If you've ever pissed into a cup:if you're gonna piss into a cup:if you're pissing into a cup right now (as 128,767 Americans are doing today in the hope of landing a full-time job):

...and if, while pissing into the cup, you've ever wondered:

- What's it take to fail a drug test? (Short answer: doing drugs.)

- Can I pass a drug test if I've done drugs recently? (Drug user interviewed for this story: Yes. Scientist interviewed for this story: Not likely.)

- What drug is the hardest to get away with? (Short answer: marijuana.)

:then read on, comrade. The following pertains to you.

I piss into a cup. Then what happens?

After you pull up your pants, open the door and fork over your pee to a stranger, here's what happens at the Lawrence Memorial Hospital Business Health Center:

First, your "specimen" goes to the lab. There, the white-coats mix the pee with a chemical cocktail to analyze it for nine classes of drugs. (Inhalants, in case you were wondering, aren't tested.)

For most drugs, if you've done them in the past three days or so, you're likely to fail.

"It doesn't matter who took it, how long you took it," says Business Health Center director Greg Windholz. "Once you stop taking it, it's about three days : for most prescription drugs."

Sometimes less. Cocaine and some opiates can disappear in two days, according to a chart supplied by Windholz. Amphetamines can be gone in 24 hours. Marijuana, however, can take much longer to leave one's system (more on that in a moment).

If your test comes back positive, the Business Health Center sends your pee off to a lab in Kansas City, where they run a more sophisticated test that differentiates between a positive and a false positive.

If you fail that one, you're done. If you pass, your name is cleared.

A drug is a drug is a drug

Unlike most pharmaceutical drugs, which have known half-lives, the length of time that marijuana stays in a person's system can vary widely.

The chart says it can take between two days and four weeks for pot to disappear. Three weeks is a realistic median, says Jim Skinner, chief technologist at the Business Health Center.

Critics say this disparity tips the scales away from harder drugs: if you're on meth or coke, for instance-drugs more powerful and addictive than marijuana-you're less likely to get caught than if you've been smoking weed.

"Workplace drug testing only targets people who use marijuana and not harder drugs," says Laura Green, executive director of the Drug Policy Forum of Kansas. "It's very difficult to identify someone with a serious substance-abuse problem, like methamphetamine or cocaine or heroin."

But the differentiation between harder drugs and marijuana is one employers largely don't make. In most company policies, a fail is a fail.

"Sobriety is the only policy (test-takers) can follow," Skinner says. "They simply can't do it."


Source: Office of National Control Policy

Pros and Cons of the Various Drug Testing Methods Chart

Beating the test

But what about cheating? Can a drug test be beaten?

A jillion websites say yes. Selling everything from prosthetic penises and synthetic urine to hundred-dollar mystery powders, the pass-a-drug-test industry is just a click away.

"There's this whole industry that's sort of preying on these people," Green says. "They're kind of at the mercy of these hucksters because they don't want to lose their job."

Websites such as passyourdrugtest.com, testclear.com and stardetox.com, to name a few that come up on a cursory google search, offer products such as the Annihilator Kit ("99.99% success rate"-$99.95), the Powdered Urine Kit ($43.95) and Urine Luck Pre-Tox capsules ($4.99).

Many of the solutions share this instruction: take with a lot of water; and this warning: will cause frequent urination.

Often the products are merely diuretics, similar to coffee or cranberry juice, that stimulate your bladder. And the key ingredient isn't something in the solution, but the water you take with it.

"People read online that if you take this powder, you mix it with a quart of water, you can foil the drug test," Windholz says. "Well, it's not the fact that you put something in the water. It's the fact that you drank a quart of water."

Windholz says he's found some weird stuff in piss cups, such as Clorox. Some people take Goldenseal, an herb falsely (Skinner says) thought to mask a drug test. Others even chug vinegar to try to change their pH level.

"I am unaware of any kind of effective-besides dilution-thing somebody could take that would mask the presence of drugs," Skinner says.


Some substances people take-big surprise-are dangerous. One supplement widely purported on the internet to beat a drug test is vitamin B3, or niacin.

Adam, a 22-year-old KU student-who asked not to be fully identified in this article because of his drug use-says he once took a high dose of the vitamin to try to beat a test.

It can be prescribed or sold as an over-the-counter dietary supplement with a recommended dose of 15 milligrams a day. Doctors caution against taking more than 75mg, warning that side effects can include a burning sensation in the face and chest and red or flushed skin.

A Centers for Disease Control report from April documents two people who nearly died from niacin. One took 5,500mg in a 36-hour period; the other took 2,400mg over 48 hours. The report says there's "no scientific evidence" that niacin can alter a drug test.

Adam says he took 4,000mg. Though didn't end up at the hospital, he says the experience wasn't fun.

"It makes you really hot," he says. "Your skin turns bright red. You feel like you have a terrible sunburn. Itching. Scratching. It'll last 12 to 24 hours. It's awful."

He passed his drug test, he says, but he doesn't know if it was because of the niacin.

"I was also drinking a lot of water and exercising," he says.

Adam, has frequently run into drug tests before starting part-time jobs. And as a steady drug user since the age of 16, he's tried various methods of cheating. Once, he says, he went as far as to buy a heated bag that strapped onto his leg, enabling him to sneak in clean urine.

But the method he swears buy is dilution.


Adam has one distinct advantage to diluting his urine: he doesn't smoke weed these days. Instead, his drug of choice is cocaine.

He says that in the days leading up to a test-and even on the day of a test-he hasn't refrained from doing drugs like cocaine and benzodiazepine (a class of mild tranquilizers that includes Valium and Xanax).

Simply by drinking lots of water and peeing several times in the hours leading to a test, he says he's beaten three or four of them.

"If you time it just right, which is just about one to two hours after it starts getting clear," he says, "then it'll have enough in it that when you pee they'll be able to test it and it won't come back too diluted, but it won't have anything in it."

Skinner says it isn't hard to tell when a sample has been diluted-forcing either an automatic fail or a retest, depending on the policy of the company.

But because most drugs are quicker to exit a person's body than marijuana, the fact that Adam uses other drugs-harder, more dangerous ones-certainly improves his chances of passing a test.

Marijuana's active chemical ingredient, THC, is fat-soluble. This means it is stored in the body's fat cells and the liver, staying in a person's system for a longer period of time. On the other hand, harder drugs are typically water-soluble, passing more quickly through the urine.

Adam says he used to worry more about drug tests when he smoked weed, but now that he mainly uses drugs like cocaine, he doesn't sweat it as much.

'A good policy,' when it works

Despite his drug use, Adam, like Laura Green of the Drug Policy Forum, says he's not opposed to drug testing for certain jobs.

"For the most part I think it's definitely a good idea," he says. "There are some people who can handle it, but most people can't handle their drugs.

"If you're hiring someone to do a job that's important-if you're hiring them to do a job and you're paying them money-you want to know that they're performing at the highest level possible."

But as long as he's confident he can get around the tests, that's the easier thing to do than to kick his habit.


This story refers to the type of drug testing conducted at Lawrence Memorial Hospital.

Testing at LMH is usually done for private companies when: an employee is hired, the company has a random pool, and after employee gets in an accident (so the company can potentially not be held liable).

Another common test-not conducted at LMH-is mandated by the Department of Transportation for anyone who drives a vehicle for work. Employees must take the test when they're hired, when they get in an accident, and 50 percent of a company's commercially licensed drivers must take it randomly each year.

This urine test can detect five classes of drugs, while the test administered at LMH detects nine. Drugs left out of Department of Transportation testing include barbiturates, benzodiazepines, methadone and propoxyphene.


Buck Rowland 14 years, 8 months ago

This article piqued my interests, but hardly was comprehensive. How about a follow up to address some of the questions below?

I am curious about what happens when a person fails a drug test. Is there name then databased? Do the authorities have access to such information? Is the person permanently barred from employment with the company? Can the individual demand a retest? I was a lab-tech many years ago, and there are often false positives for ALL tests, as well as false negatives. What are the procedures for a positive? Is the test run again with the same test sample and a new test solution or procedure?

I think it is important to test for drugs for some jobs as well. I would think it even more important for the DOT to mandate testing for sedatives and amphetamines AND have policies that ensure a driver doesn't need drugs to function for his/her 10 dollar an hour job. Isn't part of the reason that drug testing is done so widely because it is somehow a benefit to the company on insurance costs or something?

I worked in a restaurant years ago that started drug-testing employees to "save a lot of money on insurance." When announced, one of the young ladies who worked there got up and walked out, announcing that she "had to do drugs to keep working such a crappy job." The drug testing never happened, because the policy to be instituted would have required all staff to be tested, including managers and the owner. It appeared that "the man" would have no part in the matter.

frankt 14 years, 8 months ago

Buck, I posed your questions to Greg Windholz of the Business Health Center at LMH. Here are his responses (paraphrased in some cases):

When you fail a drug test, is your name put in a database? Yes, but no authorities have access to the information. Neither does anyone else. The information never leaves the Business Health Center.

Is the person permanently barred from employment with the company? That depends on the company policy. I have read company policies where, yes, they are. And I've read company policies where they have to wait a certain amount of time before they're eligible to apply again.

Can the individual demand a retest? They can. That doesn't mean the company has to allow it. Some company policies allow to have the original specimen retested at the donor's expense. Some companies don't even give a person that option-you've tested tested positive and you can't apply again for six months or whatever the case may be.

What are the procedures for a positive? Is the test run again with the same test sample and a new test solution or procedure? We send the same sample for GCMS confirmation testing at an outside reference lab. That rules out those false positives that you could possibly get on the assay (the type of test conducted originally at LMH).

Isn't part of the reason that drug testing is done so widely because it is somehow a benefit to the company on insurance costs? Absolutely. The companies can get a reduction on their workers compensation premium. I don't know about the health insurance side because I don't deal with health insurance. But the work comp insurance company is gonna reward, so to speak, those companies that have those policies in place because that means they are looking out for their workers and they are providing a safer work environment. So yes, they can see a benefit on their insurance costs.

Buck Rowland 14 years, 8 months ago

Wow, such fast response. Thanks, Frank.

The policies are still bullshit, as they don't really catch anyone but potsmokers and the WORST offenders of drugs that cleanse from the system quickly. I would like to see congress and the senate have to piss on demand for screenings,and then this would cease immediately.

alm77 14 years, 8 months ago

Initially, I was surprised to find out that they are mostly looking for pot smokers, but after thinking about it aren't employers and testers operating on the assumption that if you're using heavier drugs then you're most likely using marijuana as well, therefore being dismissed? I'm guessing Adam is in the minority when it comes to avoiding pot and using cocaine??

smerdyakov 14 years, 8 months ago

If somebody can't go a couple weeks without smoking pot then most likely they can't function without drugs in general and would be a liability at the workplace. If you're looking for a job, you should assume that you're going to have to take a drug test and simply not take drugs until you've been cleared. Otherwise, companies do well to weed such people out-they're likely not the sharpest tool in the proverbial shed.

Random testing in work environments where smoking weed the night before presents a problem (I'm trying to think of one where doing so does present a problem...anyone?) wouldn't bother me. And of course testing for people that might be high ON THE JOB makes sense, but unless you have reason to suspect that, it seems like more than a bit invasive on that person's personal life to require that they be sober all the time. That is, sober from illegal drugs...

Deb Townsend 14 years, 8 months ago

"Otherwise, companies do well to weed such people out..." weed...

feeble 14 years, 8 months ago

alm77 says... I'm guessing Adam is in the minority when it comes to avoiding pot and using cocaine?? ============ It's been a while since I was anywhere near the "drug culture," but lots of friends and acquaintances I knew where dropping pot for pharmaceuticals since, in many cases, the drugs were/are easier to come by, possession charges are less, there is less of a "trail" (no bongs, funky smells, roaches in an ashtray, etc) and get out of your system faster.

According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy Profile of Drug Indicators for the State of Kansas (October 2006), something like 6.6% of the surveyed population in Kansas uses drugs consistently and about 1/2 of figure do not use marijuana, but rather other drugs.

After skimming the document, I think that it may under report the amount of drug usage going on in Kansas. In any event, I think the trend over the last several years has been towards other drugs (cocaine, pills, etc) and away from pot.

DOTDOT 14 years, 8 months ago

I don't know. I've worked with people who weren't worth a fuck sober, and probably might have benfitted from some herbal assistance.

scared_girl 14 years, 2 months ago

I had to take a drug test for probation, and failed for marijuana, thing is i dont smoke!! I was around people who fogged the house out, could this be a reason i failed, also what if you eat it?? :(

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