Nail analysis can provide detailed information about drug consumption and is a highly stable, simple-to-collect and easy-to-transport sample.
How does nail drug testing work?
Any drug that is consumed circulates in the bloodstream and a proportion of it and its metabolites become incorporated into the keratin that makes up nails. This tough, fibrous protein traps any drugs and their biomarkers ready for detection. Keratin is also the main structural constituent of hair. Therefore, both hair and nail drug testing can detect the same drugs.
In addition, the turnaround times for both testing methods are similar. A major difference, however, is that head hair grows at a regular rate (approximately 1 cm a month) so samples can be used to show a pattern of drug use. For example, with a sufficient hair sample, a month-by-month analysis of the donor’s drug usage can be obtained for a period of several months.
This type of segmenting can’t be done with nail clippings, but they can give an overview and can detect drugs for up to 12 months after ingestion.
How is a sample taken?
Nail clippings need to be taken as near to the nail bed as possible. Approximately 10 mg of nail is required for the test. The nail is collected as close to the nail bed as possible. If the nail is long (5 mm or above) then only one would be required. If the nails are short then it may be best to take clippings from several nails.
Toe nails as well as finger nails can be used, but not a mixture of both. The advantages of using toe nails is that there is less potential for environmental exposure. Acrylic nails, Shellac and other forms of nail varnish would need to be removed as this may damage the surface of the nail and impact on the drug results.
Nail clipping samples would need to be collected under chain of custody conditions to support legally defensible results. This would require either an appointment with one of our trained sample collectors at a place convenient to the donor or at one of our 11 nationwide Walk in Centres.
What drugs can be detected?
Nail testing can be used to test for the following drugs:
- Ecstasy (MDMA)
- Phencyclidine (PCP)