How Long Does Cocaine Stay in Your System?
How Long Does Cocaine Stay in Your Body?
The amount of time that cocaine is still detectable in your body depends on how long you’ve been using, how much you used, and the type of detection method. Urine testing is the most often used testing method. Blood and saliva tests tend to have the shortest detection times, while hair tests have the longest.
Cocaine is an addictive stimulant drug from the leaves of the coca plant.1,2 It is a white powder that is a Schedule II drug, meaning it has a high potential for misuse but can be used by a doctor for legitimate medical uses.2,3 Cocaine can be misused nasally, via injection, rubbed onto the gums, or by smoking cocaine that has been processed to make a rock crystal (known as “crack”).1,4
Have you used cocaine recently?
Do you use the drug when you party late into the night? Do you use it regularly to get through the day? Some people who use cocaine are concerned about how long it will stay in their system and how long it will continue to affect them. Others are concerned about traces of the drug registering on a mandatory drug test. So, how long does cocaine stay in the body?
Duration of Time
Cocaine is a central nervous system stimulant that is quickly absorbed after smoking with plasma concentrations peaking around 5 minutes, or 30-40 minutes if taken nasally.5 Cocaine is largely metabolized by enzymes in the liver and blood, and benzoylecgonine is the major metabolite of cocaine found in the urine. Depending on the amount taken, how frequently it is used, and metabolic variation, benzoylecgonine can be detected in urine for 48-96 hours after use.5
Plasma half-life is the amount of time it takes for the concentration of the drug in the blood to be reduced by half.11 Urine half-life is the time it takes for the drug concentration in the urine to be reduced by half.
One study found the average half-lives for cocaine to be as follows:6
- Plasma elimination= 1.5 hours.
- Urine elimination = 4.1 hours.
- Saliva elimination = 1.2 hours
The study also estimated that cocaine’s metabolites—or the breakdown products of cocaine—have a half-life ranging from 14.6-52.4 hours.6,12 This study suggested that chronic use of cocaine leads to a buildup of cocaine in the body, which increases the amount of time that cocaine and its metabolites stay in your system.6
Cocaethylene: The Danger of Combining Cocaine and Alcohol
Cocaethylene is a chemical metabolite formed in the liver and circulated throughout the blood after both cocaine and alcohol are combined.7,9 Combing any two drugs can be dangerous, but the combination of cocaine and alcohol creates a substance that not only has a longer plasma half-life than that of cocaine alone—meaning that it stays in your body longer than cocaine—but is has been associated with several problems and is linked to a much higher risk of immediate death.7
How Long Is It Detectable in the Body?
- How long you’ve been using cocaine.
- Your average amount used.
- Differences in metabolism.
- The type of test used to detect cocaine in your system.
Cocaine and its breakdown products may be detected in 1 of 5 different ways—each of which has varying typical detection duration times after last use of the drug:14,15
- Urine: 2-3 days for metabolites (or up to 2 weeks, for heavy cocaine users)
- Blood: 12 hours for cocaine, 48 hours for metabolite
- Saliva: 1-2 days for cocaine or metabolites
- Sweat: up to a few weeks for cocaine or metabolite (when cutoff value is very low)
- Hair: moths for cocaine
Urine testing is the most often used testing method. It has a wider detection window than blood or saliva and also provides quick results.14 Hair testing has the widest detection window but is a complex process and there are many factors that can skew hair testing results.9,14
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Your liver is the primary organ responsible for metabolizing cocaine. Cocaine is broken down into other compounds, although some cocaine is excreted unchanged. Most of the primary metabolites are not active.16 Benzoylecgonine is one of the major compounds that results from cocaine’s breakdown process and is, in fact, often screened for in urine testing along with cocaine itself.16
How Long Do the Effects Last?
The approximate amount of time that you will continue to experience the effects of cocaine varies by the route of administration—in other words, how you used it:17
- Intravenous (IV) administration = 15-20 minutes.
- Inhalation (smoked) = 15-250 minutes.
- Intranasal use (snorted) = 45-90 minutes.
- Taken by mouth = 90 minutes.
Although cocaine users may initially experience feelings of pleasure, increased energy, alertness, and decreased appetite, cocaine can also have damaging short-term and long-term effects on multiple systems in your body.1,4
Short-term Adverse Effects of Cocaine
In the short-term, cocaine can give rise to symptoms including:1,3,4
- Anxiety, restlessness.
- Sleep disturbances.
- Sensitivity to sounds, sights, and touches.
- Dilated (large) pupils.
- Increased blood pressure.
- Irregular or rapid heart rate.
- Elevated body temperature.
Overdosing on cocaine may cause symptoms including:17
- Extreme anxiety, panic.
- Agitation, aggressiveness.
- Inability to sleep.
- Impaired judgment.
- Hallucinations, delusions.
- Tremors, seizures.
- Dilated pupils.
- Increased blood pressure, increased heart rate.
- Irregular heart beat or heart attack, which can lead to death.
If you think you or someone else may have overdosed on cocaine or another drug, call 911 immediately.
Long-term Adverse Effects of Cocaine
Long-term use of cocaine may lead to a number of destructive health effects, including:1,4
1. Cognitive impairments, which may include:10
- Attention deficits.
- Impaired working memory.
- Deficits in declarative memory (memory of facts and events).18
2. Increased risk of infection (including hepatitis C and HIV).
- From injecting cocaine and/or other risky behaviors due to impaired judgment from cocaine.
4. Movement disorders (e.g. Parkinson’s).
5. Mental health symptoms, such as paranoia and/or hallucinations.
6. Additional possible consequences are dependent on mode of use:
- Smoking: asthma, coughing, respiratory infections, respiratory distress
- Oral use: significant bowel decay
- Injection: bloodborne infections, collapsed veins, skin infections
- Snorting: nosebleeds, runny nose, decreased sense of smell, trouble swallowing
Treatment for Cocaine Addiction
If you actively misuse cocaine and are ready to cut the drug and its negative effects out of your life for good, you will want to start exploring your options for treatment and recovery.
Treatment approaches for cocaine addiction include cognitive-behavioral therapy, contingency management, community-based recovery groups (e.g. 12-step programs), and therapeutic communities.1 Many factors can influence addiction, and treatment should seek to address those factors that are contributing to an individual’s addiction. Any co-occurring mental illnesses should be treated through therapy and/or medication. Treatment may be provided in a residential or outpatient setting.18
Many factors can influence addiction, and treatment should seek to address those factors that are contributing to an individual’s addiction.
Some treatment centers provide additional amenities to meet the desires of certain populations. Below are some descriptive terms you might encounter, although it is important to remember that this type of terminology is not regulated and could be used by any treatment center.
- Luxury rehab facilities: These may offer a wide range of plush, resort-like amenities to complement top notch addiction recovery treatment.
- Executive rehab facilities: These may offer luxurious amenities and treatment in a structure that allows busy business professionals to maintain an active involvement in their work.
These options may be more expensive than traditional rehab due to the high-end amenities that luxury and executive rehabs may offer. Also, a person’s insurance may not cover these types of programs.
Pre and post prioritizations
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). DrugFacts: Cocaine: What is cocaine?
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). Cocaine: What is cocaine?
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2019). MedlinePlus: Cocaine.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens. (2019). Cocaine.
- Redwood Toxicology Laboratory. (2014). Laboratory Testing: Reference Guide.
- Jufer, R. A., Wstadik, A., Walsh, S. L., Levine, B. S., Cone, E. J. (2000). Elimination of cocaine and metabolites in plasma, saliva, and urine following repeated oral administration to human volunteers. J Anal Toxicol, 24(7), 467-77.
- Andrews, P. (1997). Cocaethylene toxicity. J Addict Dis., 16(3), 75-84.
- Preston, L. L., Epstein, D. H., Cone, E. J., Wtsadik, A. T., Huestis, M. A., Moolchan, E. T. (2002). Urinary elimination of cocaine metabolites in chronic cocaine users during cessation. J Anal Toxicol, 26(7), 393.
- Gambelunghe, C., Rossi, R., Ferranti, C., Rossi, R., Bacci, M. (2005). Hair analysis by GC/MS/MS to verify abuse of drugs. J Appl Toxicol, 25(3), 205-211.
- Vonmoos, M., Hulka, L. M., Preller, K. H., Minder, F., Baumgartner, M. R., & Quednow, B. B. (2014). Cognitive impairment in cocaine users is drug-induced but partially reversible: evidence from a longitudinal study. Neuropsychopharmacology : official publication of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, 39(9), 2200-10.
- Boston University School of Medicine. (n.d.). Glossary of Terms and Symbols Used in Pharmacology.
- National Cancer Institute. (n.d.). NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms.
- Henning, Robert J., Wilson, Lance D. (1996). Cocaethylene is as cardiotoxic as cocaine but is less toxic than cocaine plus ethanol. Life Scit, 59(8), 615-27.
- University of Rochester Medical Center. (n.d.). Health Encyclopedia: Cocaine Screen.
- Kacinko, Sherri L., Barnes, Allan J., Schwilke, Eugene W., Cone, Edward J., Moolchan, Eric T., Huestis, Marilyn A. (2005). Disposition of Cocaine and Its Metabolites in Human Sweat after Controlled Cocaine Administration. Clinical Chemistry, 51(11), 2085-2094.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. (n.d.). PubChem: Cocaine.
- O’Malley, Gerald F., O’Malley, Rika. (2018). Merck Manual: Cocaine.
- Riedel, Wim J., Blokland, Arjan. (2015). Declarative memory. Handb Exp Pharamacol, 228, 215-36.