Potential problems with the interpretation of hair analysis results

Forensic Sci Int. 2000 Jan 10;107(1-3):5-12. doi: 10.1016/s0379-0738(99)00146-2.


Due to differences in hair growth rate depending on anatomical region, age, gender, ethnicity and interindividual variability, interpretation of parent drug or/and metabolite concentrations in hair is not easy. Furthermore, as drug incorporation mechanisms into hair matrix is not yet fully understood, it is rather difficult to extrapolate details on time and dose from hair segment analysis. If incorporation sources other than from bloodstream (skin secretions and/or external/environmental contamination) are considered, interpretation becomes even more complicated. For evaluating possible passive contamination, it is essential to consider specific identification of metabolites, use of metabolite-to-parent drug ratios, assays of decontamination washes and analysis of specimens collected from other body parts. Cosmetic hair treatment, natural and artificial hair colour, differences in hair structure and specificity of analytical methodology may represent other bias sources affecting concentrations of drugs in hair. A suitable cut-off level related to the LOD will allow correct identification of drugs or metabolites in hair. Regarding the performance of different hair testing laboratories, little information is available at this time to what extent test results are comparable and their interpretation is consistent. Frequency of drug consumption and time intervals between multiple consumption or lag time between consumption and appearance in the hair has not been fully investigated and needs further research.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Forensic Medicine / methods
  • Hair / chemistry*
  • Hair / growth & development
  • Humans
  • Substance Abuse Detection / methods*