May 17, 2015

Can You Test Positive on a Drug Test Because of a Marijuana Contact High?

May 17, 2015
can secondhand marijuana smoke make you fail a drug test

What is a Contact High?

Maybe you’ve heard your dad talk about it when he went to a Three Dog Night concert in 1970, or maybe you’ve experienced it in the backseat of hotboxed Lincoln. If you’ve spent any time as a marijuana smoker, you’re likely familiar with the term contact high: the inhaling of secondhand marijuana smoke, sometimes resulting in minor psychotropic effects.

Perhaps you’ve had a friend who swore up and down that they got high even though they don’t smoke pot, or, heck, maybe you’ve experienced this phenomenon yourself when, say, taking a break from cannabis while your friends pass around the bong. It can be stressful hanging with your weed smoking pals if you’re trying to abstain, especially if worried about a forthcoming drug test, begging the question “Can a contact high make me fail a drug test?”

The short answer: possibly.

The Scientific Studies on Contact High and Drug Tests

A more pressing question is “Can weed get in your system from secondhand smoke?” to which the answer is: absolutely yes. This published scientific study confirms that “exposure to secondhand cannabis smoke results in absorption of cannabinoids,” but that “[r]oom ventilation ameliorates the effects of secondhand cannabis smoke exposure.”

In this study, two groups of non-marijuana users were enclosed in a room with a specially designed air control system and subjected to secondhand cannabis smoke (11.3% THC – weak sauce if you ask me) for one hour, with one group experiencing no ventilation and the other having regular ventilation. The result:

Exposure to secondhand cannabis smoke under unventilated conditions produced detectable cannabinoid levels in blood and urine. … One urine specimen tested positive at using a 50 ng/ml cut-off and several specimens were positive at 20 ng/ml. Exposure under ventilated conditions resulted in much lower blood cannabinoid levels, and did not produce sedative drug effects, impairments in performance, or positive urine screen results.

In other words, if you’re not smoking cannabis yourself, it’s way less likely to test positive for THC from secondhand marijuana smoke—and way less likely to experience contact high—if your friends are passing around the joint with the windows open or outdoors. 

Would a Contact High Fail a Drug Test If I Didn’t Even Smoke Weed?

But wait, you might be thinking to yourself, I didn’t even smoke! I certainly didn’t get high! So, why would secondhand marijuana smoke make me test positive for THC? 

For the record, most drug tests have a cutoff level of 50 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml), with some even being as low as 15-20 ng/ml. As indicated by the study above, it took only one hour of exposure to secondhand smoke of some pretty trash weed to achieve these levels.

Moreover, you’re more at risk if in the presence of joints or blunts where there is smoke constantly being generated. The smoke coming off a joint or blunt hasn’t been “filtered” through anyone else’s lungs, meaning there’s a greater chance for THC absorption into your system via secondhand smoke. Suffice to say, even if you aren’t hitting the blunt along with the rest of your friends, you’re still at risk for testing positive for THC on a drug test.

Preventing a Second Hand Marijuana High to Pass a Drug Test 

The effects and risks of a severe second hand high can be almost completely mitigated with proper airflow. If your pals are seriously smoking pot and you don’t want to risk failing a drug test because of contact high, turn on the AC, turn on the fan, open a window, or take it outside. Your risk of failing a drug test depends almost entirely on how intense the concentration of smoke in your hotbox.

Conclusion: Will Secondhand Marijuana Smoke Make Me Fail a Drug Test?

“Under extreme, unventilated conditions, secondhand cannabis smoke exposure can produce detectable levels of THC in blood and urine,” according to the study. In other words, if you’re worried about an upcoming drug test while hanging out with your weed-smoking friends, maybe crack a window.

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