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How Long Does Cocaine Stay In Your System? – Cocaine Detection Times

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

January 23, 2019

Cocaine is an addictive, illegal drug that acts as a stimulant on the body. After its effects wear off, it may still be detected in blood and saliva and may be found in urine tests even after it has been cleared from the bloodstream.

The high from cocaine is short, lasting five to 30 minutes, depending on the route of administration. The liver starts to break it down within two hours. According to the National Institute of Health, “At the end of 4 hours, most of the drug is eliminated from the plasma, but metabolites may be identified up to 144 hours after administration.”

The main metabolites of cocaine (what it breaks down into) are benzoylecgonine and ecgonine methyl ester. These last much longer in someone’s system than cocaine and their detection can indicate cocaine use. There are many factors that influence how long cocaine and its metabolites stay in the body.

Factors That Affect Cocaine Metabolism

How long cocaine lingers depends on how much was taken and how often it is used. A large dose will stay in the system longer. If a person uses cocaine regularly or binges, the drug can build up in their body. This will take more time to eliminate.

How cocaine is taken also alters its metabolism.

  • Oral ingestion causes effects to appear after 30 minutes and cocaine reaches its peak concentration in the bloodstream 50 to 90 minutes later.
  • Snorting cocaine produces a high after about three minutes, and peaks in the bloodstream around 15 minutes after intake.
  • Smoking cocaine affects the brain in seconds, causing blood levels to rise immediately.
  • Intravenous injection works quickly as well, with blood levels reaching maximum concentration in a few minutes.

Cocaine’s half-life varies in blood, saliva, and urine. Half-life is how long it takes for half of a drug to leave the body. After 90 minutes or so, the concentration of cocaine in the blood will be half what it was initially. After another 90 minutes, it will be half of the new amount, and so on until it is entirely expelled from the body.

In saliva, cocaine’s half-life is just over an hour. Cocaine lasts longer in urine, from three to five hours. Cocaine is directly excreted in urine; it doesn’t have to be broken down into a metabolite first. Once metabolites appear, however, they will likely stay in the system much longer. Benzoylecgonine, for example, may be found in urine up to four days after cocaine ingestion.

An individual’s metabolism determines how quickly cocaine leaves the body as well. It is likely that someone with a higher body mass index (the weight-to-height ratio), will have a slower metabolism. Age works in a similar way, with younger people generally having faster metabolisms than older people. Good health can also help the metabolism act more efficiently.

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Effects Of Cocaine On The Mind

Cocaine influences the mind by blocking dopamine transporters. This creates a surplus of dopamine in the brain that produces a euphoric feeling. At first, the result may be more energy and focus. As the high begins to wear off, these effects may be accompanied by irritability and paranoia.

Prolonged cocaine use can increase stress hormones. If a person dependent on cocaine takes the drug in order to relieve stress, their brain’s ability to naturally deal with stress may be diminished. This is likely to lead to further cocaine abuse.

Effects Of Cocaine On The Body

Cocaine can drastically affect the body, even after a few uses. As cocaine enters the system, it constricts blood vessels, which raises body temperature and decreases blood flow. This makes the heart work harder, increasing heartbeat and breathing rate. Over time, this can lead to serious heart conditions, seizures, stroke, coma, or death.

Other negative physical effects of cocaine use may include:

  • tooth decay
  • insomnia
  • extreme weight loss
  • bleeding in the brain, heart, or lungs
  • gastrointestinal damage
  • sexual dysfunction

How cocaine is taken affects its harm to the body in unique ways. Smoking crack cocaine can cause respiratory issues and lung damage. Snorting cocaine can erode nasal tissue, possibly causing nosebleeds and the loss of the ability to smell. Injecting cocaine often leaves lesions on the skin and increases the risk of diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C from shared needles.

Dangers Of Cocaine Abuse

The brief state of euphoria from cocaine is often followed by feelings of anxiety. Some people take it repeatedly to keep the positive effects. This increases the buildup of cocaine in the system, which means it takes longer for the body to expel and raises the risk of overdose.

A person binging on cocaine may develop a physical dependence. This is when the body begins to rely on the drug to function and the person experiences unpleasant withdrawal symptoms if they stop taking cocaine. This is often paired with addiction, a mental craving for the drug that can take priority over important aspects of life.

Freedom From Cocaine Addiction

Cocaine addiction can destroy someone’s life, but that doesn’t have to happen. Often, the first step to overcoming addiction is detoxification. Cocaine detox is difficult to do alone, as it is usually accompanied by uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.

Medically-supervised detox programs are available to help people through this process.

While there is not yet an approved medication for treating cocaine addiction, treatment programs incorporate a variety of methods to lead people to recovery. An inpatient drug rehab program may offer counseling, community support groups, or behavioral therapy. Programs can be customized to the individual to provide the best conditions for healing.

National Center for Biotechnology Information - Elimination of cocaine and metabolites in plasma, saliva, and urine following repeated oral administration to human volunteers.

National Institute on Drug Abuse - Cocaine

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