The High is Gone, but the Evidence Lingers On

Testing for Marijuana Usage

The place: any courtroom in any jurisdiction in America.

The time: all day, every day…or at least Monday through Friday.

The players: a defense attorney and a client, and sometimes a judge and/or prosecutor too.

The question (nice version): “Can you pass a drug test TODAY?” or

The question (graphic version): “Can you pee clean TODAY?”


As a proof of bond or probation compliance, as a condition of a plea-bargain, or simply because a defendant was acting strangely in court, drug screening of defendants via a urine analysis (UA) test is a well-established part of today’s criminal justice system.  With that in mind, let’s look at some important facts to consider regarding UA testing and the use of marijuana.

Many illegal drugs are water soluble, that is, they dissolve in water.  What that means for your body is that they arrive, do their thing, and then rapidly get excreted out by the body through its natural elimination processes when you go to the bathroom.  Although there will be traces of the drug in your system, the body is not “storing” the drug anywhere inside your body, so the traces will be hard to detect in even a few days, generally.  Of course there are variables such as dosage size and what exact drug is being checked for.  But again, generally speaking, a simple UA will not detect the presence of many illegal narcotics if the user consumed the drug more than a week prior.

Marijuana however, is quite different.  The active ingredient in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is extremely fat soluble (link:  Once consumed, fat soluble substances (legal or otherwise) are dissolved and stored in the body’s fatty tissue and liver.  The body wants to hold on to these fat soluble substances.  Thus, unlike the water soluble drugs, fat soluble drugs leave the body very slowly.  Slower time exiting the body means a much longer detection time.  As such, a UA can detect the usage of marijuana anywhere from three to six weeks prior to testing.

It is important to note that generally UA testing is not checking for THC itself, but rather for a substance called 9-carboxy-THC.  This substance is created by the body in reaction to exposure to THC and stays around in the body far longer than the THC itself.  The high is gone, but the evidence lingers on.

The rate that THC and 9-carboxy-THC is eliminated from the body is highly variable from person to person.  Someone may “test clean” after a less than a month, while another person may “show dirty” for pot even five or six weeks later.  Some of the variables that may increase or decrease the detection time include the potency and amount of marijuana consumed, how frequently the user has used marijuana, the method of ingestion, and the general variances in the metabolism from one person to the next.

Now all of this is not intended to give anyone the “inside scoop” on how to beat a UA for pot.  Rather, I hope that learning more about the physiology of the marijuana in the body will lead to a better understanding of the significant risks one runs when choosing to consume marijuana while you have a criminal case pending.  Fair or not, when you find yourself as a defendant, Big Brother IS watching you.  It’s best to play it safe.


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