The thought of a drug test can stir up all kinds of anxious feelings...even if you have nothing to hide!

You may not be taking any illegal substances, but perhaps you’re trying to quit smoking and using nicotine replacement therapies (NRTs) to help you cut back or curb your cravings.

If you find out you’ll be tested for nicotine use, learn all you need to know about what to expect here.

Does nicotine show up on a drug test?

While nicotine doesn’t show up on a standard drug test, the potential employer or person who’s checking you out may order a nicotine test for you to take.

Yep, that’s a thing. There’s tests designed specifically to determine if you have nicotine in your system, and even measure how much there is!

These tests may be given for a variety of reasons related to employment, insurance, or legal issues.

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How does a nicotine test work?

A nicotine test is usually performed through a urine test. The test you take is actually looking for cotinine, an alkaloid product formed after nicotine is in the body.

A blood test can also be used to detect nicotine and cotinine, but this type of testing is often more expensive and fairly invasive, so it is not ordered very often.

A saliva test is becoming more popular to detect nicotine usage. Because a swab sample is obtained from your mouth, the level of cotinine detected through this means is not nearly as strong compared to a blood or urine test.

Nicotine or cotinine can also be tested with a hair sample, and is very accurate. Because it is the most difficult to obtain, hair testing is generally reserved for scientists and medical research.

The reason the blood test is seeking to detect cotinine, as opposed to nicotine, is because cotinine will stay in your system longer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

You could be asked to take a nicotine test for any number of reasons, including:

  • Qualifying for a new health or life insurance policy
  • Before surgery or serious medical procedures, including organ transplant
  • For employment consideration, especially with government or consulting jobs
  • Court-ordered tests, especially family cases where child custody is a concern

What are some reasons to question the results of a nicotine test?

  • Nicotine tests will also pick up or detect if you’ve been exposed to secondhand smoke, also known as environmental tobacco smoke -- even if you’re not using tobacco products
  • Cotinine is emerging as a treatment for people living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), especially when traditional talk therapy has failed to improve psychological distress, according to Molecular Neurobiology
  • Using a nicotine replacement therapy (NRTs) would likely cause you to fail a standard nicotine test
  • Many foods contain nicotine, including nightshade vegetables like cauliflower, potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplant -- consuming enough of these vegetables may produce enough nicotine that test results would show nicotine comparable to that of a passive smoker

Let’s say you’ve started NRTs to help you quit smoking, such as nicotine lozenges. You may no longer be smoking cigarettes, but you wouldn’t pass a standard nicotine test!

A new Australian study looks to measure anabasine, a different chemical that is found in tobacco plants but not in NRTs. Donors and recipients for organ transplants are regularly screened for tobacco use, and current testing would exclude them from being qualified, UNOS-approved candidates, according to Emory University researchers in a recent article from Clinical Chemistry.

Even when it comes to using an anabasine test, there are clinical concerns. Anabasine can be detected in supplements and electronic cigarettes. If you’ve switched to vaping, this could be a problem for you. Lab testing is the same regardless of where the nicotine comes from.

Because of environmental exposure and secondhand smoke, cotinine or nicotine can stay in your urine even after you’ve quit smoking. This makes tests used for nicotine detection questionable, and why there are a considerable number of possible false-positive and false-negative results.

How long does nicotine stay in your blood or urine?

Nicotine is difficult to detect in your body because it usually leaves your body fairly quickly. Nicotine is generally detected within 3 days of usage of a blood test, or within 4 days of usage for a urine test.

With cotinine, detection can last up to 7 days after you’ve smoked a cigarette or used NRTs.

It may take as long as 2 weeks of eliminating nicotine for your cotinine levels, measured in a blood test, to be comparable to those of someone who hasn’t used tobacco, as mentioned by Pharmacology researchers from the University of California, San Francisco.

Some reports indicate that your cotinine levels may be higher if you’ve been smoking menthol cigarettes or taken in secondhand smoke from menthols.

There’s also feedback from people who have taken a nicotine test that significantly increasing your water intake will speed up the process of eliminating nicotine from your system.

See for yourself: try a nicotine test kit at home first

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The truth will set you free.

Buy a nicotine test kit for yourself and see what the results are like. While your nicotine habits vary from someone else’s, your age, weight, and gender are among a few factors that determine how long nicotine stays in your system.

These kits are often used by parents who want to catch their kids they suspect are smoking cigarettes or vaping -- and while the medical accuracy may be questionable, the strong reviews make them worth a try!

Final thoughts

Nicotine may not stay in your system for a very long time, but because most tests actually check for cotinine, your planning may be more difficult.

If you have an upcoming test to check up on your nicotine usage, don’t sweat it. You have the power to cut out cigarettes and cut down your nicotine intake.

If you’re using NRTs to help curb your appetite for cigarettes, perhaps explaining your quitting process or showing proof of your efforts can solve any issues or improve the outcome of a nicotine test, even if the results don’t show up in your favor.