Introduction to the 8 Panel Drug Test

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5 September 2023

Introduction to the 8 Panel Drug Test

Like the 7-panel drug test, the 8-panel drug test focuses primarily on frequently abused prescription drugs alongside several of the most frequently used illicit drugs. The 8-panel drug test typically adds benzodiazepines, barbiturates and Methaqualone (Quaaludes) to the Department of Transportation (DOT)5-panel drug test. The addition of Quaaludes to the 8-panel test adds an additional layer of risk protection for your business for relatively little difference in cost. It does not, however, test for Methadone, a narcotic typically prescribed for addiction treatment, or for Propoxyphene.

The 8-panel test is useful in safety-sensitive employment situations where worker or public safety could potentially be at risk. Many of the drugs added to this panel are heavy narcotics with potentially serious side effects and they can also be highly addictive. Even their legal use can put your company at risk, as they could potentially increase errors and injuries and increase the likelihood of employee theft and violence in the workplace.

The demographics of your region, industry and your employees are a good indication of whether drug use might be an issue at your workplace, but testing is the only way to know for sure. The 8-panel test is a good place to start. While the actual drugs tested can vary, there are certain drugs that the 8-panel drug test usually addresses. An 8-panel drug test typically includes:

Methaqualone (Quaaludes)

Also known by the name Quaaludes, Methaqualone was first sold in the 1950s as an alternative to barbiturates, but is now an illegal substance. Its effects include relaxation, sleepiness and feelings of euphoria. In the workplace, the major risk of this drug is drowsiness, which can lead to accidents, injuries and even death.

Even low doses of Methaqualone can cause overdoses and death and the risk is greatly increased when methaqualone is taken with alcohol. Additional side effects can include:

  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Mental confusion
  • Loss of muscle control


Cocaine use in the United States is exploding. Between 2013 and 2015, the number of people trying the drug increased by 61%. The highest percentage of users were in the Northeast and in New Hampshire, but that does not mean other states are immune. Cocaine can be difficult to detect in the workplace as many of its effects mimic those of normal workplace stress or lack of sleep. Positive tests can result up to eight days after use and while the high does not last long, the negative effects do.

Cocaine users often mistakenly believe the drug increases their mental alertness as the initial effects of a cocaine high can induce mental clarity and increased focus and alertness. These early effects generally last only thirty minutes, however, after which the user will feel depressed, agitated, nervous and fatigued.

Some additional effects of a cocaine high include:

  • Feelings of euphoria and energy
  • Mental alertness
  • Hypersensitivity
  • Irritability
  • Paranoia

Studies have shown that cocaine users struggle with concentration, attention, decision-making and memory long after the high has disappeared. As users take more of it, more often, they become addicted and both productivity and safety at work are affected.


The U.S. leads the world in marijuana use and some research suggests that the marijuana being consumed in the U.S. is a much more potent strain. It is also gaining acceptance for both medical and recreational uses in order to relieve pain, nausea and other symptoms. Thirty states have legalized the use of medical marijuana and nine states plus Washington, D.C. have legalized the use of recreational marijuana. Canada recently legalized marijuana as well. (Learn more in Managing the Legalization of Cannabis in the Workplace).

Unfortunately for employers, legalization doesn’t imply safety. High doses of marijuana can induce paranoia, hallucinations and anxiety and these effects can last up to 24 hours. In the workplace, marijuana can also:

  • Impair concentration
  • Affect the ability to think and make decisions
  • Reduce reaction time
  • Affect coordination

These all pose a significant risk for positions that include driving or cognitive tasks, as the effects can last for up to three or four hours. Impairment varies widely by individual tolerance level and between occasional and long-term users. There is additional evidence that acute use can also impair learning, memory and attention over the long term.


Phencyclidine (PCP) is a controlled substancein both Canada and the U.S., meaning it has no legal uses. It is regaining popularity as a club drug and has been found mixed in other drugs including marijuana. In fact, 24% of marijuana was recently found to contain PCP.

PCP’s real threat, however, lies not in the numbers of people who are using it but in its dangerous and mind-altering effects. In the workplace, these effects can be extremely serious. Even in moderate amounts, PCP can cause users to feel a misplaced sense of strength and invulnerability and put themselves and others at risk. These effects begin within minutes of ingesting PCP and can last six to 48 hours.

PCP can have numerous other effects on your workers that include:

  • Numbness
  • Loss of coordination
  • Hallucinations
  • Psychosis

PCP is highly addictive and over the long-term users can experience memory loss, depression and problems with both speech and learning.


Amphetamines, including methamphetamines, are stimulants that speed up the central nervous system. With opioids dominating the headlines, methamphetamines are quietly becoming a dominant issue in states such as Oklahoma. Amphetamine use has also skyrocketed according to recent surveys in both the Midwest and the southern United States.

The effect of amphetamines ranges widely from person to person. They can give one person a sense of euphoria and invincibility, make another nervous and tense and make another openly hostile and aggressive. In the workplace, their abuse can lead to a host of issues including:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Lack of concern for serious matters
  • Exhaustion, particularly at the beginning of the work week
  • Aggressive and risky behavior while driving or operating machinery
  • Restless and excessively excitable behavior with coworkers or customers
  • Aggression or hostility directed to coworkers or customers
  • Paranoia, delusions, chronic exhaustion

Testing can help you identify and mitigate the risks of amphetamine use for your workers, your customers and your company.

Basic Opiates

Opiates are made from the opium poppy plant and include drugs such as opium, codeine, heroin and morphine. These drugs have both analgesic (painkilling) and narcotic effects, including feelings of euphoria.

Even legal opiates are highly addictive and susceptible to abuse. (Learn more in Prescription Opioids and Safety Sensitive Work). The good news is that testing is detecting fewer positive test results for opiates, other than codeine, than it has in the previous decade in many states, although opiate use does remain high in others. This is a small victory given the incredibly high existing rate of use for these drugs. Prescriptions for opiates will often include a warning to the user not to operate heavy machinery and even when used as prescribed, opiates can cause impairment and increase workplace accidents, errors and injuries. A few of the effects of opiate use on the job include:

  • Falling asleep at workstations or desks
  • Mood swings
  • Major changes in energy levels

As they come down from the high, users may exhibit withdrawal symptoms including irritability, anxiousness, nausea, shaking and sweating. Employees abusing opiates will sometimes mix in other drugs to create a functional high which intensifies all these effects and puts your workplace at further risk.


Benzodiazepines, including drugs such as Valium and Xanax, are frequently prescribed to control conditions such as anxiety and sleep disorders. They are also among the most frequently abused legal drugs.

Even when used as prescribed, these drugs tend to induce drowsiness or dizziness making it dangerous for users to drive or operate machinery. They also impact an individual’s ability to function physically and socially. At work, benzodiazepine abusers may also exhibit:

  • Slow reaction time
  • Confusion
  • Poor concentration and memory
  • Unsteadiness
  • Vision problems

Unfortunately, almost all of individuals who abuse benzodiazepines, 80% in many studies, also have documented use of another substance such as alcohol or opioids, which increases the risk of side effects and the chance of overdose in the workplace.


Barbiturates are a seldom prescribed drug that have been largely replaced by benzodiazepine. Barbiturates initially make the user feel happy, relaxed and less inhibited but quickly become dangerous if taken in excess. They are particular dangerous because the line that separates therapeutic use from excess is very thin for barbiturates.

Signs of abuse to look for in the workplace include effects that mimic alcohol intoxication. Tolerance builds quickly, usually within a few weeks and it is very easy to become addicted. Additional side effects associated with prescribed barbiturate use include:

  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Irritability
  • Poor judgement

How long the effects of barbiturates last can vary widely by both the exact drug being used and the individual taking it. Even more concerning for employers is that the effects of barbiturate withdrawal can be equally severe and put your workplace at further risk. These effects can include agitation, anxiety and depression among others.

What To Consider

The drugs tested in the 8-panel drug test are not the only drugs that can cause issues in the workplace, but they are among the most commonly abused. Even when used appropriately, some of these drugs can put your company at risk for accidents, financial and other errors, and image issues. The misuse and abuse of all these drugs, however, can greatly increase those risks. Testing can help ensure you are able to identify and address these risks.