Bad Hair Day?

Hair Testing – What is it?

Quite simply, it’s the testing of hair to detect drugs and alcohol.

How does it work?

Hair grows at roughly 1cm per month. Usually, a 3cm sample is taken which represents 3 months’ growth. Anything up to 12cm can be taken and analysed. Segments of hair can be analysed to determine a month-by-month usage of a substance and this method can even detect periods of abstinence.

Drugs (and alcohol), once induced, flow into the bloodstream. This is then trapped in the hair root follicle. Hair is a storage protein; therefore substances simply remain there until the hair is cut. As a result, it is an accurate way of detecting drug and alcohol usage.

How is it taken?

A sampling kit is often supplied by one of the testing companies. This comprises of a sterile test tube, sterile wipes and foil. A sample of hair is taken which should be roughly the width of a pencil and, preferably, a minimum of 3cm in length. This is taken from the crown of the head, but other areas of the body can be used if this area is shaven. If there is no bodily hair, nails can be substituted. If necessary, two samples can be taken. These are then returned for analysis, with a turnaround time in some instances of 3 days.

What can be detected?

Drugs such as Cocaine, Cannabis and the use of depressants as well as alcohol abuse.

What’s it for?

This method is widely used in criminal cases to detect substance abuse. It can also be used to detect involuntary use of drugs (such as spiked drinks).

In the family courts and care proceedings, it is used as a method of determining whether a parent is a regular drug or alcohol user and over what period of time.

Is it safe?

Like all sciences, it is the best thing until it is superseded. This has been successfully used in criminal cases where the quality of evidence (standard of proof) has to convince a jury beyond reasonable doubt.