Even in legal states, employers and government agencies continue to order urine tests for marijuana. So, how long does cannabis stay in your system, and why?
You worked your ass off at your job for years. You went above and beyond the call of duty more times than you can remember. Then, one day, you get injured on the job. Your manager requires you to file a worker’s compensation report, and the employer orders a mandatory urine test for weed. And if you’re reading this at MERRY JANE, chances are you’re gonna fail that drug test and lose your job, along with your rightful injury compensation.
Welcome to a world that’s still slowly crawling out of prohibition.
Urine tests have long been the standard for drug screenings. They’re fairly reliable, quick, easy, and incredibly affordable. Newer tests can produce results in a few seconds. If you’re a cannabis consumer, and you’re ordered to take one of these tests — to either get a job, keep a job, make a worker’s compensation request, appease a child-custody judge, or confirm parole/probation terms — then you may be wondering, “How long does weed stay in my urine?”
The answer depends on a few critical factors, and, unfortunately, none of them really work in your favor.
How Urine Tests Work
First, let’s look at how these tests even detect weed-use from your pee.
Urine tests today typically use color-change indicators (though some old-school labs still use the time-consuming and costly technique of GC/MS). The color changes depend on the specific test, but basically if the urine contains THC or THC metabolites, an indicator shifts to a particular hue. The lab or clinic then reports the results to whoever ordered the test — an employer, an insurance company, or a government agency — and then your fate rests in the higher-up’s hands.
Urine tests typically don’t look for THC, specifically. Rather, they look for a particular THC metabolite, 11-COOH-THC, which is created in the liver after consuming cannabis products.
However, urine analysis looks for a lot more than just 11-COOH-THC. The urine’s temperature, color, odor, pH level, creatine level, and salt contents are usually assessed, too, mainly to ensure you didn’t tamper with the sample, or that the sample is actually human urine and not some fake, synthetic pee sold to beat these tests (and they don’t always beat the tests, by the way).
Why Urine Tests Are Horrible at Determining Intoxication
Cannabinoids, like THC, are fat-soluble molecules, meaning they dissolve in fats and oils, not water. When we consume cannabis, THC and its metabolites don’t rapidly pass through our systems like sugar or salt (which both dissolve in water).
Instead, all those weed compounds deposit into our fat cells, where they remain until the fat cells are burned, shedding the THC metabolites back into our blood so they can ultimately be eliminated through the urine.
How long THC will show up in the urine depends on a few factors. The first is your body’s fat content, which can be measured through the body-mass index (BMI). The more body fat you have, the longer weed will show up in your urine. If you don’t know your BMI, you can calculate it here.
The second factor is your metabolic rate — how fast your body chemically processes everything — which is related to, but not necessarily determined by, your BMI. The slower your metabolism, the longer weed will show up in your urine.
The third factor is how much and how often you consume cannabis. Obviously, more frequent users, or those who consume higher doses at once (think: dabbing), will see THC show up in their urine across longer periods of time.
The fourth and final factor depends on your favored method of cannabis consumption. Due to physiology, edibles and drinkables typically result in longer periods where weed will show up in the urine. That includes THC tinctures, chews, breath strips, emulsified powders, and full-extract oils, like Rick Simpson Oil (RSO) or Phoenix Tears.
OK, That’s Great. But How Long Is This Stuff Gonna Stick Around?
If you’re an occasional cannabis consumer, such as someone who tokes once or twice a year, then THC should clear out of your urine after a few weeks, though some lucky individuals may pass within a few days. But chronic users, like those who get lit practically every day, can come up hot on a piss test up to three or four months after their last sesh — meaning you’ll be accused of toking even if you swore off weed a full season ago.
Although everyone is different, there is a handy online calculator that can estimate how long weed will show up in your urine. You can find it here.
While it sucks that companies, courts, and government agencies still urine-test for weed, it’s an unfortunate reality for us as we approach a post-prohibition era. As private enterprises and crafty individuals try to discover new ways to beat these tests, we ought to be thinking about how to end these tests for weed altogether. But that’s a topic for another post, another day….
Follow Randy Robinson on Twitter