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Drug testing is an important part of many organizations, and employers must choose between two primary methods: lab-based and rapid drug tests. According to a recent study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the vast majority of drug tests are conducted using urine samples (88.9%). But how do the accuracy and reliability of lab-based and instant tests compare? And what about the cost and turnaround time?

Read: Why Choose a SAMHSA-Certified Lab?

Difference between lab drug test and instant drug test

Collection Method

Lab-based tests usually require a urine, hair, or blood sample, which is then sent to a laboratory for analysis. On the other hand, instant tests are done on-site and typically use a saliva or urine sample.


Lab-based tests are generally considered more accurate than instant tests, as they are conducted in a controlled laboratory environment and are subject to more rigorous quality control measures. While being accurate, rapid tests may be more prone to false positives and negatives.

Turnaround Time

Rapid drug testing provides immediate results on-site, while laboratory tests require the sample to be sent to a laboratory for analysis, which can take anywhere from a few days to a week.

Detection Window

Lab tests are generally more sensitive and can detect drug use over a longer period (up to 90 days) than instant testing, which may only detect drug use within the past few days.

Suggested: What are the Standard Cut-Off Levels of Drug Tests?


Instant drug tests are generally less expensive than lab-based tests, which require laboratory analysis and may also incur additional costs for sample collection and transportation.

Click to see the lowest and most reliable drug test pricing.


In some cases, certain types of drug tests (such as SAMHSA-certified lab tests) may be required by federal laws or regulations for safety-sensitive workplaces as those mandated by the Department of Transportation for CDL drivers, while rapid testing may not be legally admissible in certain situations yet depend solely upon employer’s drug testing policy.

Wrap Up

Instant tests are fast and convenient but may not be as accurate as lab-based tests. Lab-based tests are more accurate, but they are also more expensive and time-consuming. Ultimately, your test type will depend on your specific needs and circumstances. If you need results quickly and accuracy is not a major concern, an instant test may be the way to go. However, if accuracy is paramount, or if you need to test for a wider range of drugs or drug metabolites, a lab test may be better.

Whether you require immediate on-site results or a more comprehensive analysis conducted in a laboratory setting, goMDnow drug testing services have got you covered. Sign up today or order an instant test and let the process begin smoothly.