Decoding Turnaround Times for Hair Drug Tests

Shawn Kilgarlin

August 21, 2023

Hair drug tests have gained prominence as an effective method for detecting the presence of drugs in an individual’s system over an extended period. Unlike other drug tests focusing on recent use, hair drug tests offer a longer detection window, making them valuable tools in various settings, from employment screenings to legal cases. In this article, we’ll delve into the intricacies of hair drug tests and explore the factors contributing to their turnaround time.

Understanding Hair Drug Testing

Hair drug testing involves analyzing a small sample of hair to detect the presence of drugs or their metabolites. This method is particularly effective because drugs and their metabolites become trapped in the hair shaft as it grows. As a result, hair drug tests can provide insight into an individual’s drug use history over weeks or even months.

The Turnaround Time Puzzle

The turnaround time for hair drug tests can vary depending on several factors:

Sample Collection

The first step in the process is collecting a hair sample. Typically, a small amount of hair is snipped from the back of the head, close to the scalp. The length of hair required may vary based on the lab’s protocols and the specific substances being tested for.

Turnaround Time Impact: Sample collection is a quick procedure that usually takes just a few minutes.

Sample Transportation

After collecting the hair sample, it must be securely packaged and transported to the testing laboratory. This step ensures the sample’s integrity and prevents contamination.

Turnaround Time Impact: The time spent transporting the sample depends on the distance between the collection site and the laboratory. This could range from a few hours to a day.

Sample Processing

Once the hair sample reaches the laboratory, it goes through a process of washing, screening, and analysis. The laboratory technicians extract the drugs or metabolites from the hair strands and conduct the necessary tests.

Turnaround Time Impact: Sample processing time can vary based on the laboratory’s workload and the tests conducted. On average, this step may take several days.

Reporting Results

After the tests are completed, the laboratory generates a report with the hair drug test results. This report is usually sent to the individual or organization that requested the test.

Turnaround Time Impact: The time taken to generate and send the report to the requesting party depends on administrative processes and communication methods. It could take a few days to a week.

Factors Influencing Turnaround Time

Type of Drug Test

Different substances have varying detection windows in hair, which can impact the complexity of the analysis. Testing for a wide range of drugs may extend the processing time.

Laboratory Workload

The number of samples being processed by the laboratory at any given time can affect the turnaround time. High volumes of samples may lead to longer processing times.

Testing Protocols

The specific tests being conducted and the laboratory protocols play a role in determining how long it takes to process the hair sample.


The geographic distance between the sample collection site and the testing laboratory can influence transportation times and overall turnaround.

Urgency of Results

Some situations require expedited testing and reporting, which could affect the overall turnaround time.

Average Turnaround Time

While the exact turnaround time can vary, a general estimate for hair drug tests might look like this:

– Sample Collection: A few minutes
– Sample Transportation: A few hours to a day
– Sample Processing: Several days
– Reporting Results: A few days to a week
On average, the entire process could take around a week to a couple of weeks, from sample collection to the delivery of results.

Considerations for Different Scenarios

Employment Screenings

Many employers use hair drug testing as part of their pre-employment screening process. In this case, the turnaround time is typically designed to balance the need for comprehensive testing with the urgency of filling job positions. Employers might receive results within a week or two.

Legal Cases

In legal situations, such as court-ordered drug testing or child custody cases, turnaround time is determined by the court’s timeline. Laboratories may offer expedited testing for legal issues, but the overall process can still take a few weeks.

Personal Use Cases

Some individuals undergo hair drug tests for personal reasons, such as to gain insight into their drug use history. Turnaround time for confidential testing might be less time-sensitive, and individuals can expect results within a couple of weeks.

Hair drug tests offer a unique and valuable window into an individual’s drug use history. While the turnaround time for these tests can vary based on factors like sample collection, transportation, processing, and reporting, the process typically takes a week to a few weeks. The precise timeline will depend on the testing situation’s specifics and the testing laboratory’s protocols. As the demand for accurate and comprehensive drug testing continues to grow, laboratories and organizations are working to balance the need for thorough analysis with the importance of timely reporting.