by Dr. Lawrence Wilson

© April 2022, L.D. Wilson Consultants, Inc.


All information in this article is for educational purposes only.  It is not for the diagnosis, treatment, prescription or cure of any disease or health condition.


Abstract. Eight cases of substance abuse were analyzed for hair mineral patterns unique to this population.  This study was done in 1986.

Five cases involved recent drug use.   The hair tests of these five all revealed very low tissue zinc, and elevated hair tissue cadmium, lead, mercury, aluminum and nickel.

In the author's experience, this is not as common in other population groups.  The study suggests a link between low hair zinc, elevated toxic metals, and substance abuse. 

We also reviewed three cases of former substance abusers.  Their hair tests revealed higher and more normal zinc levels.

At the end of the study is a discussion of possible reasons for the findings.  Also discussed is how nutritional correction might prove helpful to prevent or help substance abuse.



Substance abuse is a common and costly health problem in America today.  An area of research that has received little attention is whether nutritional imbalances might predispose one toward substance abuse.

A fairly new tool for assessing mineral imbalances inexpensively and accurately is hair mineral analysis.  The objective of this study was to review a number of cases to identify mineral patterns unique to substance abusers.




In the author’s nutrition consulting practice, each client receives a tissue mineral analysis.  A number of substance abusers were clients in the practice. 

We reviewed the hair mineral tests of eight present and former substance abuse clients.  The sample included both men and women, between the ages of 17 and 57.

The clients were divided into two groups – those with recent substance abuse, and those who were former substance abusers, but not presently. 



Those who were substance abusers at the time of testing:

Case #1. K.G., a 30-year-old white female, had a history of alcohol abuse since age 15.  At the time she presented, she had been sober for nine months.  She also abused sleeping pills at the time of the mineral analysis, and had a history of tranquilizer abuse on and off for 10 years.  She complained of extreme fatigue, hypoglycemia, poor digestion and hopelessness.

Case #2. J.M., a 44-year-old white male, had a history of cocaine and alcohol abuse.  He also smoked two packs of cigarettes daily for the past 20 years.

Case #3. J.P., a 37-year-old white male, was a heroin addict, now on a methadone maintenance.  He is also HIV positive.  He had taken massive doses of vitamin C and other vitamins which he claimed helped his energy level.  He complained of fatigue, joint pain, depression, and anxiety.

Case #4. W.H., a 57-year-old white male, regularly abused alcohol.  His symptoms were arthritis, impotence and extreme fatigue.

Case #5. U.P., a 33-year-old white female, is a former heroin addict, now on methadone maintenance.  She had symptoms of fatigue, mood swings, anxiety, joint stiffness and premenstrual tension.


Those who were former substance abusers:

Case #6. B.K., a 24-year-old white female, had a history of alcoholism and drug abuse until five years ago.  At the time of testing, she was taking Prozac and Xanax for symptoms of irritability, depression, mood swings, panic attacks and anxiety.

Case #7. D.W., a 29-year-old white female, had a history of cocaine abuse several years ago.  She complained of mood swings, anxiety and 'stress'.  She smokes 10 cigarettes per day.  She takes no medication.

Case #8. A.K., a 17-year-old white female, previously had a brief involvement with cocaine.  Her main symptom was fatigue, and she was not on medication.



Sampling of the hair requires several clippings from the back of the head, close to the scalp. Hair over one inch long is cut off and discarded. Cuttings were combined to form a 125 mg sample. This was sent to Accutrace Laboratories in Phoenix, Arizona, a federally licensed testing laboratory with over 35 years experience.

At the laboratory, the sample is cut up by hand into smaller pieces. This is left to dissolve overnight in a combination of nitric and sulfuric acid. The following day a carefully measured amount is placed in an induction-coupled plasma instrument. The instrument detects the levels of 20 trace and toxic minerals accurately within parts per million.

Controls involve a National Bureau of Standards bovine liver sample, and in-house controls of all reagents. Controls are run with every batch of samples.



Test results that differed from averages seen in the general population were:


1. Cadmium: All substance abusers revealed tissue cadmium levels above 0.02 mg%. Two of the three former substance abusers also had elevated cadmium readings. The optimal cadmium level is about 0.004 – 0.008 mg%.


2. Zinc : All substance abusers had zinc readings of 12 mg% or lower.  None of the former substance abusers had a zinc reading less than 14 mg%. Optimal zinc levels are 14-16 mg%.


3. Phosphorus: Four of the five substance abusers had phosphorus readings of 13 mg% or lower. Among the former abusers, only one had a phosphorus level below 13 mg%. Optimal phosphorus levels are 14-17 mg%.


4. Lead.  All the cases showed an elevated lead, using a lead level of 0.01-0.06 mg% as the optimal range.


5. Mercury.  All cases showed elevated mercury.  Optimal hair mercury is 0.3 to 0.35 mg%.


6. Aluminum.  All cases showed elevated aluminum.  The optimal hair aluminum level is 0.2–0-4 mg%.


7. Nickel.  All the cases showed a high nickel level.  The optimal level is 0.015-0.019 mg%.


All other mineral levels were similar to that of the general population.  All the numerical data is presented at the end of the article.



Zinc: Zinc is a critical mineral, involved in over 100 enzyme systems. These include alcohol dehydrogenase, an enzyme required to detoxify alcohol in the liver.  Zinc is also considered by some researchers as a calming neurotransmitter.  Zinc is important for the functioning of the cortex, or higher brain centers.  Zinc is also required for protein synthesis, digestive enzyme secretion, insulin production and secretion, the sense of taste and smell, appetite control, wound healing and many other functions.

Zinc deficiency is associated with anorexia, mood swings, anxiety and emotional instability. It can also cause cadmium toxicity, as cadmium replaces zinc in enzyme binding sites.

Zinc deficiency is common in America. Dr. Carl Pfeiffer wrote in Mental & Elemental Nutrients that as of 1975, zinc was deficient in the soil of 32 of the 50 states. This causes low zinc levels in many foods today.        

Food refining and processing removes more zinc from our foods. Zinc deficiency is commonly congenital, or present from birth, if the mother is low in zinc.

Stress and the use of alcohol further deplete the level of zinc. Cigarette paper contains cadmium, an element that competes with zinc for intestinal absorption.

Zinc deficiency may contribute to the tendency for substance abuse by increasing one’s anxiety level. Conversely, alcohol or drug abuse with accompanying malnutrition almost always results in a zinc deficiency. The deficiency in turn worsens anxiety and emotional instability, creating a vicious cycle.


Cadmium : Cadmium is an extremely toxic metal.  Cadmium competes with zinc and interferes with zinc metabolism. Cadmium can replace zinc in enzyme binding sites.  In a study of Navy recruits, high hair cadmium was shown to correlate well with behavior problems.

Cadmium toxicity may be present at birth, passed from the mother through the placenta. It may also be acquired from environmental sources, including tap water, processed foods and occupational exposure.

Cadmium from cigarette or marijuana smoke could help account for the elevated levels in some of the study participants.  Zinc deficiency also predisposes one to cadmium toxicity.  When zinc is deficient, the body will absorb cadmium to replace zinc in enzyme binding sites.


Phosphorus: Low phosphorus on a mineral analysis is the result of a diet low in protein, impaired protein digestion or utilization, and/or possibly a low zinc level.  Zinc deficiency or a poor diet could account for the low phosphorus readings in the study participants.


Lead.  Lead is a highly toxic metal that affects the nervous system as well as many other body systems.  Lead toxicity is associated with over 100 symptoms.

A common source of lead is drinking rooibos tea or red tea.  Lead, along with other toxic metals, may also be used as a pesticide that is sprayed on drug crops.


Mercury. Common sources are eating any quantity of fish or seafood at all, but particularly large fish such as tunafish.  The exception is that eating up to 4 cans of sardines or other tiny fish does not seem to cause mercury toxicity.


Aluminum. The most common sources of this toxic metal are anti-perspirants.  Some anti-acids contain aluminum, as well.


Nickel.  This is another very toxic metal.  The most common source of nickel is drinking rooibos or red tea.


The cult diet.  A recent observation is that people who have been raped or “recruited” by certain foreign governments are forced to consume toxic substances.  They may also be forced to take drugs.  Their hair tests resemble the subjects in this study. 

This study was done 25 years ago, so I am unable to check to see if the participants were recruited in this way.  For more on this topic, please read The Cult Diet on this site.



The intent of this small study was to identify mineral patterns that might be common to substance abusers.  Low zinc and high cadmium were common to all cases.  Low phosphorus was present in four of the five substance abusers.  Lead was also elevated among the substance abusers.  Lead poisoning often has to do with drugs.

This study suggests a correlation between substance abuse and mineral imbalances, either as a cause or a result of substance abuse. Correction of mineral imbalances may have a role to play in the prevention and treatment of substance abuse. Larger studies are needed to confirm this hypothesis.




(all numbers reported in mg per 100 grams)



Mineral    Case #1     Case #2     Case #3     Case #4     Case #5     Case #6     Case #7     Case #8
                    F - alcohol M - alcohol M - heroin    M - alcohol F - heroin F - former  F - former   F - former

Calcium         55                 76             53             115                 57             50             176             99

Magnesium    10                   6                6             26                    10             6                 24              6

Sodium             3                 230             62             43                 26                3                 18             8

Potassium         1                 30             28               72                 11                 1               5                3

Iron                 1                 0.6             1.6             4.0                 0.5             0.8             0.9             0.8

Copper         9.4                 16               1.0             4.0                 1.1             0.9             2.0             2.7

Manganese    0.01             0.03             0.03             0.15             0.01           0.01         0.02             0.02

Zinc             12                 12                 12             11                     7             14             17                 14

Chromium    0.2             0.04                 0.06         0.16                 0.04         0.03         0.03             0.02

Phosphorus   12             11                     12             14                     11            13             13               11

Lead             0.1             1.1                 0.32             0.79             0.31             0.1             0.3             0.4

Mercury     0.04 0.        08                    0.24            0.22             0.05             0.03         0.04             0.06

Cadmium     0.03         0.06                   0.03             0.07             0.04             0.06       0.02             0.05

Aluminum     1.5             0.5                    4.9             7.4                 1.00             1.1         1.2             0.9

Nickel         0.1               0.1                   0.11            .19                 0.2             0.18        0.17         0.19




Recreational drug use is increasing in America and in other nations, as well.  There are many possible reasons for this.  Among them may be that most people’s bodies are far more run down and tired than in the past.  Also, the level of the toxic metals in the environment and in people’s bodies are higher, causing more mental and physical disorders for which people may use drugs as self-medication.




Slow oxidation.  Any pattern is possible in one who uses drugs.  However, a common pattern is a slow oxidation rate, and often a very slow oxidation rate.  The exception here is alcoholism, which occurs often in fast oxidizers with a low sodium/potassium ratio.

It is not always clear whether the drug use causes a slow oxidation rate or a very sluggish oxidation rate causes a person to want to use drugs.  Either situation is possible, and most likely both occur commonly.


Calcium/magnesium ratio greater than about 13.5.  (ideal is between 4 and 9.5).  When the hair calcium/magnesium ratio is above 13.5, I find it is a reliable indicator of a lifestyle issue that is interfering with one’s health.  The pattern is called spiritual defensiveness, and is fully explained in a separate article on this site, Spiritual Defensiveness.

Drug use, including marijuana, is one of the most common causes for an elevated calcium/magnesium ratio.  Other causes to rule out are homosexuality, abusive relationships, and, in a few cases, bad attitudes will cause the ratio to elevate.


Copper less than about 0.6 mg%.  This is a newer research finding.  So far, (in 2015) I have only found this extremely low copper level in people who are using stimulant drugs such as cocaine.


Toxic metals are often high in those who use drugs.  Once again, this may be a cause or a result of drug or alcohol use.  Sources of toxic metals are:

1. Pesticides. Lead arsenate and others are used on grapes and other crops that are made into alcohol.

2. Other additives.  Chemicals may be added during processing, fermentation, distillation processes, or as preservatives, which are also widely used in alcoholic beverages and rarely appear on the label.

3. Malnutrition. Those who use drugs rarely eat well.  As a result, their bodies become depleted of vital minerals.  When this occurs, the bodies tend to accumulate more toxic metals from the environment.

4. Hair cadmium level greater than 0.09 mg%.  This indicates that a person is exposed to excess cadmium.  Cadmium is found in tobacco cigarettes, marijuana, and in rolling paper used to make marijuana or tobacco cigarettes.  The only other common cause of elevated cadmium is occupational exposure to this metal, and this is fairly rare.


Wave pattern.  If one connects the tops of the graphs of the upper minerals on an ARL chart, they form a wavey up and down pattern like waves on water.  This patern is associated with marijuana use.


Whipped pattern.  This is a combination of four lows pattern AND a very low sodium/potassium ratio.  This is associated with stimulant drug use, such as cocaine or methamphetamines.  In the book, Development Science and Development Programs, it is also called ‘strung out’.

The drug use has moved the person into a four lows pattern and the person is thoroughly exhausted, as indicated by the low sodium/potassium ratio.

This can look like a reverse L pattern, which is associated with homosexuality and beatings in men.




Please note the following with the indicators above:


1. The indictors are mainly valid on an initial hair mineral test.  They are less valid on retests.  The reason is that on a retest, a toxic metal level can rise very high due to an elimination of that metal.  This is not due to drug use, however.  Therefore, elevated cadmium on a retest is not as reliable an indicator of drug use.

2. If possible, rule out other causes for all the patterns below, except perhaps the low copper level, because none of the patterns below are exclusively caused by drug use.

3. Usually, the person must be actively using a drug for the pattern to be present.  Drug use in the past, for example, may not cause the pattern.




            Many methods can help those with a drug problem.  They range from the traditional methods such as counseling and other types of psychotherapies, to more unorthodox methods,  including a nutritional balancing program.


            Nutritional balancing for drug abuse.  Nutritional balancing is exceptionally good for anyone who desires to recover from the use of any addictive substance such as alcohol or drugs.  The reasons for this, and why it is vastly superior to just counseling, or standard medical and holistic therapies, include:


1. It can correct many nutritional deficiency states such as low zinc or B-complex vitamin deficiencies that may cause cravings for drugs or alcohol.

2. It can correct conditions such as hypoglycemia, depression, anxiety, irritability, moodiness, brain fog, aches and pains, and other symptoms that may cause drug addition in the first place.

3. It can restore the body’s natural energy production so that stimulants, for example, are not needed or as helpful to give a person some energy.  This can also be an important factor in drug or alcohol use.

4. The program removes at least two dozen toxic metals from the brain.  Many people do not realize that the presence of specific toxic metals can cause intense emotions and negative thoughts.

For example, excessive lead is associated with violence and a lowered I.Q or intelligence quota.  Excessive cadmium is associated with a need for cigarettes, at times.  Too much mercury can cause a person to want a drug such as marijuana to calm down.

5. The program removes hundreds of toxic chemicals.  This is another factor that can hold a person in a drug or alcohol addiction.

6. It can restore a certain natural high that everyone should feel every day.  This is, in part, due to the action of the adrenal and thyroid hormones.  When one has this natural feeling of happiness and joy, one is much less attracted to drugs of any kind.

7. The program tends to make a person much calmer, and more relaxed.  This tends to reduce the need for depressant drugs such as marijuana or ‘downers’.

8. The program often gives a person a new set of “tools” or methods to use when adversity strikes, or fear occurs, or any negative emotions come up.  By using these natural methods, such as foot reflexology, sauna therapy, coffee enemas, specific foods, and supplements, one develops more control, even in stressful life situations.  This can also reduce the desire for drugs.

9. Intensely cleansing and renourishing the body tends to make it more sensitive to all toxins.  This is an interesting effect.  Many clients report, for example, that they “no longer tolerate” alcohol, drugs, junk food, and other harmful products the way they formerly did.

10. The program often increases mental clarity, enhances the ability to reason, improves the memory, and enhances the processing speed of the brain.  This will help anyone to make much more reasonable and less emotionally-based decisions.

11. When followed faithfully for a few years, a nutritional balancing program, unlike other nutrition or medical methods, automatically causes what I call development.  This is an actual increase in brain capacity and thinking capacity.  This tends to make a person’s entire outlook less compatible with self-destructive behaviors such as drug or alcohol use.  For more on this interesting subject, read Mental Development on this website.

12.  Finally, by restoring one’s physical and emotional health, the program often gets rid of hopelessness, despair, suicidal thoughts, and other very negative emotions and attitudes that often are at the root of drug and alcohol abuse.

13.  All of the above occur rather mechanically if one just stays on the program.  This is a great advantage, in that the program is not dependent upon the skill or expertise of the nutritional consultant or doctor who administers the program.

14. Nutritional balancing programs can break vicious cycles that lead to drug abuse at many levels at once.  This may sound a little esoteric, but in terms of systems theory, it is an important reason why they work so well.

The body can be viewed as a complex system with many aspects that continuously interact and can perpetuate a craving for drugs or alcohol.  The more places one can “break the cycle” or shift the system, as it were, the more effective a program will tend to be. 

Nutritional balancing incorporates a healthful diet and lifestyle, targeted nutritional supplements, adequate rest and exercise, physical methods such as sauna therapy and coffee enemas, energetic methods such as foot reflexology, and mental/emotional/spiritual methods in the pushing down exercise.

            At the same time, people are warned to avoid dozens of methods of healing, detoxification, meditation and others that we have found to be less helpful or harmful.

15. Nutritional balancing is one of very few methods that makes the body more yang in macrobiotic terminology.  This helps make a person less compatible with the use of very yin substances including most drugs, alcohol, sugars and others. 




            Religions often helpful.  Many people find that attending religious services are helpful for drug rehabilitation.  Also, many churches have programs to assist those recovering from drug use.


            Counseling.  This is a traditional method that is helpful in some cases, particularly if the person really wants to change.  Many varieties of counseling exist, and the skill and experience of drug counselors varies tremendously, so a person must choose a counselor carefully.


            Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous.  These are quite helpful for many people.  They offer constant support, camaraderie and friendship, and the 12-step programs offer a religious or spiritual aspect that is very helpful as well.  When combined with nutritional balancing, they form a powerful combination.



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