How Long Does THC Stay in Your System?
Posted by Marijuana Doctors on 07/28/2017 in Medical Marijuana
Cannabis is a complex plant made even more intricate by its many different strains. There are three basic types of cannabis plants: indica, sativa and hybrids. Each type of cannabis contains a different combination and balance of active compounds called cannabinoids. There are at least 113 different cannabinoids that we know of, and still more to discover.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is one of the primary cannabinoids found in cannabis plants. THC is responsible for the psychoactive properties of marijuana, and it can be balanced by other compounds in the plant to have different degrees of effectiveness.
THC mimics a chemical messenger found naturally in your brain. The brain recognizes the THC and responds to it. When THC attaches to the receptors in your brain, it blocks the natural chemicals from completing their messages. Instead, the chemical balance in your brain shifts and erroneous messages are sent.
When the THC leaves the brain, the chemical balance returns to normal. Coordination and memory are restored and the natural brain messenger system resumes. Accurate sensory messages replace the ones created by the THC.
How Long Do the Effects of THC Last?
THC affects your brain while you’re consuming marijuana and for up to a few hours afterward. Through continual dosing, you could theoretically maintain the effects indefinitely. The amount of time it takes for cannabis to make changes to your brain chemistry and how long it lasts is dependent largely on how you consume it.
Smoking marijuana sends THC to your brain very quickly. The smoke enters your lungs and is absorbed into your bloodstream. Some of the cannabis moves directly through the cell walls in your sinuses into your brain. Vaporizing cannabis has the same effect, since you’re also inhaling it.
Topical cannabis products have a quick effect on the area of application, but never make it to your brain. Topicals are absorbed through the skin and begin to work on the nerves in the area almost immediately. You won’t get that euphoric feeling from topical marijuana products, aside from the happiness you feel when your pain goes away.
Concentrated cannabis products like tinctures get into your bloodstream and move to your brain quickly if you administer them sublingually. A couple drops under your tongue will kick in rapidly to relieve pain and reduce nausea. The marijuana is absorbed through the mucus membrane in your mouth directly into the bloodstream.
The longest lasting effects come from marijuana products that are swallowed, such as edibles and beverages. These must travel through the digestive system before they reach the brain, so it takes longer for them to take effect. In turn, the high lasts longer than that of ingestible products.
The effects from edibles are also typically enhanced compared to smokeable or concentrated marijuana products. On their way through the digestive system, edible marijuana products pass through the liver. In the liver, the effects of marijuana are concentrated, so when they reach the brain the effect is stronger. Properly dosing with edible products is challenging because of the time lapse and the concentration effect.
How Long Can THC Be Detected?
It’s easy to assume that when you stop feeling the effects of marijuana, it’ out of your system. Thought it may no longer be working on your brain, marijuana remains in your body for a long time. This can become a problem when it comes to drug testing.
There are several variables that determine how long cannabis stays in your system. A heavy user, for example, will maintain detectable levels of THC a lot longer than someone who has only used it once or twice.
Other variables include:
- General health
- Means of consumption
- History of usage
- Tolerance for marijuana
Detecting THC in your body is also partially dependent on the type of test administered. THC will remain detectable in different parts of your body for varying amounts of time. Marijuana can only be detected in your saliva for up to 12 hours, while a hair test could show traces of THC for as long as 90 days.
The most common test for THC is a urine test. If you’re dosing with medical marijuana on a regular basis, you may test positive for THC in a urine test for up to 30 days after you stop using it. If you’re just an occasional user, your urine should be clean after about three days.
Blood tests can also be performed to check for the presence of THC. Within two days of your last marijuana use, your blood may test positive. After that, there should not be any detectable THC in your bloodstream. For frequent users of heavy doses of cannabis, it can take up to seven days to pass a blood test.
Even after a blood test cannot detect THC, traces can still show up in a hair test. Hair tests are not used often because they’re lengthier and more expensive. However, they’re very accurate and can show a pattern of marijuana usage for months after the last dose. Traces of THC are deposited on the hair shafts from the blood vessels in your scalp and remain there as the hair grows out. This method can even provide a timeline of usage.
In general, the amount of time marijuana is going to remain in your system is just speculation. There’s no way of truly knowing if a drug test will detect THC in your system in advance. The only real way to be sure there’s no THC in your system is to abstain from using marijuana products.
Medical Marijuana and Drug Tests
It’s not easy to hide marijuana use, and medical marijuana programs reduce the need to do so. By following the guidelines of the medical marijuana program in your state, you’re protecting yourself from negative consequences and insuring access to the medicine you need.
Depending on your situation, it could be important to let your employer know about your medical need for cannabis products. Though employers still operate under federal law and can enforce any consequences in their anti-drug policy even if you’re using it medically, most have policies that favor full discloser. It’s a decision you need to make for yourself, but understand that beating a drug test when you’re a regular marijuana user is almost impossible.