“How long does THC stay in your system?” You’d think there would be a simple answer, but noooooo!
Asking this question is like opening Pandora’s box. You suddenly have to talk about chemistry, biology, physiology, body mass, individual differences, types of drug tests, THC metabolites and testing sensitivity…The list literally goes on and on.
But before your eyes glaze over and you light up a fatty just to cope with that last sentence, there is a light at the end of the psychedelic tunnel.
The chemistry and biology and physiology aren’t that difficult, and after a few minutes of reading, you’ll understand what you need to do to pass that looming drug test.
Because that’s the real reason you asked how long THC stays in your system, right? That’s okay. We’ve been there. And we’ve done all the difficult research and reading so you don’t have to.
Consider this guide Cliff’s Notes to the topic of marijuana and your body.
We’ll start by tracing THC through your body, and see where it goes after you consume it. We’ll touch on the two general categories of drug test and discuss what that means for you ganja habit.
Finally, we’ll give you some numbers regarding various methods of testing—saliva, blood, urine, and hair—so you know when you need to stop and when it’s safe to start up again.
So, without further ado, let’s rock some science and find out what happens in your body when you consume THC.
What Happens In Your Body When You Consume THC?
Pretty much every marijuana experience starts in your mouth. Whether you’re toking a blunt, dabbing some concentrate, or chewing some edibles, tetrahydrocannabinol (or THC for short) is almost immediately absorbed into your bloodstream through the soft tissue in your mouth.
Yet more THC is absorbed into your system through your lungs and stomach (depending on how you choose to partake, of course), but it all starts with your mouth. This becomes important later on when we talk about testing your saliva for THC.
But for now, let’s move to the next link in the physiology chain—your blood.
From your mouth, lungs, and stomach, THC travels into your bloodstream to your brain and other organs. The THC in your bloodstream also has an impact on your hair. This becomes important later on as well.
Even though your blood is constantly circulating and constantly being filtered, THC can remain in your system for quite some time. We’ll discuss the details in the blood section below.
As your blood circulates through your body, one of the “stops” along the way is your liver. Your liver processes and cleans your blood so that toxins don’t build up and cause problems elsewhere.
It does this by breaking down the “stuff” in the blood into metabolites. Think of these as the results of metabolism. In the case of THC, it’s broken down into the metabolite with the fabulously-convoluted name 11-nor-9-carboxy-delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol.
The abbreviated form — tetrahydrocannabinol carboxylic acid — isn’t much better. Thankfully, there’s an even shorter version of this name without so many dashes and significantly fewer syllables: THC-COOH (just pronounce each letter like you’re reading the alphabet and you’ll be fine).
From the liver, THC-COOH travels to the tissue in your heart, lungs, kidneys, and body fat for long-term storage. It also continues to circulate in your blood where it can affect another part of your body.
All hair starts growing from a root at the bottom of the follicle (you’ve got 5 million of them on your body and 100,000 on your scalp alone). This root is made up of protein cells and is fed by nutrients (like THC-COOH) in your bloodstream.
The unfortunate thing about hair (as it applies to drug testing) is that it holds on to trace elements for a very long time. We’ll see just how long in the hair section below.
Before that, we’ve got one more stop in our journey through your body.
Eventually, the THC-COOH in your blood filters through your kidneys. Since the THC-COOH is already broken down, it stays “as is” and passes your urine and feces. It’s at this point that it warrants concern because most drug tests rely on a urine analysis.
That brings us to a key bit of information regarding the test you have coming up: What is it looking for?
What Is The Test Looking For?
You might think that all drug tests are created equal, but they’re not.
When it comes to marijuana testing, there are really only two chemicals that you need to be concerned about. We’ll discuss both below.
If a drug test has been announced, we recommend trying to find out how you’re being tested. That will give you a good idea what you need to do to pass.
The only way to test for THC directly is through a saliva test. These tests are hyper-accurate, but they are really only good at detecting recent marijuana use.
The good news in all of this is that THC doesn’t remain in your saliva for very long. We’ll list the specific numbers in the saliva section below, but unless you smoked the morning of your saliva-based drug test, you should be good.
Testing for THC metabolites (THC-COOH) is the most common procedure. It’s done by taking a sample of blood, urine, or hair, with the urine test being the simplest, easiest, and most affordable (and, therefore, the most readily used).
Once you know what is being tested (saliva, urine, hair?), you can use the numbers listed below, along with the information in Other Factors To Consider, to prepare for your drug test.
How Long Does THC Stay In Your System?
With the exception of the saliva test, which looks for THC directly, most tests will look for the metabolite THC-COOH. As you’ll see in the next section, there are several factors that can have a significant influence on the numbers listed below.
Take all this into account when deciding how soon you need to stop dating Mary Jane to “cleanse” your system.
Traces of THC can remain in your saliva for between 24 hours and 72 hours. Again, it depends on a number of factors like test sensitivity and how much you’ve smoked.
If you’re not a chronic, heavy user, a regular saliva swab will be ineffective after 24 hours. More sensitive tests can detect trace amount up to 72 hours after consumption.
But, again, these tests are expensive so they’re not used often. If you’re a chronic, heavy user, a saliva test can detect THC for up to a week after your last smoke.
If you’re a light consumer, THC-COOH can remain in your bloodstream for one to two days. If you’re a heavy consumer, it can remain in your bloodstream for one to seven days.
On a chemical level, THC metabolites have a half-life of 7 days. This means that the amount of THC-COOH will decrease by 50% every week after you stop smoking.
Let’s say that you smoke a spliff on Saturday resulting in a bloodstream THC-COOH level of 200 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml) (the typical measure of metabolites in the blood).
If you don’t smoke any more that week, by the next Saturday, the THC-COOH level in your body will be 50% less than when you first smoked. That would put detectable metabolite levels at 100 ng/ml. Just so you’re aware, the typical threshold for urinalysis testing is 50 ng/ml.
By the second Saturday (two weeks later), metabolite levels will fall again by half resulting in a reading of 50 ng/ml. That’s the threshold for the test but we’re right on the line at this point and it could go either way.
By the third Saturday (three weeks after you stopped), metabolite levels would be at 25 ng/ml and by the fourth Saturday, they would be at 12.5 ng/ml.
These levels are all but undetectable by conventional tests so we can conclude that your body needs 3-4 weeks to be “drug-free” if you don’t do anything to help it along.
Unfortunately, there’s not a lot you can do if you’re faced with a blood test in the first week or two after you stop smoking, eating, or in any other way consuming weed.
You can’t speed up your liver and your kidneys with external methods – what’s in your blood is in your blood for as long as it takes to work itself out. Thankfully, blood tests aren’t that common.
THC-COOH can be detected in your urine for a month after consumption (for light users). The metabolite can be detected in your urine for two-and-a-half months after consumption if you’re a chronic, heavy user.
Urine tests are the most common because they are easy to administer and easy to test. They are also the easiest to beat should the need arise.
We’ll tell you how to help your body eliminate THC faster toward the end of this article. You can also pick up a few simple strategies to detox your body in our article 13 Of Your Most Pressing Stoner Questions Answered.
A hair drug test is probably the worst option you can face. Sure, a blood test is bad because there’s not a lot you can do to hurry the elimination of THC-COOH, but it will work itself out in a week.
Not so with your hair. Traces of THC-COOH can remain in the cells for ninety days or longer. Yes, that’s three months or more. Thankfully, hair tests are not that common, so it’s not something you really have to worry about.
As we mentioned before, we always recommend that you try to find out how (and on what part of your body) the test will be performed. If it’s a saliva swab looking for THC, you’re probably safe after 24 hours.
If it’s a hair test in two weeks and you just smoked last night, you’re probably screwed.
Other Factors To Consider Along With The Question “How Long Does THC Stay In Your System”
These factors will affect how long the THC stays in your system, regardless of whether it’s your saliva, your blood, or your urine.
- The strength of your weed — More potent strains mean more THC-COOH in your blood.
- The frequency with which you use — Smoking more often means more metabolite in your blood.
- The method by which you partake — THC obtained through edibles remains in your system longer than THC that is smoked.
- The speed of your metabolism — A faster metabolism will move the THC-COOH through your system sooner.
- Your body fat percentage — Higher body fat means longer THC-COOH processing times.
- Your general health — If you’re on the healthier side, your body is able to detox faster.
- If you take other drugs or supplements — The presence of other drugs, or even supplements, can slow down the elimination of THC-COOH.
How To Help Your Body Eliminate THC Faster
1) Stop Smoking
This is the first and best advice: stop smoking weed as soon as you know a drug test is coming. This will help put time between the two events and give your body the chance to do its thing.
Sometimes, though, there’s no time to stop smoking and you have to resort to other methods.
Exercise helps to break down the fat that holds THC metabolites. This breakdown, then, releases the THC-COOH from your body.
If there are a number of days before your drug test, exercise frequently to speed the release.
That said, don’t exercise for 24 hours before your drug test so there won’t be elevated metabolite levels in your bloodstream.
3) Drink Plenty Of Fluids
Your body disposes of THC metabolites through sweat and urine, so doing both of those things frequently will help to flush your system quickly.
Water is a great natural choice, while teas with caffeine (a natural diuretic) can also push the process further.
Fresh vegetable juices, like tomato juice, can also go a long way toward neutralizing and absorbing the THC-COOH so your body can eliminate it faster.
That said, don’t drink excessively eight hours before your drug test. Just drink like you normally would to give your urine time to return to a normal dilution.
This is important because overly diluted urine is an indicator that something is going on and will almost certainly result in a failed test.
4) Eat Healthy
It may be tough to change, but doing so could mean the difference between getting or keeping a job you like and filing for unemployment.
Eating healthy has a lot of different definitions, but it basically means that you kick the sugar, alcohol, and white flour to the curb and focus on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein.
Restricting yourself to these good foods can help your body function properly, which will smooth the THC-COOH elimination process.
5) Add Supplements To Your Diet
Taking a multivitamin daily is just a good idea in general, but it can also provide your body with what it needs to work more efficiently (and eliminate THC faster).
You can also add other vitamins and minerals — such as bentonite clay and niacin (vitamin B3) — to your diet to help your body remove THC metabolites more efficiently.
Bentonite clay absorbs toxins and holds them until they can be eliminated from your system. Mix a small amount with water to create a paste and mix it in with your regular food to get the detox benefits.
Niacin causes capillaries to dilate and allows more blood to flow through your body. Increased blood flow speeds the release and elimination of the telltale metabolites.
You can get vitamin B3 in a daily multi, but try taking an extra niacin tablet before you workout to get a double dose of metabolite elimination.
6) Consume A Quick-Cleanse Or Masking Product
If you don’t want to figure it all out yourself or you’re in a serious rush, you can always try some of the quick-cleanse products made specifically for beating a drug test.
Within this category, there are detoxing products and masking products, so be sure you know which one you’re using.
If you’ve got a week to ten days before your drug test, a detox product is your best bet. But if you’re faced with a surprise, same-day urinalysis, chug a masking product and cross your fingers.
Knowing The Answer To “How Long Does THC Stay In Your System” Is Half The Battle
Yeah, the bulk of this article may sound like a lot of scientific gibberish. And you may not really care.
But at Honest Marijuana, we believe that knowing a bit about the chemistry of how your body processes and stores marijuana can go a long way toward understanding how long THC stays in your system (and how to get rid of it in a hurry).
A healthy lifestyle is your best bet for reducing the duration that THC stays in your system (and is just a good idea in general). Exercise, hydrate, eat healthy, and supplement your diet with vitamins and minerals to keep your body in tip-top shape.
And if you become concerned about the question, “How long does THC stay in your system?” (for whatever reason), stop smoking immediately and use a quick-cleanse or masking product if necessary.
With these helpful tips in mind, you’ll know how to control how long those evil THC metabolites remain detectable in your body.
For more information on all things cannabis and to check out our 100-percent all-natural marijuana products, visit HonestMarijuana.com today.