Taking The Piss - drug testing

Drug testing is a huge industry spawned by the prohibition regime which is reaching into every aspect of our lives, not just at work but increasingly at play as well. Even school kids can face drugs tests in schools with rabid prohibition supporting head teachers.

Taking the piss - drug testing at work

Practical issues
in a nutshell

Fooling the bladder cops
Piss test FAQ

Test negative
Some background from the USA

Drug testing at work - a bad investment
1999 report of the American Civil Liberties Union (PDF)

Drug-testing in the workplace is a needless expensive folly, a degrading and humiliating invasion of civil liberties and the 21st century equivalent of the McCartyite "loyalty oath". UKCIA bring you their guide to avoiding testing positive.

Big brother is watching while you play

Back in 2002 drug testing at pop festivals and bars was big news, since then it has failed to become the big deterrant it seemed to promise, but the police still do "swoops" from time to time. The equipment claims to be able to detect minute traces of drugs, but how reliable it is remains open to question. The advice is if a venue wants to drug test you before letting you in, don't go there.

Introduction to Drug-testing

General

In the UK, in general, if you have a job where drug testing is required, you will be fired if you refuse to submit to it.  It will be there in your contract and you would be in breach of contract if you refuse to knuckle under.  It sucks.  It's a shit situation, but it's legal in the UK.  But people who work for banks, on the railways or in other 'safety-critical' positions do not have a choice if they want to keep working.  Certain companies and informal cartels maintain blacklists of people never to employ again on the basis of a failed test.  This is usually done, they say, on the grounds of safety.  Which is how the UK is doing what America could not: gradually introducing drug testing for drivers, as has been done in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Belgium.

It's important that people get the facts.  Testing is an art represented in court as a science.

Drug tests, be they GCMS or dip-test urinalysis do not detect THC.  They detect the metabolites for cannabinoid, bio-chemical markers produced by the human body when it processes a cannabinoid.  These metabolites can remain in the body for up to 90 days in the case of a heavy smoker.  For an average user, a detection time for cannabis of 30-40 days is more common.  Having a fast metabolism can reduce these times.  The level of cannabinoid metabolites in your body will depend upon whether you are a heavy, medium or light cannabis user and on how fast your body processes and expels metabolite build-up.

Water, fruit juices and excercise

Drinking lots of fluid to dilute your urine is a very bad idea.  This is because UK testing laboratories such as Medscreen carry out what is called an optical test (I kid you not) where they *look* at the urine and if it is too clear then they will reject it.  Just like that.

The problems with using fruit juice to provide coloration in a Urine sample is twofold: juice is very high in vitamins, which is where you're deriving your colouration from. If the level of vitamins in your urine sample is too high, you will fail the test. Brightly coloured urine tends to arouse suspicion too. Consequently calibration of juice intake would be critical to any such effort but is awesomely difficult to achieve.

Commercially available carbohydrate-drink style products use correctly calibrated portions of vitamins to achieve the desired effect.

Exercise is worth recommending if only to put people's metabolisms back into something resembling acceptable shape and thereby give them a decent shot at processing their drugs within recognised timeframes. People with slower metabolisms who smoke cannabis are going to be liable to test positive for a longer time than someone who smokes the same amount but has a faster metabolism.

Exercise is not the sole governing factor in metabolism, either.

Golden seal

The one thing that results in an awful lot of failed tests, particularly in the USA, is Golden Seal.  The rumours about this herb providing a quick-flush are totally false and fool a lot of people right along into losing their jobs.

Hair testing

As a technique this has yet to make a real impact upon the predominance of Urine testing in the UK.

Hair testing focuses upon what is found inside the hair shaft. Metabolites for drugs, including cannabis, become lodged within the shaft and are thus detectable.

The problems with hair testing (and Kevin B Zeese goes into far more detail than I can in his Drug-Testing Legal Manual) is that it was calibrated on Caucasians. In some African populations, certain Asian groups and even some Eastern Europeans, their hair has a different consistency than this, one more likely to contain higher levels of problematic substances. More intriguingly, with (for instance) cocaine, actual molecules of the drug can be found in African (ethnicity) hair whereas Caucasian hair is likely to only contain metabolites within the hair shaft (ruling out *external* contamination).

Hair testing is a deeply flawed technology drafted into the drug war after a US Navy pilot put an F14-Tomcat through the deck of the USS Nimitz and drugs got the blame. The Navy spent $2bn on the research and so clearly there was no possible way that this test system could've been a dud. Clearly!

I've heard of only one instance of hair testing in the UK and that was, worryingly, at the request of a mortgage provider for their prospective 'customer'. It's provided as an option for arrestees in Germany along with blood or urine analysis.

False positives

If you take Ibuprofen (the over-the-counter pain killer) you will test positive for taking cannabis.  This is a fairly well known 'false positive'.  Others famously include poppy seed bagels leading to failed tests for Opium and night-nurse style remedies causing people to fail for cocaine.  Stating any unprescribed medications that you may be taking can be a key part of beating the test by creating the legitimate need for a subsequent re-test. This can be expensive if you are in the unfortunate position of being forced to pay for your own test, as is the case in some jobs and private schools.

Cut off points and safguards

In the United States there are Federal safeguards on drug tests, including mandatory 'cut-off' points that are far, far higher in terms of nanograms than the voluntary cut-offs (where they exist) in the UK. Cut off points, below which a certain level of metabolites will be accepted as a negative sample, have been the primary method of improving testing 'accuracy', at least as far as the American courts are concerned.

The absence of a cut-off point in the UK is just that: absent. We have much lower cut off levels than the USA as there are no legal safeguards to insure a sufficiently high minimum.

A high cut-off point provides a safeguard. It makes it less likely that a false-positive or cross-contaminated sample will result in an individual failing the test.

The issue

Ultimately, testing should become a Unionised issue. However, this cannot happen while it is so closely (and erroneously) associated with Health and Safety issues as nobody wants to be seen to be standing up for unsafe practices.

Drug testing does not show impairment. Metabolite levels do not indicate the level of intoxication. Newer tests, such as optical scanners, can measure your response time which means you can also fail or being tired or ill. These are a better guide to a person's ability to perform reaction-critical work on a given day but are unlikely to see widespread use due to the obvious effect of ruling almost nobody fit to work. Plus, of course, academic research carried out in the last few months by Acclaim software actually shows that a person's reaction times may *improve* when given small quantities of cannabis. This is quite counter-intuitive.

In any event, a company that needs to be seen to care about it's safety record while catching a break on insurance premiums will always see drug testing as a quick-fix solution. Of all the train crashes in the past five years, just how often have the drivers *failed* their drug tests? I'm pretty sure it's never and yet testing is the set-piece of the Transport Act introduced after the Kings Cross fire.

Further reading

There's a set of (American) 'Legal Manuals' by Kevin B. Zeese which covers the frankly huge body of law devoted to testing in the USA: buy on Amazon

It provides a lot of interesting arguments and approaches to challenge the legality of drug tests that may be worth bringing up in the UK's jurisdiction.  While they aren't citable law in the UK, they do provide a litigant with a good idea of what needs fighting and what rights they should aim for.  A 'clean room' for instance (forensically clean, that is) is a requirement for most Federally mandated tests.  In the UK I've heard of Railtrack personnel tested in sheds with diptests (that don't even stand up in UK courts) while peeing into polystyrene cups as their workmates look on. 

Practical issues

bullet point

Refuse to take the test!
Seriously, you should refuse to take a test, because its an invasion of civil liberties, and a degrading and humiliating experience. Use the info on this pages to back up your case, and encourage your fellow employees to support you.

bullet point Clean out your system.
If you decide to take the test, stop smoking. Forget all the rumours of magic potions, only time and exercise will help remove THC from your fat cells. A high-fibre diet might help your body package and excrete THC.
bullet point On the day of the test.
Drink lots of fluid on the day of the test to temporarily dilute your urine. Cranberry juice will temporarily strip out THC from your urine. Don't give them your first piss of the day, as its the strongest. Similarly don't give them the beginning and end of your piss - give them a sample from mid-stream.
bullet point Don't tamper with your sample.
Unless you're very clever, the testing lab will know that you've done it. If you switch clean urine for your own, make sure that its someone your own age and sex, and that it's at body tempature.
bullet point If you fail, kick up a stink.
The moment you are told you've failed, act incredulous: "what?! I can't have! It must be a mistake!" That's what an innocent person would do. You'll have to take a second test, so you've got extra time to clean out your system, and pass the re-test.
bullet point Further Information.
Buy a copy of Abbie Hoffman's "Steal This Urine Test" (Penguin, ISBN 0-14-010400-3) or have a look at our mirror of the piss-test FAQ.