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How is a Saliva Drug Test Done & What Can It Detect?

A saliva test, also known as a mouth swab test, is a screening test that is used for detecting drug use. Some even refer to saliva drug test as an oral fluids drug test. Saliva tests have become a more common alternative to the traditional urine drug tests as the saliva test is much easier to administer. Furthermore, the samples for the saliva test are collected in full view of the person who is giving the test, and there is no chance of tampering with the sample. Here’s everything you need to know about saliva drug tests.

What is a Saliva Drug Test?

A saliva test or a mouth swab drug test is another popular screening method used to check for substance use. The test is also referred to as the oral fluids drug test.

In recent years, the saliva test has become a more popular option to the traditional urine drug tests. Not only are the saliva tests easier to administer, but it is also nearly impossible to tamper with the sample because the test happens in full view of the person conducting the test.

Today saliva tests have become the norm for everything from pre-employment screening to random drug testing in schools and even post-accident testing. Many police forces are also using saliva drug tests for carrying out roadside drug testing when they suspect that a driver is driving the vehicle under the influence of some drug.

How is a Saliva Drug Test Done?

How is a Saliva Drug Test Done?

A saliva drug test is one of the most minimally invasive methods of drug testing. There is no need for any needle poking or having to urinate in a cup. All saliva drug tests are carried out in the usual basic steps that includes:

  • A collection stick with an absorbent pad or sponge at one end is used for swabbing the inside of the cheek.
  • The sample is then analyzed for any traces of drugs. It can either be done on the site itself or sent to a laboratory for processing.
  • There is no preparation required for undergoing a saliva drug test, but you might be told not to eat or drink anything for 10 to 15 minutes before the sample is collected.

What Can a Saliva Drug Test Detect?

There are many types of substances or drugs that a saliva drug test can detect, but it also depends on the test that is being used. For example, the saliva test can be used for analysis for any one drug individually, or it can also be used to check for a combination of substances when a multi-panel drug test is used. Some of the drugs or substances a saliva drug test can detect include:

  • Barbiturates
  • Amphetamines
  • Methamphetamine
  • Opioids
  • Cannabis (THC)
  • Alcohol
  • Phencyclidine (PCP)
  • Benzodiazepines

How Sensitive Is The Saliva Drug Test?

The saliva drug test is capable of detecting different drugs for a different period of time. Determining how long back the substance was consumed, though, also depends on several factors. These include the type of substance that is being tested, the sensitivity of the test being used, and how much substance has the user consumed.

While some testing devices can be more sensitive than others, but at the same time, some substances are also detectable for a longer time than others.

Another factor that affects the sensitivity of the saliva test is the time period for which a person has been using the substances. For example, a study found that substances can remain detectable for a longer time in people who are regularly using a particular substance.(1)

In any standard saliva test, substances can be typically detectable in an oral fluid such as saliva within 30 minutes of consumption. This is a much faster time than other drug tests, and this short time frame makes the saliva tests especially useful for screening jus after an accident has occurred or in other suspicious conditions.

The standard detection window for substances present in oral fluids can be between 5 to 48 hours, but in people who are using the substance frequently, this window can be longer as well.(2)

How Long Does It Take To Get The Results of Saliva Drug Test?

The time taken to get the results of the saliva drug test depends on whether the sample is being tested on-site or if it has been sent to a lab for analysis.

In case the sample has been sent to a lab, then the results take 24 hours. The on-site testing devices or home drug testing kits can provide the results within a couple of minutes.

How Accurate Is A Saliva Drug Test?

If the saliva drug test is administered correctly, then the accuracy of most of these tests is nearly 98 percent.(3)

However, there are certain factors that can affect the accuracy of the mouth swab test, including:

  • Drug type used
  • Type of test used
  • The drug concentration
  • Skills and experience of the person giving the test and the testing facility
  • Time of testing should fall within the detection window of that specific substance
  • Quality of the testing device/kit
  • Accuracy of the saliva test also differs between whether the sample is being analyzed in a lab or instantly on-site. Usually, instant saliva testing kits and devices are not said to be as accurate as lab testing.
  • As compared to the saliva test, blood and urine drug tests are said to be more accurate.


Saliva or mouth swab drug tests have today become a very popular alternative to the traditional urine drug tests that used to be administered earlier. This is primarily because of the ease of use of the saliva drug testing kits, the cost-effectiveness of this test, and the most significant factor is that the samples are nearly impossible to tamper with.

Remember that substances or any drug do not remain for too long in oral fluid, so testing has to be carried out within that short detection window in order to get an accurate result. Saliva drug tests are capable of detecting the presence of substances sooner after consumption as compared to any other drug test.


  1. Arroyo, A., Mora, A., Sanchez, M., Barbal, M. and Palahi, M., 2011. Times of Detection of Drugs of Abuse in Saliva: Study of Arrested Population. J Forensic Res, 2(114), p.2.
    LWW. (2020). Detection Times of Drugs of Abuse in Blood, Urine, and Oral … : Therapeutic Drug Monitoring. [online] Available at: https://journals.lww.com/drug-monitoring/pages/articleviewer.aspx?year=2004&issue=04000&article=00020&type=abstract [Accessed 20 Feb. 2020].
  2. Krotulski, A.J., Mohr, A.L., Friscia, M. and Logan, B.K., 2018. Field detection of drugs of abuse in oral fluid using the Alere™ DDS® 2 Mobile test system with confirmation by liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry (LC–MS/MS). Journal of analytical toxicology, 42(3), pp.170-176.

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Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:November 2, 2021

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