Last Updated on January 22, 2021 by Dr. Ronaye Calvert-Conley
Snow, blow, coke, stash, flake, pearl, dust – cocaine goes by many names. But regardless of its catchy names, the illegal stimulant drug is a serious public health concern in the U.S. and around the globe.
Drug use estimates point to a worrying trend: The number of cocaine users has been climbing steadily over the last decade. Even more concerning, overdose deaths involving cocaine are rising at unprecedented rates. Statistical data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that the number of cocaine-related overdose deaths doubled from roughly 6,000 in 2014 to over 11,000 in 2016.
But why is the use and risk of overdose increasing so rapidly? According to a report by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), “Increased availability levels and concurrent lowered domestic prices will likely propel this trend through the near-term.”
As cocaine-related health concerns increase, it’s important to understand how its metabolized, the long-term effects, and recovery options. So, How Long Does Cocaine Stay in Your System?
(Fun Fact: The soft drink Coca-Cola borrows its name from coca leaves and kola nuts—which were medicinal ingredients in the beverage’s original recipe. And cocaine is made from the leaves of the coca plant).
How Long Does Cocaine Last?
Cocaine, a drug sold on the street in two main forms — as a powder for snorting and as crack, a crystal form that is smoked — is a powerful stimulant.
The amount of time cocaine stays in your system is dependent on how it’s consumed — snorted or smoked — and if use is heavy or chronic.
Cocaine can also be rubbed on the gums, dissolved and injected, or mixed with heroin and injected (called “speedballing”).
- Snorting Cocaine:When cocaine is snorted, it produces a 15- to 30-minute high approximately 30 to 40 minutes after it’s taken. Users will feel excited and get a rush of euphoria.Cocaine can be detected in the blood 30 to 40 minutes after snorting it.
- Smoking Cocaine:Smoking cocaine causes it to be more rapidly absorbed, so blood concentrations can be detected as soon as 5minutes after use. The high itself may only last five to 10 minutes.
The difference in the onset of effects is attributed to the speed at which cocaine enters the bloodstream. When smoked or injected, it enters the bloodstream immediately. But when gummed or snorted, the cocaine has to bypass skin and mucus membranes.
For both methods of use, chronic or heavy users will have detectable concentrations of the substance in their urine and blood for longer than occasional or light users.
Please note that the time coke stays in your system depends on several factors—including a person’s hydration level, weight, height, and age, as well as overall metabolism and other individual health factors also impact elimination.
How is Cocaine Metabolized in the Body?
Immediately after taking cocaine, it’s broken down into metabolites by enzymes in the blood and liver—before being excreted in the urine.
Metabolites are substances that your body creates as it breaks down the drug.The main metabolites that are detectable in urine are benzoylecgonineand ecgonine methyl ester. The former can be detected in urine for up to 4 days—depending on the dose, metabolism rate, and frequency of usage.
PS: Urine drug tests often test for benzoylecgonine since it’s found in higher concentrations than the actual cocaine.
Cocaine Drug Test — How Hair, Blood, Urine, and Saliva Are Used to Detect Cocaine
How long does cocaine stay in your urine? The most common cocaine drug test is a urine test, although the drug can be detected in hair, saliva, and blood as well.
The body breaks down cocaine rapidly, with the substance having a half-life of only around six hours.
A half-life means that half of the drug will be excreted in six hours. Half of the remainder will be eliminated in the following six hours, and so on.
Using this formula, a user’s urine will test positive for cocaine for about a day.However, most laboratories test the blood not only for the presence of cocaine but for its metabolites as well.
As highlighted earlier benzoylecgonine—the primary cocaine metabolite—can extend the detection time frame to four days after the last known usage of the drug due to a longer half-life.
Cocaine can also be detected in saliva, blood, and hair:
- Urine– 1 to 4 days
- Blood– up to 1 day
- Saliva– 1 to 2 days
- Hair – up to 90 days
Keep in mind that these are estimates—and the actual detection times are subject to several factors discussed later in this article.
Quest Diagnostics—one of the country’s most well-known diagnostic labs—released a report on cocaine in the workforce in 2017.The report noted that the American workforce tested positive for cocaine at a rate that is the highest it’s been in seven years, with a total of 0.28 percent of employees testing positive.
Detection Limits — How Long Cocaine Stays in the Body
What affects how long coke stays in the system? When testing for drug use, many factors determine how long cocaine stays in your urine, blood, and saliva.
Factors that impact detection include:
- Half-life: Whereas cocaine has a half-life of 6 hours, its primary metabolite (benzoylecgonine) has a half-life of roughly 12 hours.
- Rate of metabolism
- Route of excretion (sweat, urine, etc.)
- Frequency, amount, and administration route: Outside factors, such as the drug’s level of purity and length of use, also affect residual amounts in the body.Underscoring this, a Johns Hopkins study that dosed men with increasing amounts of cocaine over a period of time found that the longer they took the drug, the less effective their bodies were at eliminating it.
- The sensitivity of the test itself
- Users’ fluid intake:Obviously, a person who drinks a lot of fluid can remove cocaine from his or her urine faster than a person who is not.But keep in mind that chugging a gallon of water does not necessarily improve your odds of passing a drug test.
- Overallhealth: For example, individuals with liver disorders may test positive longer, since the liver is the primary organ by which cocaine is metabolized.
- Diet, weight, and gender: Benzoylecgonine can be stored in fatty tissue—meaning that people with higher body fat accumulate more cocaine.
Are Cocaine Drug Tests Common?
As an increasingly urgent public health concern, and one of the most abused illicit drugs, cocaine screening is often included in basic testing procedures.
The Drug and Alcohol Testing Industry Association (DATIA) notes that employers and other parties favor the 5-panel test—which includes Cocaine, PCP, Marijuana, Opiates, and Amphetamines.
Cocaine Drug Test Accuracy– Can Cocaine Drug Tests Show a False Positive?
Tests for cocaine are generally reliable, although there are occasional false positives.Most often, these occur with hair testing, which has been under scrutiny in recent years.
In 2016, hair testing was struck down as unreliable by the Massachusetts Civil Service Commission board that oversaw the wrongful termination case of six police officers whose hair tested positive for the drug.The commission argued that hair testing has no national standards and a positive result may be returned from accidental or environmental exposure to cocaine.
Such accidental exposure is not unusual — in 2017, CNN reported that over 80 percent of all cash contains traces of cocaine.
According to a case study highlighted in a 2015 article appearing in Pain Medicine, a false positive following a cocaine screening impacted the patient’s pain therapy. This brought into question the reliability and effectiveness of screening tests.
In the case of a suspected false-positive cocaine test, it’s important to follow up with the test issuer. You may request a different type of test to verify the results
Effects of Cocaine
Despite the negative perceptions associated with cocaine, the stimulant has some medicinal properties. It’s sometimes legally used as a local anesthetic in surgical settings.
Regardless of its medical benefits, cocaine is illegal for recreational use and it’s classified as a Schedule II Controlled Substance—meaning it’s deemed to be addictive with a high potential of abuse.
As a recreational drug, people typically use cocaine for its euphoric psychological effects. This may include increased energy, inflated confidence, increased alertness feeling more social, and intense happiness.
However, it can also produce unpleasant physical and psychological effects such as anxiety, irritability, paranoia, insomnia, dizziness, headache, diarrhea, sexual dysfunction, high blood pressure, muscle twitches, irregular heartbeat, decreased appetite, restlessness, and nausea, among others.
Prolonged use or taking a high concentration of cocaine, may lead to long-term and fatal consequences. These include:
- Cardiovascular problems: According to a study published in the Journal of Circulation, cocaine users are 23 times more likely to suffer from a heart attack than those who don’t.
- Kidney damage
- Difficulty breathing
- Death: Approximately 14,000 people lost their lives due to cocaine overdose in 2017.
- Mental illnesses
Please note that cocaine overdoses are sometimes unexpected—and they can occur on the first use. The risk is even greater when cocaine is mixed with alcohol or other drugs.
Dangers of Mixing Cocaine and Alcohol
According to an article by a group of researchers affiliated to Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands, mixing cocaine and alcohol may result in a number of health risks:
- The combination of alcohol and cocaine produces a metabolite (cocaethylene)—which may increase the toxicity of the substances.
- Mixing the two drugs may increase the user’s heart rate.
- Alcohol can increase the level of cocaine in the blood by up to 30%.
- People who combine the two and drive have a higher risk of accidents due to greater impairment of psychomotor performance and learning deficits.
How long does cocaine stay in the system if mixed with alcohol? Is coke eliminated faster or slower? According to several studies, the metabolite produced from the combination it metabolized slower than cocaine alone.
In an animal study published in the Journal of Drug Metabolism and Disposition, the authors found that the repeated use of alcohol prolonged the rate of eliminating cocaine in rats.
Similarly, the findings of another 2003 study suggested that “Both cocaine and cocaethylene clearances were decreased about 20% when given with ethanol.”
Cocaine Use During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
Much like other abusive and risky drugs, pregnant and breastfeeding mothers are strongly advised against using cocaine. The stimulant has been shown to cross into both the placenta and breast milk—potentially endangering the child.
Some scientific studies note that cocaine use during pregnancy increases the risk of cognitive-behavioral issues in the future, smaller head circumference and body length, and low birth weight.
In the case of breastfeeding, research suggests that a mother who happens to use cocaine (single occasion) you should not breastfeed for at least 24 hours—or up to 3 months is you were a frequent user. However, always consult a doctor for your safety and that of the baby.
Do You Have a Cocaine Addiction Problem?
Cocaine is a highly addictive substance. Frequent doses of the drug change how dopamine (a chemical that affects how we experience pleasure) is released in the brain.
However, the euphoric effects are short-lived and wear off relatively fast. This means that users need to partake more frequently to achieve the desired effects—hence building a tolerance along the way.
Once your brain builds a tolerance, you’ll need higher doses of cocaine to feel the same high as before. This quickly leads to dependence. Here are some questions to help determine if you’re addicted to cocaine:
- Do you know that your cocaine habits are harmful, but you still take it?
- Do you spend a significant amount of time thinking about your next high?
- Are you prioritizing cocaine over your friends and family?
- Does the thought of reducing or stopping your cocaine usage habits make you feel depressed, restless, or agitated?
- Are you gradually taking higher doses to maintain the same level of high?
Getting Help for Cocaine Addiction
Are you concerned about testing positive for cocaine? Or do you have a feeling there might be too much cocaine in your system? If so, you may have addiction problems—requiring professional help.
Long-term solutionsoffered by top drug treatment centers in Los Angeles such as Revive are designed to naturally rid your body of the addictive compounds (i.e., cocaine detox)—while providing holistic therapy to help you conquer addiction.
If you—or a loved one—are burdened by challenges surrounding Cocaine addiction and substance abuse, contact Revive for more information on treatment facilities and personalized support.