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What are the Different Types of Swab Drug Tests?

By Alicia Sparks
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Many of the most commonly abused drugs can be tested with swab drug tests, including marijuana, heroin, cocaine, phencyclidine, methamphetamines, and amphetamines. Most mouth swab tests work the same way, with the only differences being which drugs the test detects and how the tester obtains the results. Some at-home tests are designed to detect one specific drug, and other professional grade tests are designed to detect an array of drugs. The time it takes to get the results depends on the kind of test, but at-home tests usually produce instant results and tests used by professionals are often sent to laboratories. Depending on who wants the test, saliva drug tests can be purchased at regular drug stores and pharmacies, from online retailers, and from companies that specialize in manufacturing drug testing materials.

Some swab drug tests are designed to target a specific drug, and others are created to detect multiple kinds of drugs. For example, an at-home mouth swab test might be designed to detect only marijuana, whereas a professional grade test might be designed to detect marijuana, cocaine, and heroin. Although these tests are usually accurate, oftentimes they won’t detect a drug’s presence if the person used it longer than 48 hours prior to the test. Swab tests are usually much faster than other drug tests, but the detection time period causes some professionals who conduct drug testing to use standard urine tests or even hair tests.

Drug types and detection time periods aside, most swab drug tests work the same way. The test consists mainly of a swab made of cotton or some other absorbent material. The swab is inserted and left in the person’s mouth for a certain period of time, usually no more than a couple of minutes, to absorb the person’s saliva. Then, the person administering the test either reads the results or sends the swab to a laboratory. Most at-home tests show immediate results on the swab stick, and professional grade tests can show the results immediately or require laboratory readings.

Usually, the test itself determines how quickly the tester receives the results. Most at-home swab drug tests focus on specific drugs and are designed to show immediate results. For example, a parent using an at-home marijuana test can usually get the results within a few minutes of her child taking the test. Some are designed to detect multiple drugs and must be sent to a laboratory or conducted in a clinical setting. People who use these kinds of mouth swab tests include law enforcement officers, probation and parole officers, and employers who require drug testing before hiring.

The reason for the saliva drug test determines where the tester can obtain the test. For example, parents can obtain at-home swab drug tests at pharmacies or from online retailers. Law enforcement officials and probation and parole officers generally obtain the tests from the local or regional government agency that oversees their facilities. Employers may choose to purchase at-home swab drug tests or to send their job applicants to a hospital, laboratory, or other clinic for mouth swab testing. In the end, the most important point to remember before purchasing or otherwise obtaining a saliva drug test is to look for or request tests that will detect the specific drug or range of drugs in question.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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