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Facts About Saliva Drug Tests

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A saliva drug test may be requested as part of pre-employment screening, or your current employer may require a saliva test due to safety precautions, after an accident or as a random request. Knowing the facts about saliva drug testing can help you make an informed decision as to whether or not you agree to take it -- and the consequences for refusing to do so.

Saliva Test Basics

A saliva test can used to detect drugs. The process uses a swab that looks similar to a toothbrush, with a pad that collects the saliva from the donor's mouth. The swab is placed between a person's gum and lower cheek for a couple of minutes before being removed and placed in a vial to send for testing.

Drugs It Detects

A saliva test is primarily used to detect the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol, also known as THC, in the donor's system. This chemical stays in the body after marijuana use. Other types of drugs, including amphetamines, cocaine and heroin also can be detected, according to the Drug Testing Network, Inc.

Pros and Cons

The process of collecting saliva is easier and less invasive than making someone go through a urine or blood test. Another advantage is that constant supervision makes it difficult for a person to swap a clean sample for their actual saliva, something that's easier to do with a urine test done in the privacy of the bathroom.

However, if the donor lacks saliva, sometimes caused by smoking marijuana, test results may be inaccurate, says The Fix, a website devoted to addiction and recovery. A saliva test is useful for detecting very recent drug use , but not for detection of drugs used over a long period of time. This means it could be effective for detecting drugs right after an accident or for determining if someone should get behind the wheel or not, but less effective in discovering casual drug use by a job applicant.


If you work with the federal government, drug testing often is required. However, if you are seeking employment in the private sector, you have the right to refuse to take a saliva drug test. However, the potential employer can choose not hire you based on that refusal.


Nancy Wagner is a marketing strategist and speaker who started writing in 1998. She writes business plans for startups and established companies and teaches marketing and promotional tactics at local workshops. Wagner's business and marketing articles have appeared in "Home Business Journal," "Nation’s Business," "Emerging Business" and "The Mortgage Press," among others. She holds a B.S. from Eastern Illinois University.