How is Cannabis Eliminated from the Body?
The primary active ingredient in Cannabis is called delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Although there are about 60 cannabinoids in marijuana, THC is the main one that causes psychoactive effects.
When smoked, the THC enters the bloodstream by being absorbed into the lungs. This all happens very quickly – within minutes. If the THC is ingested, it can take a bit longer for it to reach the bloodstream – anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours.
THC is lipid-soluble, so it readily deposits into lipids and fats. Any fat tissue will develop deposits of THC, as will the liver, lungs, spleen, and other organs. This storage is temporary, and the THC will eventually make its way to the liver to be broken down.
In the liver, THC is metabolized to 11-OH-THC, which is another psychoactive compound, before finally being metabolized into THCCOOH, which is an inactive compound. Drug tests often test for these other compounds in addition to THC, so they can detect marijuana use for a longer period than tests that only look for THC. Once the liver has broken down the THC, the compounds are excreted in urine and stool.
Factors that Influence Elimination Rate
This is no cut and dry answer to how quickly marijuana leaves the body. It largely depends on several factors related to your body type and drug use. The short answer is marijuana can be detected anywhere from 4 to 70 days after the last time you used it.
Since that isn’t immensely helpful, we need to break down the factors that influence the elimination rate, or how quickly the drug leaves your body. These factors range from genetic and body type factors to how much THC has been consumed.
One of the biggest factors is your body fat percentage. Because THC is lipid-soluble, it binds to and is stored in fat in the body. The more body fat, the longer it takes to clear the THC and its various compounds from the body. People with less body fat will have fewer places the THC can be deposited.
The more frequently you use and the more cannabis you consume at once, the longer the Cannabis will stay in your system. Excessive use allows for more THC to be built up in the fat and organ tissue, instead of being eliminated right away.
All Cannabis is not created equal. Some of it is much stronger than other strains. With the legalization of Marijuana in several states, manufacturers have been working to increase the potency. The potency of cannabis is a measurement of the THC present and is often a percentage. The more THC consumed in a short amount of time, the more that will store in the fat and organ tissues.
Some drug tests are more sensitive than others, so the type of drug test you are being given (urine, blood, hair, or saliva) will influence how long THC can be detected. We will go over the actual rates in a later section.
THC is broken down in the liver using the enzymes CYP2C9 and CYP3A4. Some genetic factors can impact how much of that enzyme a person has or how well the enzyme works. This can impact the rate that the liver metabolizes THC – allowing the drug to stay in the system for longer.
Also, several drugs will interact with those same enzymes and making it harder for your body to get rid of THC. The drugs that are all strong inhibitors of CYP3A4 include clarithromycin, telithromycin, nefazodone, itraconazole, ketoconazole, atazanavir, darunavir, indinavir, lopinavir, nelfinavir, ritonavir, saquinavir, and tipranavir. Amiodarone, clopidogrel, delavirdine, disulfiram, doxifluridine, efavirenz, fluconazole, fluorouracil, imatinib, leflunomide, metronidazole, miconazole, phenytoin, sulfamethoxazole, sulfaphenazone, sulfinpyrazone, valproic acid, and voriconazole all inhibit CYP2C9 – as does grapefruit juice.
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How Long is THC Detected on Drug Test
There are two different main test methods – qualitative and quantitative. Qualitative tests are the most widely used. They will just give a result of positive or negative. A negative test will result from very low levels of THC, but the levels don’t need to be zero. The levels of THC that will trigger a positive test result vary for each test.
A quantitative test will give an actual level of THC. The amount most tests can detect can be exceedingly small. These tests must be done in a lab. This makes them much more accurate and sensitive, but also expensive. Often these tests are used when a qualitative test has given a positive result.
The test types break down further into a urine, saliva, hair, or blood tests. The most looked for compound in all these tests is THCCOOH. While this compound isn’t psychoactive, it does have a longer half-life than the other compounds such as THC. This means it will be detected for a longer period, making the test more sensitive.
Saliva tests can detect THCCOOH up to 34 hours after last using the drug. Blood tests have very similar timing at around 36 hours. Some studies indicate that THCCOOH can be detected using a blood test up to 7 days post drug use, however this was with a minimum of 3 months of chronic cannabis use. Anything less than that would likely have a lower detection window. These two tests are best used when there is suspected drug use in the past few days.
Urine testing is the most common test used. It’s quick and easy to administer. No special equipment or training is needed. These tests have detection periods of 1-4 days. For people who use cannabis up to three times a week, the average detection period was three days. Some studies indicate that THCCOOH can be detected using a urine test up to 70 days post drug use, with a minimum of 3 months of chronic cannabis use.
Hair tests are used when a broader picture of cannabis use is needed. This type of test is best used for chronic marijuana use. It cannot detect one single use of marijuana in the previous 7-14 days. In general, every 1 cm of hair equals about one month of new growth, so the detection window will depend greatly on hair length. Shorter hair will have a smaller detection period and longer hair a bigger detection period. On average, the expected detection period is about 90 days with hair tests.
Second-Hand Cannabis Smoke
Especially in states that have legalized marijuana, there are often fears that second-hand marijuana smoke can cause a positive result on a test. The amount of smoke you would need to be around to cause a positive result on most tests is so large, it’s reasonable to not be worried. Studies suggest that being in a well-ventilated area, even for several hours, poses no risk to your drug test.
Ways to Remove Cannabis Faster
There are no guaranteed ways to speed up the rate that cannabis is flushed out of your system. You can find lots of kits, detoxes, or tips and tricks online that claim to help. None of these are reliable because everyone eliminates marijuana at different rates. The best thing to do is to stop all cannabis use, give it time, and focus on exercising, eating healthy, and drinking lots of fluids.
While marijuana might not cause a chemical addiction like heroin or methamphetamines, with chronic use a social addiction can develop. If you need detox kits to pass a drug test, that might be a sign that your addiction has gotten serious. A drug rehab program will be able to help you with focused and proven steps and guidance to get your addiction under control.