Hair drug tests showed almost a third of clubbers in New York City had taken new psychoactive substances (NPS).

Over the last 10 years, NPS, which used to be known as ‘legal highs’ have been growing in popularity. These emerging substances tend to be designed to mimic the effects of traditional drugs but until May last year, they were not illegal in the UK.

Now in Britain, the Psychoactive Substances Act has made it against the law to produce, distribute, sell or supply NPS for human consumption. In the United States, the legal situation is more complex, although many ingredients found in NPS have now been banned, including compounds commonly found in synthetic cannabis.

New York University has now carried out a study to try and gauge the popularity of NPS. Researchers took hair samples from 80 young adults who were outside either a nightclub or a  dance festival in New York City to check whether they had consumed any of these type of substances.

The samples were collected between July and September 2015 and tested for 82 different substances. The results were then published in a report called ‘Hair Testing for Drugs of Abuse and New Psychoactive Substances in a High-Risk Population’.

Hair samples checked for drugs

The study found that 26 of the 80 samples showed evidence of at least one NPS. The most common substance found was butylone – a synthetic cathinone designed to mimic MDMA – which was found in 25 of the hair samples.

Dr Alberto Salomone, who was involved in the study, said: “Hair is the most helpful specimen when long-time retrospective information on drug consumption is of interest. Most NPS can no longer be detected in urine, blood, or saliva within hours or days after consumption, but hair is particularly beneficial because many drugs can be detected months after use.”

AlphaBiolabs offers hair drug testing as it gives an accurate and reliable account of what substances an individual has consumed over a period of months. Although blood and urine samples are useful in detecting whether someone is under the influence of illegal substances, people can potentially pass these type of drug tests simply by abstaining for a few days.

Hair drug testing is a popular method for organisations, employers or family members who want to know about a person’s long-term history of drug use. For this reason, it is a good option for pre-employment screening as it can tell a potential employer exactly what a new recruit has consumed in the past few months.