[Hair Testing for Drugs in the Field of Forensics]

Yakugaku Zasshi. 2019;139(5):705-713. doi: 10.1248/yakushi.18-00166-4.
[Article in Japanese]


Hair testing for drugs has been used extensively in the field of forensics since the 1990s as a means of obtaining firm evidence of drug ingestion. In addition to its longer detection windows, hair is the only specimen that can provide chronological information on individual drug use. Illicit drugs and hypnotics account for the majority of substances involved in crimes; they are usually analyzed to prove an addictive use or an exposure to drugs in drug-facilitated crimes. The mechanism of drug incorporation into hair has been intensively investigated to properly interpret the results of hair analysis. However, the exact mechanism remains under much discussion, despite the growing application of hair tests. Recently, the authors have applied matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization-mass spectrometry (MALDI-MS) imaging and sectional hair analysis of 1-mm segments using liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) for single-strand hair, to investigate the incorporation pathways of drugs into hair. Time-course changes in drug distribution along single-strand hair suggest that the incorporation of drugs occurs in two regions of the hair root, the hair bulb and the upper part of hair root, and suggest that incorporation from the hair bulb continues for about 2 weeks. Distribution profiles of different drugs in hair additionally revealed that the main incorporation pathway varies (i.e., via the hair bulb or the upper part of hair root) depending on the properties of the drug/metabolite. These findings should be taken into account upon discussing individual drug-use history based on the results of hair analysis.

Keywords: drug incorporation; forensic science; hair; imaging; segmental analysis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Chromatography, Liquid / methods*
  • Crime
  • Forensic Medicine / methods*
  • Hair / chemistry*
  • Hair / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives / analysis*
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives / metabolism*
  • Illicit Drugs / analysis*
  • Illicit Drugs / metabolism*
  • Spectrometry, Mass, Matrix-Assisted Laser Desorption-Ionization / methods*
  • Substance Abuse Detection / methods*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry / methods*
  • Time Factors


  • Hypnotics and Sedatives
  • Illicit Drugs