Commonly referred to as “coke,” cocaine is a stimulant derived from the coca plant native to South America. In 2019, National Survey on Drug Use and Health data show an estimated 5.5 million people aged 12 or older were past users of cocaine, including about 778,000 users of crack. This drug, depending on the type of test you take, can be detected in your system anywhere from 24 hours to 90 days after the last dose.
Cocaine’s effects appear almost immediately and disappear within a few minutes to an hour. How long this effect lasts and how intense the high is depend on how it is being used. Short-term effects of using cocaine include:
The time it takes for cocaine effects to kick in is also impacted by the method of use:
Cocaine generally starts to work really quickly and similarly lasts a short time. Depending on how cocaine is being used (snorting, smoking, injecting or ingesting), the high from cocaine usually lasts between 15 and 30 minutes. Cocaine affects the reward center in the brain by rapidly increasing the amount of dopamine, a feel-good chemical in the brain. The short rush of dopamine causes a positive feedback loop, reinforcing using cocaine and resulting in addiction.
The amount of time cocaine lasts can depend on how much cocaine is taken, age, liver or kidney function, and whether other drugs or alcohol are taken with it (sometimes unknowingly). Cocaine is metabolized by the liver and excreted by the kidneys, so impaired function in either organ can result in cocaine lasting longer than usual in the body.
The half-life, or the amount of time it takes to metabolize and eliminate half of one dose of cocaine, is about 75 minutes. Regardless of how cocaine is taken, it eventually ends up in the bloodstream. From there, it passes through the liver where it is metabolized into two inactive metabolites called benzoylecgonine and ecgonine methyl ester. These inactive metabolites are excreted from the body primarily in urine.
While cocaine works for only a short time, the metabolites can typically be detected for much longer. For this reason, most drug tests detect one of the metabolites of cocaine (benzoylecgonine) rather than cocaine itself. How long it can be detected varies depending on the type of drug test taken, how much or how frequently cocaine is used and liver and kidney function.
Cocaine itself can be detected in the urine for less than one day. However, benzoylecgonine can be detected in the urine for one to two days. This metabolite is typically present in the urine in much higher amounts than cocaine, making it easier to detect.
If your kidneys are impaired, the amount of urine you produce or how well your kidneys are filtering may be altered. This can change the amount of time cocaine and benzoylecgonine are present.
Cocaine can be measured in the blood between 0.7 to 1.5 hours after use. However, benzoylecgonine can be measured for 5.5 to 7.5 hours. Given how short this detection window is, this type of test may be helpful to determine current intoxication with cocaine.
Also, because blood tests are much more costly and require qualified medical personnel to complete the test at a lab, this type of test is done less than urine testing.
In one study, cocaine could be detected in saliva for up to 24 hours. This suggests that cocaine may build up after repeated use and result in a positive test long after being taken.
This type of testing has been used increasingly due to its low cost; it is not an invasive test (compared to a blood test) and does not require specific personnel or testing facilities to conduct.
Cocaine can be present in hair for the longest time of any kind of drug test. The amount of hair needed for most drug tests is enough to detect about 90 days in the past. For cocaine, however, this can be very dependent on the amount taken during that time.
If you use higher doses or take this drug more often, it can be easier to detect on a hair sample. Conversely, if you have not used cocaine often or at high doses, there can be false negatives on this type of drug test. That means that the level of cocaine or its metabolite can be so low that it cannot be detected even though you have taken cocaine.
Cocaine and its metabolites readily transfer to breastmilk. The amount of time the drug can be detected depends on how much and how often cocaine is used. For occasional cocaine users, it is recommended to wait at least 24 hours to breastfeed. Passing high concentrations of cocaine and its metabolite to babies through breastfeeding can have dire implications.
The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine suggests only considering breastfeeding if the mother tests negative for cocaine at delivery, stops using cocaine at least 90 days before delivering, is in a treatment program they plan to continue and has approval from their substance use counselor.
Many factors can influence how long cocaine stays in your system. Some include:
When alcohol and cocaine are taken together, they combine to create a metabolite called cocaethylene in the liver. This chemical increases the number of neurotransmitters in the brain (serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine), which usually results in “good” feelings and reinforces its use. This can lead to that positive feedback loop — wanting to continue “chasing the high” and eventually leading to addiction.
This chemical has properties similar to cocaine but lasts three to five times as long in the blood. It is reported to have effects similar to other stimulants, resulting in euphoria, loss of appetite and local anesthetic properties. Cocaethylene is considered a recreational drug itself, but has also been associated with seizures, liver damage, cardiac death and immune risks. Even more staggering, this risk can be 18 to 25 times higher than cocaine alone.
Cocaine withdrawal can happen any time you start to use less or stop taking the drug after your body is used to it. This can start a few hours after your last dose or may start days later. Symptoms of cocaine withdrawal can include:
Some people can detox from cocaine at home, but a treatment facility may be a better option for others. At a medical detox treatment facility, medical professionals will monitor you throughout the process to provide you the best opportunity to start your journey toward a sober life.
The 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health report shows an estimated 5.5 million people over 12 years old identified as past users of cocaine. The CDC reported 33% more overdose deaths involving cocaine between 2016 to 2017. These statistics have been trending upward and show no signs of slowing down.
Some people may be at higher risk for cocaine addiction if they have these risk factors:
If you or a loved one are struggling with cocaine misuse or addiction, you are not alone. The Recovery Village Columbus offers a full continuum of treatment options for cocaine use disorder to best suit your needs, including medical detox, inpatient and outpatient care. Representatives are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to discuss your journey to a healthier life. Contact us today to get started.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.