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Oct-09-2011 22:44printcomments

Second-Hand Cannabis Smoke Not a Positive Test Excuse

"Will I fail my drug test if I was around pot smoking?" The results are in.

smoking cannabis joint

(SALEM, Ore.) - With jobs harder and harder to come by, many people have had to redirect their personal convictions and cave in to the demand for pre-employment drug testing.

Medical marijuana patients are not excluded from this, though they are legal users. The controversy behind this deviation from justice is an ongoing challenge of our right to privacy under the Bill of Rights, and no doubt this error will be corrected in the near future. But for the time being, patients are thrown into the same basket as hardcore drug addicts, and regarded as such by society overall.

Too often, the social ramifications of failing a drug test cause otherwise honest people to lie.

Not only does the “positive” result mean that the applicant will not be hired, there is the embarrassment of failing the test. Though legal or illegal use of marijuana has shown no risk to mankind, it retains an unearned stigma that is hard to shake. People are afraid of being labeled a drug user, and so when they fail the test, they often fall back on “it was just second hand smoke...the drug test was just very sensitive.”

Don’t fool yourself. If you have smoked or ingested cannabis in any form, you can depend on failing that test for up to a month. If you’re simply in the same room with a smoker, you should not have to worry. You will not be noticeably affected, though after such an event, a urinalysis test will probably reveal low level results. Still, not enough to test as positive.

Can being in a closed room with a heavy smoker affect your drug test?

The easy answer is No, because there is only a minute fraction of a chance it will show up in a urine test. This is the answer most will receive, since it is terribly rare that anyone testing positive wasn’t indulging, whether they admit it or not.

However, the factual answer is Yes. Second-hand marijuana smoke actually will leave traces of the chemical tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in your urine for 1-2 days after breathing (a lot of) the smoke. It is there, but in very small quantities.

Our own Dr. Phillip Leveque, who helped establish Oregon's medical marijuana law and treated thousands of patients, says there is no question that people are impacted by second-hand smoke, though he says the effects are minimal.

"Second-hand smoke from any sort, tobacco or cannabis; the smoke still contains chemicals, nicotine, etc., and so yes a person absorbs some amount of this into their system."

He says there is a big problem with the sensitivity of the testing.

"If a person went to a party where many people were smoking marijuana, and the person did not actually smoke marijuana they would pick up enough positive cannabinoids that they could show on a test. I recently wrote about this, the police and courts are essentially saying, "If you have any cannabinoids in your urine you must be an addict," which is ridiculous because anyone who smokes it will have it in their system for 4-6 weeks. These tests are completely false," said Dr. Leveque.

He says urine testing also has different readings depending on a person's body fat (fat cells tend to hold large amounts), gender is another factor.

But will you fail a drug test from second-hand smoke? No, probably not. The trace amount is not typically enough to reach the testing LOD (Level of Detection), and the “second-hand smoke” defense has not yet stood up in court. “Probably not” may not be very confidence building if you are really worried.

In a urine test, up to 50 nanograms of THC metabolites per milliliter is the typical LOD allowed. Anything more than 50 ng defines a presumptive “positive” by most labs and instant home tests, who have intentionally high standards to avoid false positives. None of the home drug tests we researched register a positive result unless it breaks 50 ng.

Note that urine tests do not detect the psychoactive component in marijuana, THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), and therefore in no way measures impairment. They detect the non-psychoactive marijuana metabolite THC-COOH.

How much is a nanogram (ng)? Nanogram is a term that is tossed around nonchalantly and accepted into conversations as if what they’re discussing has actual merit. One nanogram is exactly one billionth of a gram. 1/1,000,000,000: Tiny.

Even the movies depict cannabis testing, as in Pineapple Express

Some people do fail drug tests because of second-hand smoke, we’ve all heard stories that we deem to be true. Even the drug companies admit that in rare occurrences, secondhand pot smoke can cause you to fail a test, but they insist that extreme smoking has to be going on.

To be clear, just being nearby, or in a well-ventilated room while smoking is taking place is not going to affect the non-smoker, but being in a closed car for hour upon hour with continuous toking all around you, and then taking a drug test the very next day could be chancy for the non-using bystander.

According to homehealthtesting.com, “It (second hand marijuana smoke) would not register on our tests. We had a test where someone was placed in an isolated room with THC smoke being pumped in for 24 hours straight and the person did not register. On a lab test it did pick up about 3 or 4 nanograms but as you know instant tests are set at 50ng/ml.”

This “isolated room” was not the small, contained area that a car would have been, so the results being so low is indicative of that. The grade of the marijuana they used is also a variable worthy of an independent case study. And what of the person tested? They bring their own set of variables including their genetic makeup, the health of their metabolism, digestive and excretory systems and other factors.

Paul Stanford, executive director of The Hemp and Cannabis Foundation said that more studies need to be done, so that the findings will be admissible in court. “Unofficial case studies from scores of medical marijuana patients is not enough. If there was available funding, we could learn a lot.”

Drug Test Types Reaching for Results

Urine tests are the most widely used drug test, detecting the level of non-psychoactive marijuana metabolites in a person’s system days to weeks after use, long after impairment has passed.

Blood tests are probably the best detector of recent use because they reveal actual presence of THC. Blood tests are used less often though, being invasive and difficult to administer under unpredictable conditions. Blood tests are generally reserved for violent crime evidence, not random testing.

Some drug testing companies also offer the hair follicle test, especially for pre-employment testing, which has its own pros and cons. One, they are widely known to not be as reliable as urine tests, and; Two, hair carries a much longer history, revealing drug use and other toxins for up to three months, including patterns of use. Like, if you used any drug and then quit for a month and used again, it would reveal that history.

“The advantage of testing hair is the long period of detection: the life span of a typical hair ranges from about four months for hairs from the eyelashes or arm pit, to four years for hair from the scalp. Hair grows at a rate of about one quarter to one half inch per month. Drugs enter the hair while it is growing and therefore present a record of drug use during the entire period of growth,” wrote the FAA medical certification guidelines for pilots.

Not having “long” hair will not help you avoid the hair test. If you are bald, or have very short hair, labs will not hesitate to take a sample from another part of your body. They have no modesty, and neither do your follicles.

The worst thing about the hair test is this astonishing bit of trivia: the darker your hair is, the longer the THC hangs around.

According to the FAA, “Dark-haired people such as Hispanics, Asians, and African Americans have a higher concentration of melanin, which incorporates and retains drugs at a higher rate. The result is that a dark-haired person can be 10 to 50 times more likely to test positive than a lighter-haired person who used the same amount of drugs.”

Yes, the pigment actually makes a difference, so blondes are more likely to pass a hair test than someone with black hair, after the same amount of time “clean” creating a very real climate for racial discrimination.

50% of All Drug Test “Positives” are for Marijuana

The fact that THC is the main thing they find in all drug tests proves that the urine, blood, saliva and hair tests are faulty in the broader sense. Marijuana is the only “recent” drug measurement they can see, so they take what they can get and throw pot users under the bus. If only they could measure alcohol intake, or the last time someone did meth. Those things are eliminated from one’s body within hours or days, so it is difficult to determine level of use- or any use in some cases.

Drug addicts know this. They know that they can’t be caught for meth or cocaine or other malicious toxins if it’s just been a few days since they have used.

Eight teenagers die every single day from alcohol use, and more than a quarter of all deaths in men aged between 16 and 24 were attributed to alcohol in 2005. Meth is a cancer in our cities and town across our great country, filling young people with hopelessness and prison terms.

But marijuana, which never kills anyone, is the only thing they are really testing for, because pot smokers are easy to catch. Not because they are a risk to society. Not to mention, there are millions upon millions of dollars being made by drug testing companies and the insurance companies that require them.

So who is the real winner?

Not your family, friends and neighbors. No, the real winner has been the mighty dollar. By singling out cannabis users from the rest of society, those anti-prohibition believers in life and liberty have become a community that at first was quite unpopular but now has grown and evolved into a force to be reckoned with.

Now they have a voice, and are being heard. Sensible legislation is something they are willing to work long and hard for, to correct the wrongs of the political moves of the past.

Prevent the Angst & Anxiety of Drug Testing

One way to avoid the situation overall is to have the luxury of choosing potential employers based on their ethical hiring practices. Some are very “up front” about not infringing on their employees private lives. Those are companies to support. At this difficult economic juncture however, it is not smart to be picky about employers- not if you want to work. Therefore, do your research and prepare for your test.

If you didn’t smoke, vape or eat any cannabis, you don’t have to sweat taking a drug test. Prevention is the best answer. Don’t hang out in smoke-filled cars or unventilated rooms if it is important to keep your system completely clean. In case you are still wondering, yes, it could show up on the test.

The table above shows how long drugs typically stay in your system.

And if you have used, a little or a lot, there will be a cleansing period in order to pass a test. According to marijuana.com, if you use marijuana on rare occasions, your urine may be clean of metabolites in less than a week. But for a regular cannabis user, it is not so easy. It can take up to 100 days, depending on several things.

One of the main factors is fat tissue. Basically, because THC metabolites are stored in the body’s fat, the fatter a person is, the more THC metabolites there are. Thin people have no place to store the THC metabolites, so they test clean faster. This may not be fair, but it is true, and should be a consideration.

It is impossible to estimate the time it takes for someone to test clean. The best suggestion for a stress free experience is to prepare by using at-home drug tests a couple of times a week, first thing in the morning, until you test “clean”. And need I say this? Do not use cannabis during this time.

Perhaps in the near future, this giving up body fluids to get a job will be a bad memory. Skills and abilities will again be the most important factor to employers and average citizens will see the drug war for what it is: wrong.

Cannabis prohibition will someday be a thing of the past, and these experiences will prove to be something to laugh about as we reminisce the lunacy of an ignorant era. Until then, it is up to each of us to determine our role in improving the situation.

Whether or not you submit to a drug test will not change your destiny, but getting a job may, so do what you must to take care of you and yours. And remember, keep it legal.


Bonnie King has been with Salem-News.com since August '04, when she became Publisher. Bonnie has served in a number of positions in the broadcast industry; TV Production Manager at KVWB (Las Vegas WB) and Producer/Director for the TV series "Hot Wheels in Las Vegas", posts as TV Promotion Director for KYMA (NBC), and KFBT (Ind.), Asst. Marketing Director (SUPERSHOPPER MAGAZINE), Director/Co-Host (Coast Entertainment Show), Radio Promotion Director (KBCH/KCRF), and Newspapers In Education/Circulation Sales Manager (STATESMAN JOURNAL NEWSPAPER). Bonnie has a depth of understanding that reaches further than just behind the scenes, and that thoroughness is demonstrated in the perseverance to correctly present each story with the wit and wisdom necessary to compel and captivate viewers.

View articles written by Bonnie King

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Anonymous January 7, 2016 8:27 am (Pacific time)

I'm living proof that second hand smoke can test positive..My roommate would smoke in the bathroom. When he got done you could smell it all over the apartment. He did this for 4 months everyday. I failed 2 tests because of it, and I haven't personnally in over four months.

SandyH August 27, 2015 9:42 am (Pacific time)

Do not believe you can't come up positive from second hand smoke. It happened to me. I had a negative result on prior urine tests and had not smoked in a long time. I was in a car with a friend with the windows down and the A/C on for approx 1/2 hour while she was smoking and about 24 hours later I tested positive for thc. I am now at a loss as to how to prove I did not smoke it myself and keep reading a lot of people saying it's not possible or not likely and that simply is NOT TRUE! I have no reason to lie on an anonymous forum, do not believe it can't happen because that was my mistake. I had read that it's highly unlikely and that it's not possible to test positive from second hand smoke, and because of that I didn't worry about it when in fact I should have. Do not believe that second hand smoke can't effect a drug test, it definitely can!!!!

mickey moose April 17, 2015 8:24 pm (Pacific time)

As a former cdl holder in washington state i was exposed to second hand smoke two days before the ua and tested positive well over 50ng/mL.the dot's cut off is 15 ng/mL.john hopkins university conducted a study recently and found that this is easily posible to test positive from second hand smoke with one test subject have over 50ng/mL up to 26hours after exposure.they noted the subject had a high body mass index

beth December 29, 2014 8:15 pm (Pacific time)

My son in law was put in jail here in idaho for failing a ua and he doesn't smoke pot at all this is screwed up

california sr22 October 20, 2014 11:23 pm (Pacific time)

am speechless. It is a unbelievable weblog and very partaking too. Great work! That's probably not a lot. coming from an beginner blogger like me, but it's all I may assume after having fun with your posts. Nice grammar and vocabulary. Not like different blogs. You actually know what you are speaking about too. So much that you made me want to learn more. Your blog has turn into a stepping stone for me, my fellow blogger. Thank you for the detailed journey. I actually enjoyed the 6 posts that I have learned so far.

John January 23, 2012 4:42 pm (Pacific time)

Excellent writeup.Very informative! Thank you

marijuana drug tests December 6, 2011 3:27 am (Pacific time)

Very Nice blog.looking forward to more interesting topic from you

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