Last updated: November 27, 2023
The mouth swab drug test, also called a saliva drug test or oral swab drug test, has become a common method for detecting recent drug use. This testing method can detect most drugs, returns a result in just a few minutes, and can be conducted anywhere in plain view of others.
Mouth Swab Drug Test – Table of Contents
- Schedule a mouth swab drug test
- Why drug test in the first place?
- When can a mouth swab drug test be used?
- How does a mouth swab drug test work?
- Advantages of the mouth swab drug test
- Disadvantages of the mouth swab drug test
- Should you DIY or go with the pros?
- What drugs can this test identify?
- Mouth swab drug test detection window
- Can a mouth swab drug test be cheated?
- Frequently asked questions
This is because it enables them to check for very recent drug use on the spot. Convenience is a major factor. Oral fluid testing is fast, simple, and inexpensive, as compared to more intrusive methods like a hair or blood test. This has proven to be an effective way to keep drugs or alcohol out of the workplace.
The collection process is as simple as placing a sterile swab between the lower cheek and gum of the subject’s mouth. It takes up to 5 minutes or so to completely saturate the swab.
Because of its shorter detection window, some employers have started using this testing method to test for recent marijuana use. It’s also especially effective for random drug testing because it can be performed anywhere at a moment’s notice.
On October 25, 2019, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) published its Mandatory Guidelines for Federal Workplace Drug Testing Programs Using Oral Fluid. Whether or not to begin using the test is left up to each individual entity.
It’s important to note that the mouth swab test is not yet approved for DOT drug testing. However, a request to replace the urine drug test with the hair follicle drug test is currently passing through the chain of command.
Why drug test in the first place?
No matter how you look at the numbers, drug use affects every industry. But when you get past thinking about what this is costing our country through lowered productivity, absenteeism, and accident and injuries on the job, things become even more sobering.
It is a known fact that drug abuse is wreaking havoc throughout our entire nation. From our largest city to the most rural town, the effects of addiction show themselves to some degree. Our people are dying and our families destroyed.
Drug testing employees is a huge step in providing a safe work environment for everyone. The majority of employees value providing for themselves and their families and would not risk jeopardizing that.
However, for those employees that test positive, it is an opportunity for you to set them on a path that will ultimately change their life for the better.
When can a mouth swab drug test be used?
The mouth swab test is becoming a more accessible test for employers. There’s no mess. They can administer the test anywhere, and the analysis takes just a few minutes. We’ve already mentioned that it’s perfect for on-the-spot testing. An employer could use this test for any of the following reasons.
Pre-employment drug test
Many employers require a pre-employment drug test as the last step to employment. Some companies allow the employee to begin work based on expecting a negative drug test result.
Random drug test
The random drug test is a periodic selection of a random list of employees that must submit to a drug test. The process is often carried out by a third-party administrator.
Post-accident drug test
A post-accident test is administered after an accident, injury accident, or near-miss accident takes place. Some company protocol stipulates immediate testing following an incident. While some require the drug test only if a supervisor suspects drugs to play a part, these tests can be invaluable in determining liability for the accident.
Reasonable suspicion drug test
Employee supervisors and management personnel receive training in detecting drug use and may conduct testing if they reasonably believe an employee is under the influence of drugs.
Return-to-duty drug test
A negative drug test is required before returning to work after an employee has been suspended for drug use. They often also must first complete the rehabilitation process put in place by the employer.
Probation drug test
The court system requires parolees to submit to probation drug tests on a regular basis.
It’s important to note that although mouth swab tests detect most drugs within minutes of use, they can’t be used to indicate current impairment. This is due to the fact that there’s no way to differentiate between current impairment and the detection of drug metabolites that remain in the system for a longer period of time.
Only two states prohibit mouth swab testing
If the DOT does not regulate you, most states allow using the mouth swab test for employee drug testing. However, they are prohibited in Connecticut, Maine, Tennessee, and the US territory of Puerto Rico. The laws vary in every state, so it’s best to look them up or consult with a drug testing expert to help you line things out.
How does a mouth swab drug test work?
Research conducted by the National Institutes of Health shows that the mouth swab drug test is highly effective.
A common misconception is that the swab simply collects remnants of a drug that has been consumed. In reality, it collects metabolites. Metabolites are the byproduct of the human body metabolizing drugs. The body breaks down all substances consumed, resulting in specific, predictable, and measurable chemical byproducts. These metabolites within the blood plasma move as waste to saliva in the same way that they move to urine.
Simply rinsing the mouth with water or mouthwash prior to a test won’t remove evidence of recent drug consumption. Nor will brushing your teeth, using gum or herbs, or using “detox” products. In other words, you can’t cheat this test.
The mouth swab drug test is highly effective from a period of time within a few minutes up to several days after a drug has been consumed. This is because the same compounds evident in a person’s blood are also present in their oral fluids. It’s the drug metabolites that show up in saliva, rather than drug particles.
Advantages of the mouth swab drug test
This method offers a lot of advantages to employers, particularly when convenience and speed are important.
- The greatest advantage is convenience. Whether in an office, on the accident site, or at another location, testing can be conducted on the spot.
- There is no need for a private bathroom or gender-specific collectors.
- They are relatively inexpensive.
- Because of their convenience, this offers easy testing for a variety of situations, including pre-employment, post-accident, follow-up, or return-to-duty drug testing.
- Compared to other drug testing methods, results can be processed more quickly.
- They are less invasive than other options.
- Drug use can be detected in as soon as a few minutes and up to 72 hours after use.
- It is nearly impossible to cheat because the collector is present during collection. There is no opportunity to intentionally adulterate (corrupt) a specimen, such as switching it with a clean, prearranged sample.
- Lab testing for saliva is just as accurate as urine testing.
- Additional samples can be collected immediately if necessary, as opposed to urine samples, which may require a longer wait.
Disadvantages of the mouth swab drug test
There are few disadvantages, so consider their differences compared to other drug testing methods before deciding what is best for your situation.
- Many websites falsely claim to offer products, such as detox mouthwashes, that can supposedly help a person cheat a saliva test. This doesn’t work, but employees or employee candidates may be more tempted to try drugs when they think they have an easy way to cheat. It’s important to educate employees in order to avoid this issue.
- 72 hours is the maximum period of time after consumption that drug use can be detected. Other testing methods – like hair follicle testing – may be better options for identifying long-term, continued drug use.
- Employers that work for the federal government or are required to follow DOT regulations are not permitted to conduct saliva drug testing as their primary testing method.
Should you DIY or go with the pros?
There are mouth swab tests out there with immediate pass or fail results available in less than five minutes.
These tests are equipped with an immunoassay test to determine drug use. A negative result indicates that no drugs were detected. The person is free to return to normal activities in minutes.
An immediate negative result is precisely why laboratories perform the immunoassay test on all specimens. It rapidly wades through the vast majority of all drug tests — the ones with negative results.
However, it is essential to note that some immediate result swabs aren’t sensitive enough to pick up on certain drug classes. Moreover, they may not follow the SAMSHA detection cutoff guidelines.
Employers that bring in a testing company use lab-based testing. Even if requesting a pass or fail on the premises, a positive result is then sent for a lab-based test immediately. The gas chromatography testing method breaks down the specimen to pinpoint drugs used and their levels.
What drugs can be identified?
A mouth swab drug test can be used for 5-panel, 9-panel, 10-panel, and 12-panel drug tests. This test detects various drugs, including, but not limited to:
- Synthetic marijuana
- Ecstasy (MDMA)
- Crystal meth
- Rohypnol (roofies)
- Designer Drugs, such as steroids and bath salts
Mouth swab drug test detection window
This method has the shortest window for detecting drug use. It can detect drug use within just a few minutes. The detection window identifies some drugs minutes after being taken. It depends on the drug and how it’s ingested. Other drugs can be identified for up to three days after discontinuing use.
These are some general detection windows:
- Marijuana: From one hour after use, up to 24 hours at the most.
- Cocaine: From several minutes following consumption, up to about one day.
- Opiates, including Hydrocodone, Codeine, Fentanyl, or Oxycodone: From about an hour after use, up to three days afterward.
- Methamphetamine and amphetamines: From several minutes following consumption, up to as long as three days.
- Alcohol: Almost immediately after consumption, and up to a half-day afterward.
Can a mouth swab drug test be cheated?
There are several mouthwash and gum products on the market for supposedly passing mouth swab drug tests. They profess to rid your mouth of drug metabolites for a predetermined amount of time.
They don’t work.
- Mouthwashes include the brand names Magnum Detox, Stinger, and Toxin Rid Rescue.
- Oral Clear Gum is $90.00 for one piece. You let the stuff inside the gum ooze out into your mouth and hope the test is quick. The “results” don’t last long. Of, course, we think that’s their disclaimer statement should they be sued when someone fails the drug test.
There are always going to be stories of home remedy cleansing and masking methods. Some of them are so preposterous you can’t help but wonder about the intelligence levels of those who would give them a go.
In the case of the “How I Passed My Mouth Swab Drug Test” essays, the “I just swished some bleach around in my mouth” comment is the most insane.
Seriously. It does not get any crazier than that. Bleach is not designed for human consumption. If any is swallowed, the consequences can be dire.
There are other methods of madness that are nonlife-threatening. However, they still won’t work. Your body is continuously producing saliva. The drug metabolites are in your saliva.
- Gargling Listerine or another form of antiseptic mouthwash,
- swishing and gargling hydrogen peroxide,
- and brushing your teeth, tongue, and cheeks until they’re near to raw apparently.
Our personal favorite on this list is to eat super fatty foods just before the test for marijuana. Apparently, since the THC metabolites love to hide in fat cells, they will jump right into the food and hide out in your stomach for the duration of the test.
Frequently asked questions
How long does a mouth swab drug test go back?
A properly collected saliva sample will contain metabolites of most drugs for up to 48 hours. Opiate/opioid use may be detected for up to 72 hours.
How soon can this testing method identify drug use?
Drug metabolites are present in a saliva sample within 30-60 minutes after use. This earlier detection time combined with its shorter detection window makes it attractive to employers who are more flexible on off-duty marijuana use.
Moreover, oral fluid drug tests are capable of identifying some parent drugs. That said, someone who has smoked marijuana or shot up or snorted their drug of choice could test positive immediately. However, as mentioned earlier, there is no way to accurately determine if the positive result was from the parent drug or its drug metabolite.
Can employers conduct a mouth swab drug test in states where marijuana is legal?
Yes. Regardless of legalization at the state level, marijuana is still illegal at the federal level. It presents a legitimate safety concern because of its adverse impact on judgment, reaction time, and coordination.
Consuming marijuana on the job is the same thing as drinking on the job. Even if you live in a “cannabis-friendly” state like Colorado or California, drug use in the workplace is not allowed.
Because of these factors, it should come as no surprise that the courts at all levels have consistently upheld an employer’s right to enforce a drug-free workplace.
How accurate is this type of drug test?
All drug tests are highly accurate. The reality is that false positives are a myth.
If the initial immunoassay test returns a positive result for drug use, gas chromatography testing is then conducted.
This means that before issuing a positive drug test result, two completely separate and highly accurate lab procedures are first performed.
How soon are the results from a mouth swab drug test typically available?
Results from this test are available within minutes when we conduct an instant test, and within 48 hours when we conduct a standard test.
It’s important to note that instant testing doesn’t include the typical follow-up gas chromatography test. We do recommend it. This helps to protect employers from HR-related issues resulting from a false positive. This concern does not exist with standard testing.
What are the cut-off levels?
The cut-off levels for all tests conducted by USAMDT are based on the current Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) proposed guidelines.
How long does a mouth swab drug test take?
Each mouth swab test takes just a few minutes. It’s important to note, however, that someone suffering from a condition known as “dry mouth” can take notably longer. Still, since employees are not required to travel to and from the restroom, the entire testing process for the majority of employees is often significantly faster than urine tests.
How do you pass a mouth swab drug test?
As shocking as it may sound, the only certain way to pass any drug test is to not use drugs.
Some drug users have attempted to mask drug use by rinsing their mouths with mouthwash or eating breath mints in an attempt to pass a saliva test. Fortunately for employers, this doesn’t work because the test looks for drug metabolites, which are the metabolic by-product of drug use, rather than simply looking for drug particles. Unlike a urine drug test, oral drug tests are not susceptible to a negative dilute drug test result.
Do over-the-counter medications affect oral fluid?
The initial screening screens enzyme-immunoassay antibodies (EIA). This is similar to those used in a urine drug test. While slight, the potential for over-the-counter medications to cause a false positive result does exist, but only in the initial screening. To eliminate potential false-positive results, USAMDT confirms all initial positive results by a gas chromatography test.
Is this acceptable for DOT drug testing?
No. As of 2018, the Department of Transportation accepts only results from urine drug tests. There have been discussions about implementing hair drug tests due to their longer detection window. This also applies to any drug test required as a condition of employment by, or contract with, the federal government.
However, SAMHSA approved oral fluids testing as an alternative for employers under federal regulation—but, only if the specified government entity submits the proper request to allow them.
Are employees required to take the test?
If your employer has a drug testing policy as a condition of employment, then the answer is generally yes. It is typically considered a positive result when an employee refuses to take a drug test. Depending on the employer’s drug testing policy, an employee may receive counseling, suspension, or even termination. This may vary from state to state.
What is the advantage of using a company instead of a DIY test kit?
There are lots of DIY drug tests on the market. It is true that these tests provide the employer with results within minutes of completing the test. However, they may not adhere to the SAMHSA levels, and they may not contain the ability to identify individual drug families. A professional tester is both cost-effective and worry-free.
What is the difference between Δ9-THC and THC-COOH?
Δ9-THC is the specific name of the cannabis molecule that is in the saliva. The smoke is full of these molecules, and they store themselves in the mouth and throat. They can be detected there for several hours. It coincides with the time that a person is impaired from smoking the drug.
THC-COOH metabolites are left after the body metabolizes the THC. These metabolites are found throughout the body long after impairment from using marijuana wears off.
Will a mouth swab pick up on Δ9-THC?
If you have specified that is what you are looking for; then, the answer is yes. For a few hours, this cannabis molecule is detectable in the mouth.
If my employee is using CBD products, will they test positive for THC?
It’s possible. All hemp plants contain lower levels of THC and higher levels of CBD. Vice versa for the marijuana plant. It stands to reason that different strains of the plant could contain higher than “normal” levels of THC. Varying degrees of both THC and CBD will end up in the product since the extraction process is not regulated.
CBD users should research and find a reputable company. There are some that advertise as having no THC in their products whatsoever.
How do you read the results of a mouth swab test?
The immediate mouth swab drug tests are generally a pass or fail, returning color-coded results in minutes.
A third-party administrator will process the results in a laboratory and will provide the results in a few days.
Does a quick swab of the mouth complete the test?
No. It usually takes between three and five minutes.
The swab is held in the mouth against the cheek to collect the saliva that forms.
An employee complained that they have “dry mouth.” Was that for real?
Yes. It can happen. Some medications cause this condition. It can also be a result of being nervous. The test will probably take longer to complete.