Understanding how long marijuana can linger in your system is quite an important matter. For some, it can be the difference between keeping their job and visiting the unemployment line.

Even in some areas where recreational marijuana has been legalized, some employers’ still prefer to keep their payroll free of marijuana users. As such, it’s worth knowing just how long weed will remain in your system.

The effects of smoking marijuana tend to fade within a few hours. Consuming edible marijuana products can have effects lasting upwards of twelve hours. But the metabolites — the chemicals your body converts marijuana’s active ingredients into — can stick around far longer.

Let’s take a look at the details.

woman blowing out marijuana smoke

THC: The Substance They’re Looking For

When it comes to drug tests, the main target of investigation is THC. THC is known as the “active ingredient” in marijuana. While the situation is a bit more complicated — with cannabis being rich in several varieties of psychoactive substances — THC is the main culprit behind the high produced from marijuana strains.

With that in mind, most drug tests which look for “marijuana” target THC and its metabolites.

THC and its main metabolite, THC-COOH, are what is known as “fat-soluble” compounds. This means that after smoking or ingesting marijuana, these compounds soak into the fats and lipids throughout your body.

If you’re just a one time user who smoked one or two joints in an evening, this isn’t a substantial effect. However, for regular users, this can lead to a build-up of THC metabolites throughout the body, which can linger for quite awhile.

THC itself is metabolized fairly rapidly by the body, which is why your average marijuana high only lasts a few hours. However, these fat soluble metabolites are not psychoactive, meaning they can hang around in your body for quite awhile, long after you’ve stopped feeling the effects of the marijuana.

So just how long can you expect to test positive for marijuana usage? It’s not such a simple question.

In fact, it’s a question which will vary for every user. Your individual physiology is a big part of the equation. The speed at which the body metabolizes THC and how effectively it eliminates it will vary with every individual.

Your body fat can play a big role in the equation. Heavier individuals have more fat cells available to store THC metabolites, while thinner users have fewer fat cells available to hold onto THC metabolites.

Another important factor is how you consume your marijuana. Smoking delivers THC to the blood nearly instantly, which metabolizes within a few hours. Consuming edibles can prolong the process substantially, keeping the THC in your system for longer.

Testing Methods

There are several methods used to test for the presence of THC and its metabolites. By far the most common is a urine test, which looks for THC’s metabolites which have been eliminated from the body through the urine. 

However, there are other methods, such as saliva and blood tests. Here’s a quick breakdown of methods and how long they can show positive results:

  • Blood Test: A blood test can look for both THC and THC metabolites. This method is only likely to return a positive result within twenty-four hours of ingesting marijuana, as THC and its metabolites leave the blood quite rapidly.
  • Saliva: Similar to a blood test, THC and metabolites can be detected in the saliva within a few hours of use.
  • Urine: Urine tests are the most common and effective way of looking for THC. They look primarily for the THC-COOH metabolite. If you only used marijuana once, it can be detected in your urine for up to 13 days. If you’re a regular user, it can linger for anywhere from 45 to 90 days, depending on how heavily you use marijuana and your individual physiology. This is why synthetic urine products exist–to help with these tests.
  • Hair: Hair samples are only likely to test positive for users who regularly consume marijuana, but can test positive for up to 90 days.

Does “Detoxing” Work?

Detox drink

You might have seen numerous procedures and products for “detoxing” yourself from THC metabolites in an effort to speed up the elimination process.

These detox methods can be as simple as drinking lots of water or as complicated as taking an intricate blend of herbs and chemicals which are supposed to help your body process and eliminate THC metabolites.

Because THC metabolites embed themselves into your body’s fat cells, it’s not as simple as drinking a lot of tea or water. While maintaining proper hydration is important for your metabolism in general, it’s unlikely to speed up the process of eliminating THC-COOH from your fat cells. In fact, drinking too much water can dilute your urine sample and lead to a failed drug test.

While some users report good results with certain detoxifying products, there is scant scientific evidence to support any of these methods or specific products. The exact mechanisms by which THC is metabolized, stored, and excreted from the body are quite complex. Though it is possible that certain herbs or chemicals may help expedite the process, most of these claims should be taken with a grain of salt.

Ultimately, the most effective way to eliminate marijuana from your system is to abstain from consuming any and simply wait it out. For even the heaviest users, you should be in the clear after ninety days of abstinence.

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