How Does a 10-Panel Drug Test Work?

Female nurse explaining to young male patient at office in hospital

Maskot / Getty Images

The 10-panel drug test is one of the most common tests used to detect illegal drugs in your system. It is designed to see if you have used or abused prescription and illicit drugs. It most commonly uses urine to test for these drugs, but some can also use blood or saliva.

As you might have guessed from the name, the 10-panel drug test can detect ten specific drugs in your system. This article breaks down how the test works and what you can expect during and after the test. 

How Does It Work?

The 10-panel drug test comes as either an at-home kit or a lab technician will be brought in to take your samples. The samples will then be taken back to a lab to conduct the test. In most cases, your urine is used to test for these drugs. But some 10-panel drug test kits are equipped to test for drugs in blood, saliva, or even hair. 

The test is typically done in a bathroom or another private area as the sample usually collected is urine. In rare situations, you might be required to produce your urine sample in front of the person conducting the test to ascertain its authenticity. 

What to Expect During the Test 

The 10-panel drug test doesn't require you to do any special preparation for the test. You might be advised not to drink an excessive amount of water or any other drink. However, this rarely affects the outcome of the test.

The test might be conducted either in your clinic or office if your employer requested it. You are given a cup to pee into and then hand your urine sample to the technician. The person conducting the test might monitor you to ensure you do not tamper with the urine samples.

In some cases, the results will be provided immediately. In other cases, the samples might be taken back to a lab for the testing to be done there. 

What to Expect After the Test 

When the results come in, they might either be positive, negative, or inconclusive. If it was positive, that means the drug being tested for is present in your system. If you think you got a false positive, and that does occur on rare occasions, you should request for a second test to be done.

If you get a negative result, that means that the drugs being tested for are absent in your system. It could also mean that it's not enough to be picked up on by the test. This might occur if the test is done outside of the detection time for the drug in question.

An inconclusive test result means the test didn't detect that there's a drug in your system. In such cases, the test will typically be conducted again.

Why You Might Need a 10-Panel Drug Test 

You might need to take a 10-panel drug test for many reasons. It may be because your employer has requested you take one in most cases. Federal laws also mandate drug tests for employees in specific jobs like federal government employees and people who work in safety and security industries.

The point of the 10-panel drug test is to detect if you've used any of the most commonly abused drugs. It, however, isn't designed to pick up on alcohol use or abuse. Although employers more commonly use a 5-panel drug test, the 10-panel drug test can pick up on more substances. 

If your employer asks you to take a drug test, you should look up the laws in your state to know your rights. In some states, it's not legal for your employer to ask you to take a drug test. Especially if you are not in certain positions.

You might also be required to take this test in the following scenarios: 

  • If you are an athlete or sports person 
  • If you are required to in a legal situation 
  • For medical purposes

Which Drugs Can Be Detected in a 10-Panel Drug Test?

The 10-panel drug test is used to specifically detect if you've used or misused five particular prescription drugs and five illegal drugs.

The most common drugs they are used to screen for include: 

  • Cannabis: The test is designed to pick up THC, the active ingredient in cannabis. It can also detect other ingredients in cannabis, like CBD.
  • Amphetamines: This is more commonly referred to as meth, ecstasy, or speed. Adderall, Ritalin, and other prescription stimulants are also classified as amphetamines. 
  • Cocaine: This includes crack cocaine, a form of cocaine which is smoked to give a very rapid effect.
  • Benzodiazepines: The most common types of benzodiazepines include Valium and Xanax. 
  • Opioids: The most common opioids include morphine, codeine, and heroin. 
  • Barbiturates: Barbiturates are often prescription drugs; they include sedatives and sleeping pills 
  • Phencyclidine: This is more commonly known as angel dust, rocket fuel, or PCP
  • Quaaludes: This is also known as methaqualone, they were initially produced as an alternative to barbiturates, but they turned out to be just as addictive.
  • Propoxyphene: This is a prescription painkiller and cough suppressant which is often abused. Its brand names are Darvon and Darvocet. 
  • Methadone: This is used to treat heroin addiction, but it has the potential to be abused.

Drug Detection Duration 

How long it takes for a drug to be detected with a 10-panel drug test depends on what was used. The amount that was consumed and your metabolism will also affect detection times. The detection windows for the drugs listed above include: 

  • Cannabis: 2 to 28 days depending on how frequently the person uses the drug. The more often you use it, the longer it's likely to remain in your system.
  • Amphetamines: 1 to 4 days. For people who use amphetamines heavily, they may be detected up to a week after use.
  • Cocaine: 2 to 10 days
  • Benzodiazepines: 3 days if you are using them as prescribed. 4 to 6 weeks after extended use or misuse of greater quantities.
  • Opioids: 1 to 3 days
  • Short-acting barbiturates: 24 hours
  • Long-acting barbiturates: 2 to 3 weeks
  • Phencyclidine: 8 days or up to 30 days for people who use it chronically.
  • Quaaludes: 10 to 15 days
  • Propoxyphene: 6 to 48 hours
  • Methadone: 3 days 

Some 10-panel drug tests are designed to test for drugs in hair samples. The drugs can be detected for up to 90 days when a hair sample is used. What this means is that the drug being tested for might no longer be able to be detected after these periods have passed. 

How Effective Is a 10-Panel Drug Test?

A 10-panel drug test is highly effective in detecting the drugs it's designed to pick up. However, because urine is used in most cases, the detection window for many drugs is very short. This means that most drugs can't be detected after a relatively short period. A 10-panel drug test won't be recommended if the suspected drug use happened long ago. A hair follicle test is more likely to be used in such cases.

With hair follicle tests, many drugs can be detected for several weeks and months. In a 2016 study, researchers found that using urine to test for drugs is more effective than using saliva.

One of the shortcomings of a 10-panel drug test is that it cannot detect a drug if you use it just before the test is done. The drug must have been broken down by your body and passed into your urine or whatever other sample is being collected to do the test. 

10 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Hadland SE, Levy S. Objective testing. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America. 2016;25(3):549-565.

  2. National Library of Medicine. Drug Testing. July 30, 2020

  3. US Department of Health & Human Services. Federal Laws and Regulations. April 8, 2020

  4. National Institutes of Health. Drug testing.

  5. University of Rochester Medical Center. Benzodiazepines (urine).

  6. Lund K, Srihari P, Suhandynata R, et al. Qua-alluding to the past: A case of methaqualone analog ingestion. Journal of Analytical Toxicology. 2021. doi:10.1093/jat/bkab103

  7. Saitman A, Hyung-Doo P, Fitzgerald R. False positive interferences of common urine drug screen immunoassays: A review. Journal of Analytical Toxicology. 2014;38(7):387-396. doi:10.1093/jat/bku075

  8. Hiet H, Gourlay D. Urine drug testing in pain medicine. Journal of Pain and Symptom Management. 2004;27(3):260-267. doi:10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2003.07.008

  9. University of Rochester Medical Center. Amphetamine screen (urine).

  10. Casolin A. Comparison of urine and oral fluid for workplace drug testing. Journal of Analytical Toxicology. 2016;40(7):479-485.

By Toketemu Ohwovoriole
Toketemu has been multimedia storyteller for the last four years. Her expertise focuses primarily on mental wellness and women’s health topics.