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Drugs tests may be based on physical evidence. But they don't always provide proof positive that someone's been smoking marijuana.
Testing for illegal drug use can be done using sweat, saliva and even hair. But most companies, Dr. Richard Reichert said, continue to rely on urine testing. And health food stores, drugstores, head shops and the Internet sell at least a dozen products that claim to hide traces of marijuana smoking. Proponents suggest everything from drinking lots of water laced with B vitamins to making powdered urine ahead of time.
Many of the claims appear to be the work of snake-oil salesmen. But a few, doctors and lab techs say, work - making parents and companies that rely on the tests a little less certain that they will find what they're looking for.
"There are substances that can invalidate the results. Others work, but to the degree that the lab can see something's up. Unfortunately, the laboratories always are playing a game of catch-up," said Reichert, medical director of U.S. HealthWorks. His lab at 2626 Fulton Rd. NW collects urine samples and forwards them to eight or nine labs across the nation. The tests cost $38 to $45 a person.
Why the market for the tests?
"Companies do not have to be financially liable for you if you are injured on the job if you are found to be under the influence of illegal drugs or alcohol," Reichert said. The Bureau of Workers' Compensation also offers reduced rates to companies that require testing.
And parents increasingly are trying at-home tests to find out if their children are smoking marijuana, according to Curt Bailey, a pharmacist at One Pharmacy, at 3013 Cleveland Ave. S in Canton Township. His store sells three tests to detect marijuana, cocaine and a combination of the two, along with Ecstasy.
"We sell these mainly for adults who don't trust their kids," he said.
But "for every one we sell (to them), we sell two to workers who smoked two weeks ago and they want to see if it's showing up in their urine."
"Most people have negative drug screens," Reichert said, and correctly so. But tests have been fooled.
The marijuana plant's prime chemical ingredient - THC - is stored in human fat cells when a person inhales. Part of it is eliminated with bodily fluids, such as sweat and urine. While the concentration of the THC can fluctuate day-to-day, increased fluid intake will lower the concentration, according to the Web site for Redwood Toxicology Laboratory in Santa Rosa, Calif. Quest Recovery Service in Canton sends all collected urine samples to Redwood.
"Whether you pass depends on the amount and use and your (personal) hydration status," said Dr. Joseph Vrabel, medical director overseeing residential and methadone clients at Quest.
"Cocaine is pretty quickly metabolized; it can be out of the body in 48 to 72 hours. Ecstasy is gone in a few days. But marijuana is the only one that gets stored in fat cells," Reichert said.
Redwood's Web site says infrequent use of marijuana can be detected for up to three days after use. Regular use, described as several times a week, can be detected for up to 10 days and chronic use for up to 30 days.
The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws Web site also warns that chronic use can be detected for up to six weeks.
Yet the attempt to fool a drug test actually may be a telltale sign to a lab tech. Diluted urine is one sign that someone may be trying to fudge the results. Labs also can tell if someone's been adding B vitamins to their diet to color the urine - as some marijuana proponents suggest.
"But then," Reichert said, "there are some people that naturally make diluted urine. We see dilutes that are positive, and we see dilutes that are negative."
People have tried to cheat on drug tests at his facility by dipping their collection cups into the toilet's water.
Blue toilet bowl cleaner in a collection cup is an obvious sign to a technician that something's amiss, said Angela McKinney, center manager. "Urine should not be blue," she said.
The tank lid also comes with an alarm that the tester can hear from the other side of the door.
Some who attempt to cheat bring in urine collected from a non-pot smoker. McKinney said they have found it taped to bodies and some even have used hand-warmers to raise a stored sample to what they believe is the normal temperature for fresh urine.
The nation's trucking industry is considering adding hair testing to its hiring procedures, but "urine is still the gold standard or benchmark" of drug testing, Reichert said.
Puff-N-Stuff, at 2803 Cleveland Ave. SW in Canton Township, sells a product called Detoxify - about $37 for a small bottle, $54 for a large one. A product brochure says it blends herbs and fiber to cleanse the body of "impurities and byproducts that will build up to an undesirable level." The brochure also recommends, like any other healthy diet, drinking water and plenty of it.
"I would be surprised if it really worked," said Bailey, the pharmacist at One Pharmacy.