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Fact or Fiction
The scoop on 18 myths, lies, scams and rumors about drugs in the military
(including some the government wishes we'd leave out)
by C. Mark Brinkley
v1.0 - Feb 1, 2007
Originally published in US Army Times
Citation:   Brinkley M. "Fact or Fiction; The scoop on 18 myths, lies, scams and rumors about drugs in the military". US Army Times. May 24 2004;35-36.
Before the war on terrorism came the war on drugs, and no one has fought it more valiantly than the U.S. Military.

OK, maybe the International Olympic Comittee, which used to test people for caffeine and Sudafed, of all things.

But the truth behind drug use and drug testing is hazy, clouded in rumor, myth and conjecture. Most members in the military - generally law-abiding, drug-free citizens - are painfully ignorant of the straight scoop regarding drug testing and drug use in the services.

What the heck's a roofie? A raver? Can eating piles of lemon poppy-seed MRE (meals ready to eat) cakes make you pop positive for hashish? Can secondhand smoke make you look like a druggie?

Here's the scoop on the biggest myths, lies and rumors, some of which the government would rather we not put in black and white.

But dont be naive - these arent exactly secrets. This kind of information is widely available in magazines and on the internet.

Now, you know too, thanks to interviews with drug testers and to drug-abuse information and statistics from across the services. Consider the playing field leveled.

Myth 1: Poppy seeds can make you pop positive for drugs.

Fact: In a clinical study, a guy ate two cups of concentrated poppy-seed paste before he showed a false positive, said Lt. Cmdr. Richard A. Gustafson, director of the Navy Drug Screening Laboratory in Jacksonville, Fla. The lemon poppy-seed MRE's are safe - at least as far as false positives are concerned.

Myth 2: Over-the-counter drugs can cause false positives for methamphetamines.

Fact: Over-the-counter drugs show up as L-methamphetamines, not the D-methamphetamines found in illicit substances, Gustafson said. The testers know the difference.

Myth 3: You can mask a drug in urine by adding something to the sample.

Fact: True, sometimes, but Military drug tests are suppossed to be observed. If so, nothing gets in the cup but urine. But lots of guys get stage fright and cant go while being watched, so testers sometimes turn their backs. A crucial mistake, lab officials say. Even if it's diluted, the tampered sample may not do the trick. A sample laced with kerosene recently came to the Navy testing facility - and still popped positive for marijuana, gustafson said.

Myth 4: Marijuana stays in your system for a month.

Fact: Its true that the delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, found in marijuana can linger in the body for a long time, but how long is a matter of dispute.

Some civilian tests can find it weeks later, but the military has a high cutoff limit of 15 nanograms of THC per milliliter of urine, Gustafson said. So to catch a casual or first-time smoker, testers may have only about 5 days before the THC level is too dilluted to test positive. But before you think thats an all clear sign to hit th bong, stay tuned. Regular marijuana users are likely to get nailed because the more you smoke, the longer is stays in your system.

Myth 5: Marijuana is safer than tobacco.

Fact: Lets not even talk about the drugs' effects, like how Mary Jane can kill your libido and niccotine is more addictive than crack. Lets just talk about the cancer risks. When it comes to the big C, marijuana smoke has far more cancer-causing substances than cigarette smoke, according to Army research. How much more? One joint is like 5 cigarettes. One puff of the grass gives you 150 cancer causing substances and twice as much tar as a drag off a cigarette. Neither is good for you, but weed is worse. [Erowid Note: There is no direct evidence that Cannabis smoking causes cancer.]

Myth 6: Someone at the drug lab is out to get you.

Fact: Quality controls prevent such an occurrence, Gustafson said. Five people review the tests, so lots of people would have to be in on the conspiracy, and the samples are given random control numbers, not labeled with names.

Myth 7: The military tests urine for steroid use.

Not usually Gustafson said. Steroid tests must be ordered specifically by the command and generally cost your bosses extra. The urine samples are sent to the labs at the University of California at Los Angeles, where the U.S. Olympic teams tests are conducted. Unless you have hair growing on your eyeballs or your commander has another reason to suspect you of doping, your urine isnt going to California.

Myth 8: LSD shows up only in spinal taps and hair samples.

Fact: The s ervices like to show testing statistics that indicate LSD use is nearly nonexistant. In fiscal year 2003, according to the Army Center for Substance Abuse Programs, no soldier tested positive for traces of the drug. That could be because of the military's traditional urinalysis reveals LSD only about 12-24 hours after use. New tests are goign to make it more apparent in the coming years, but still, LSD leaves the body quickly.

Myth 9: The drug labs round up their results.

Fact: The drug labs dont round at all, Gustafson said, so a marijuana test of 14.99 nanograms per milliliter comes back as negative. "Everything is weightred to the marine or sailor." He said.

Myth 10: Someone "can set you up" by adding a drug to your urine test that will make you test positive.

Fact: The drug tests search for certain metabolites in your system, chemicals that show that the body broke the substance down, after it was introduced, Gustafson said. The tests do not search for the drug itself. That means that you could add a pound of coke to a clean urine sample, and it will come back negative.

Myth 11: A sample can contaminate the screening machine, thus contaminating clean tests that follow it.

Fact: The quality controls - such as running a clean water test between each of the secondary screenings to ensure that the machine is washed out - are tougher in the military than most civilian drug-screening labs, Gustafson said.

Myth 12: Drug labs screw up clean tests.

Fact: Since 1981, the Navy has tested its own drug labs about 40,000 times for quality assurance with "blind negatives", batches of clean liquid hidden among the real samples to ensure that everything is up to code, Gustafson said. The labs never have identified one of those decoys as positive for drugs. [Erowid Note: Even a very carefully implemented system cannot remove the possibilities of false-positives caused by other substances or medical conditions in the person being tested.]

Myth 13: Passive inhalation is a legitimate defense for a positive marijuana test.

Fact: The 15 nanograms per milliliter limit is so high that youd have to stay locked in a closet with Cheech and Chong while the smoked a dozen joints. Riding in a car with someone who is smoking grass wont expose you to enough to make you pop positive, Gustafson said, and the lab guys will testify to that. Can your lawyer get you off anyway? Depends. You've seen CSI.

Myth 14: Lidocaine, novocaine, xylocaine and the like will show a false positive for cocaine.

Fact: Get a toothe pulled, and the dentist will give you pain medicine. However, despite the similarity in names, these drugs have different molecular structures, Gustafson said. The militarys drug tests can tell the difference.

Myth 15: All marijuana is the same.

Fact: Thanks to new ways of growing it, some of the best bud out ther can have a THC content of up to 30%, according to Army research. The Average THC content of the weed that hippies smoked in the '60s? One percent. Do the math. [Erowid Note: The "average" THC content of marijuana smoked in the 60s vs the present is a matter of quite a bit of dispute. It is also argued that those who smoke higher THC content cannabis simply smoke less.]

Myth 16: Every sample is tested for every major drug.

Fact: Every sample is tested for popular drugs, including Marijuana, Cocaine, Amphetamines, Meth, and Ecstacy, Gustafson said. And generally, they're screened for between one and four other drugs - LSD, PCP, opiates, and barbituates.

Myth 17: You can mask a drug in urine by drinking vinegar.

Fact: "Drinking vinegar is only going to make you sick." Gustafson said. Sometimes you can drink enough water to dilute the urine below cutoff levels, but labs catch onto that pretty quickly, he said.

Myth 18: "I just thought they were regular brownies. I never felt a thing."

Fact: Urine tests cant tell if a person 'felt' the effects of a drug, Gustafson said. They determine if the drug was ingested, knowingly or unknowingly. The nanogram level will tell you how much was eaten, but its up to the legal system to decide if it was an accident.