You've decided that it's time to take a break from weed. Whether the reason is an upcoming drug test, high tolerance, or a lifestyle change, there are things you need to know about what you can and can't do to help flush weed out of your system.
How THC Moves through your body
Minutes after consuming cannabis, THC makes its way through your lungs and into your bloodstream. From there, the small fatty molecule coats the surface of various cells in your blood and hitches a ride throughout your system. THC will naturally exit the highway and take up a much stronger connection between cells in the nervous system, commonly referred to as neurons in the brain or nerves throughout the body. The drug nestles in between two connecting neurons, a place called the synapse, and begins to dampen communication resulting in hunger, decreased activity and memory lapse. Since a neuron is coated with the receiver for THC, known as cannabinoid receptors, it can persist in the brain or other sensory nerves for hours. As time progresses, THC will naturally retreat to the bloodstream and be filtered out of the body by the liver and kidneys. However, not all of the THC is removed from the body. Since THC is a fatty molecule- meaning it dissolves in oil rather than water- it can come out with skin oils and be dissolved in hair follicles. Alternatively, THC can bind to fat cells and stay for weeks or months.
How Long Does THC Stay in Your System?
Unlike alcohol, THC can linger in the body for quite a while. Fat is constantly removed on a daily basis, regardless of weight changes, so small amounts of THC will continue to move back into the bloodstream. For a one-time user, there is less fat tissue with THC and therefore a faster removal. According to the FDA, for infrequent users, THC is only detectable for 1-7 days. For longer term users, there may be a larger ratio of THC to fat, and detection could persist for up to 30 days. While this consistent reappearance of THC is not enough for a second-high it may be enough to show up on a drug test, both at home or professional. Consumers who only partake occasionally—once a week or less—might have THC-free urine a week after consuming cannabis. THC is lipophilic, which literally means that it loves (“philic”) fat (“lipo”). The cannabinoid quickly moves from the bloodstream to fatty tissue. It can stay in adipose tissue quite comfortably until it is eventually broken down by THC-COOH, a THC metabolite that assists the body in eliminating THC. This means that body fat composition plays an important role in how long THC stays in the body. Elevated levels of body fat give THC more storage space. This is why it is important to remember that there is no universal rule for removing THC from the body. It largely depends on body fat composition and frequency of cannabis use.
What do THC drug tests do?
Drug tests are meant to detect the presence or absence of a drug through a bodily sample, including urine, blood or hair. A drug test works by a key-and-lock mechanism: THC being the key and a THC-receptor is the lock. If THC and THC metabolites are present in a large enough quantity then the lock will unlatch and the test will come out positive, but in its absence the lock will remain shut.
What are the differences between at home and professional drug tests?
At home tests, or instant tests, will detect the absence or non-absence of THC within minutes. While these tests are much faster than professional tests, they risk accuracy. Recall, THC is the key that opens the lock, but it is possible for other metabolites to jam themselves into the lock and cause a false positive. Due to this inaccuracy, at home tests only state if there should be additional investigation by presenting a non-absence result. With that being said, having multiple positive outcomes is still strong evidence for the presence of THC. Professional testing is much more rigorous and accurate, but often takes two or more days to process. Labs will often test the sample for absence or non-absence of a substance then quantify the positive samples. Tests that quantify, rather than just detect, THC allow scientists to get a detailed diagnostic of someone's drug levels. For instance, scientists can use hair samples to see if someone was using THC for days, weeks, or months. These tests can even detect if someone used marijuana for weeks, stopped, then started again.
Tips to Pass an At Home Urine Test
- Stop using the moment you expect a test is approaching
- Drink lots of water
- Use the middle of the stream to decrease amount of metabolites
- Never do it after a workout since water content will decrease
- Never do it in the morning for the same reason as above
Facts and Myths: Will I pass my drug test?
There are many concerns when it comes to testing and even more products offering a last minute cure, yet there is conflicting evidence to whether these concerns and solutions are facts or myths. While there are no magic formulas to pass a drug test the night before, there are some tips that are scientifically supported.
At home detox kits will guarantee I pass my test?
Myth! These products have no guarantee that you will pass your test. There are two commonly used methods for these detox kits. The first is a pill or medicine filled with an assortment of extraneous metabolites, like vitamin B12 or caffeine, which are intended to mask the presence of THC. Unfortunately, simply bombarding the test with other compounds has little effect. The second type of detox kit activates enzymes in your liver to increase your metabolism, but metabolic activity and THC degradation are not inherently connected. THC and fat are broken down by different enzymes in the liver, so stimulating fat removal does not directly decrease THC levels.
Drinking a lot of water before my test will help me pass my test?
Fact! At home drug tests work by detecting a certain level of THC, usually 15 ng/ml. By drinking excess water, it is possible to dilute this concentration to a level undetectable by the test. This method, however, does not work with professional testing, because they can measure other metabolite amounts and determine the THC content regardless of hydration.
Working out will help me pass my drug test faster?
Myth! For long-term users there may be a build-up of residual THC in the fat tissue, and working out just before the test will not alter this. While a quick run the night before a surprise drug test will not benefit the user, frequent exercise and increased water consumption has been shown to slightly decrease THC levels over several weeks.
My drug test uses hair samples, should I shave my hair off?
Maybe. A study conducted by Dr. Hadland at Harvard Medical Center showed that cannabis is detectable in hair for up to 90-days. Although there are some shampoo-like products that claim to remove THC, there is no scientific evidence supporting this. Going bald is the strongest way to remove evidence, but a chrome-dome is likely to raise some eyebrows on test day.
One puff will not show up on a drug test?
Mostly, Fact! While it is still not recommended to smoke prior to a drug test, each test has a minimum amount to be detected. These cut-offs are meant to prevent second-hand inhalation from presenting a positive result and, potentially, one puff. But there are other confounding factors like the marijuana’s potency, the person’s size, and hydration levels that can either benefit or harm the users chances of passing.
Myths About Cannabis Detox
Bad—even dangerous—advice for flushing cannabis out of the system abounds. Methods that are not supported by research include:
Myth #1: Bleach
Ingesting bleach is very dangerous and can damage your organs enough to cause permanent harm or death.
Myth #2: Cranberry juice
Drinking cranberry juice isn’t a harmful strategy, but there is no evidence supporting its efficacy in eliminating THC from the bloodstream.
Myth #3: Detox Teas
As with cranberry juice, there is no research supporting their efficacy. However, they may taste unpleasant and cause gastrointestinal discomfort.
Myth #4: Apple cider vinegar
While drinking small amounts of apple cider vinegar is relatively safe, there is no evidence that it aids the body’s natural elimination processes. However, it may erode tooth enamel and cause gastrointestinal discomfort.
Side Effects of a Cannabis Detox
The efficacy of weed detox depends on the person’s prior cannabis use. Chronic users will likely need more time to completely remove THC from their bodies. They are also more likely to experience symptoms including the following:
- Reduced appetite
These symptoms may be the body’s response to suddenly being deprived of cannabinoids. In this case, they can be called withdrawal symptoms. However, they may also be the re-emergence of symptoms cannabis was treating. For example, a patient using cannabis to treat chronic pain will likely experience an increase in pain during detox. Novice or infrequent cannabis users are less likely to experience these symptoms. Additionally, cannabinoids are more likely to be eliminated from their bodies more quickly than chronic users.