickly. For individuals undergoing a urine drug test, users are instructed to visit a collection site specializing in the process. Urine is then collected in a specially designed cup, sealed with a tape that is tamper resistant. Once the sample is complete, it is then sent to a lab to be screened for marijuana use. This process can be complex, utilizing a number of steps in order to determine whether or not marijuana has been used and in what frequency. The results are deemed either negative or non-negative and are sent to a medical review office so that the findings can be studied by a professional. The urine test is the most efficient and the most cost-effective for employers and other organizations needing to complete drug screenings on individuals.
- Hair testing – Taking the longest amount of time to determine results, hair testing is the most stringent drug screening that can be used by employers. When THC is in the bloodstream, it travels through blood vessels located in the user’s head, creating deposits onto the hair. These deposits are a permanent record of marijuana use and are the most difficult to pass for prior users. However, employers do not use this method as often as a urine or saliva test given its high cost per test and long time frame to receive results. The hair that is collected in this drug screening provides a minimum of 90 days of history of THC presence and can provide detection of use for as far back as six years.
- Saliva testing – Another instant test commonly used is the saliva test. This is a fluid-based drug screening that can detect drug use that has occurred in the past few days. These tests are becoming much more popular as they are difficult to alter by the user as well as the fact that detection can be determined almost immediately after administering the test. For users, saliva tests are able to detect use that has occurred within the last twelve to twenty-four hours only.
- Blood testing – Noted as the most intrusive method, blood testing for drug screening is not as commonly used as the previous three methods, but is still implored by some employers. It should be noted that blood drug screening tests are also the most inaccurate, creating a great deal of concern around false positives and misreading.
For the majority of drug test candidates, a urine test will be administered. For each type of drug screening test, however, there are ways to cleanse the system faster than simple detox from non-use.
Cleaning Your System
Although the best way to detox from marijuana use is quitting smoking or ingesting the drug, there are methods that can expedite the process for those with an upcoming drug screening test. The most common ways are discussed below:
Hydrate with Water – Although there is no way to completely flush out THC from the body, drinking excess water can help keep the body both healthy and hydrated. This is the most important factor in implementing other detox methods and assists the body utilize all of its resources in ridding THC toxins from fatty tissue. In addition, users may experience better results when adding lemon to their water intake. Because it contains a great deal of Vitamin C, lemon water or juice increases levels of electrolytes in the body which assist in removing toxins naturally.
Increase Exercise Regimens – Once you have increased your water intake, increasing exercise on a regular basis can greatly assist with the detox process. THC is a fat soluble chemical that clings to the fatty tissue in the body. The more body fat a user has, the longer the detection time and hence a longer detox period may be needed. Exercise can reduce the amount of fatty tissue in the body, therefore reducing the amount of THC lingering within a user. Speeding up the body’s metabolism can drastically reduce the total amount of time it takes to clear the system of THC.
Eat More Vegetables – As with additional hydration and an increase in physical activity, adhering to a diet that is high in green, leafy vegetables can assist in the detox process. The removal of THC is sped up by the addition of foods such as kale, spinach, chard and broccoli which force out toxins and replace them with vital nutrients.
Schedule a Trip to the Sauna – There is no medical evidence that points directly to a correlation between excess sweating and the successful passing of a drug test; however, sweating has been proven to greatly reduce the amount of toxins within the body. Adding a visit to a sauna will only help in the detox process, in addition to additional exercise and a change in diet.
Drink Herbal or Green Tea – Detoxing can be greatly aided through adding an herbal or green tea regiment to a user’s diet. Certain types of tea are proven to reduce toxins in the body, including the presence of THC.
Consider a Detox Kit – There are a variety of detox kits available to users facing an upcoming drug screening test. These kits, which include specialty drinks, chewable pills and vitamin supplements, can be found across the Internet for wide range of users.
There are specific kits designed for moderate to heavy users with slow metabolism, lighter weight users who simply need an additional boost to remove toxins, and for those who are looking for a quick fix product.
Detox kits range in price as well, some costing upwards of $300 for the quickest results. Although these kits may tout exemplary results in a short amount of time, detoxing from marijuana use is best done naturally.
There are a number of considerations to take into account as a user makes the decision to detox from smoking or ingesting marijuana. Despite the reason for wanting to detox, the first step is avoidance of the drug.
In order to fully remove the THC toxin from the fatty tissue of the body, a user must be committed to quit smoking or ingesting for a certain period of time. Once this important step is taken, imploring additional detox methods can assist in speeding up the detox process.
Users should know that no single method is guaranteed, and that a minimum of one week should be given to start a program or invest in a detox kit prior to the scheduled drug screening test.