MAR 17, 2023 9:45 AM PDT

Hair Analysis Reveals Greater Substance Use Among Older Children

WRITTEN BY: Kerry Charron

A new study indicates that hair analysis may be highly effective for assessing adolescent drug usage. The study published in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse found that the actual number of children using drugs was significantly more than those who admitted to substance use in a US survey. The paper suggests hair analysis coupled with a survey increases the accuracy of assessing drug use compared to only using the survey. 

The participants included 1,390 children aged nine to 13. The researchers asked the participants whether they had taken drugs in the last year, and hair samples were obtained to test whether recent drug-taking had occured. 

Hair analyses showed that 10% of participants tested positive for at least one drug. 6.1% tested positive for cannabinoids, 1.9% alcohol, 1.9% amphetamines, and 1.7% cocaine.  

The participants who self-reported drug-taking were different from those who tested positive through hair samples. Of the 136 cases that self-reported substance use and 145 whose hair samples were positive for any drug, matches were found for only 23 cases. Hair analysis revealed an additional 9% of substance use cases above self-reporting, roughly doubling the number of identified substance users to 19%.  

Adolescent substance use is a critical public health problem. 5% of American 8th graders (ages 13–14) reported using cannabis last year. Alcohol and nicotine use was even greater, with 26% of 8th graders admitting to drinking and 23% smoking nicotine in the past year. The researchers recommend targeted health initiatives to prevent substance use at a young age. 

Hair assays are not sensitive enough to detect the amount of a substance, such as the number of alcohol servings or the amount of cannabis consumed. It is more effective at detecting frequent, heavier drug use. Therefore, combining hair analysis provides greater accuracy when determining the levels of child and adolescent substance use. 

Sources: The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, Eureka News Alert


About the Author
Bachelor's (BA/BS/Other)
Kerry Charron writes about medical cannabis research. She has experience working in a Florida cultivation center and has participated in advocacy efforts for medical cannabis.
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