Nail drug testing FAQs

How does nail drug testing work?

Nail analysis can provide detailed information about an individual’s historic drug use.

Any drug that is consumed circulates in the bloodstream and a proportion of the drug 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 be used to detect drugs.

nail drug sample

A fundamental difference between head hair drug testing and nail drug testing, however, is that head hair grows at a regular rate (approximately 1cm per month), so segmented samples can be used to show a pattern of drug use. 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 segmentatation cannot be performed on nail clippings, but they can be used to provide an overview of drug use for a period of up to 12 months after ingestion.

What drugs can be detected in a nail drug test?

Nail testing can be used to test for the following drugs:

Methamphetamine Ketamine
Amphetamine Mephedrone
Benzodiazepines Methadone
Cannabis Opiates
Cocaine Zolpidem
Ecstasy (MDMA)

Does it matter which nail is used for the test?

Either fingernail clippings or toenail clippings can be used for the test, but we cannot analyse both sample types in the same test.

Fingernail clippings provide an approximate six-month overview of a person’s drug use, while toenail clippings provide an approximate overview of 12 months. This is because fingernails and toenails grow at different rates.

How are the samples collected?

Nail clippings need to be taken as near to the nail bed as possible.

Either fingernail clippings OR toenail clippings can be used for a nail drug test, but not a mixture of both. The advantage of using toenails is that there is less potential for environmental exposure.

All artifical nail applications including nail polish, acrylics and/or gel polish must be completely removed before nail clippings are collected. Otherwise, the sample will be rejected.

The sample donor should provide as many fingernail clippings or toenail clippings as possible, to ensure there is enough of a sample to perform a conclusive drug test.

For court approved nail drug tests, the nail clippings must also be collected under chain of custody procedures, to ensure the results of the drug test are legally admissible. This would require either an appointment with one of our trained sample collectors at a place convenient to the donor or at our Dublin walk-in centre.

How long does it take to get the results from my nail drug test?

The standard turnaround time is 3–5 working days.

Will false nails affect the result?

We ask that all artificial nail applications are completely removed before the nail clipping samples are collected. Otherwise, the sample will be rejected.

Will nail varnish, gel polish and acrylic nails need to be removed?

Yes, all artifical nail applications including polish and acrylic nails must be completely removed before sample collection.

What is the window of detection for drugs in nails?

Fingernail clippings provide an approximate six-month overview of drug use. Toenail clippings provide an approximate 12-month overview of drug use.

This is because fingernails and toenails grow at different rates.

What will the results of the nail drug testing tell me?

A drug/alcohol nail test will tell you which substances were detected in the nail, providing an overview of up to 12 months (approximate six-month overview for fingernails and approximate 12-month overview for toenails).

How long will the drug stay in the nail?

Drugs and their biomarkers become locked in keratin fibres along the entire length of the nail, and can be detected for up to 12 months after consumption.