Whether you’re preparing for an upcoming drug test, trying to turn over a new leaf by learning about the detoxification aspect of recovery, or are just curious about this dangerous drug, this guide provides everything to know about the lifespan of cocaine in the body.
It primarily comes in two forms: powdered cocaine and solid cocaine (also known as “crack” or “rock”). Both forms can be abused via snorting, swallowing, smoking, or injecting. However, crack is typically smoked while powdered cocaine is usually snorted or dissolved and injected.
Whatever form it comes in, cocaine abuse is widespread and can be incredibly dangerous.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), there were an estimated 1.5 million current cocaine users in 2014. And among those users, almost 1 million met the criteria for an actual addiction according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
Added to that, cocaine abuse is consistently deadly. The 2011 Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) report found that of the 1.3 million visits to emergency departments for drug misuse or abuse, cocaine was involved in nearly 40% of these visits.
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), overdose deaths involving cocaine are on the rise across the U.S. In 2012, there were only around 4,400 deaths associated with the drug. In 2016, that number skyrocketed to around 10,400.
And this spike is incredibly recent too. From 2015 to 2016, the number of cocaine overdose deaths rose by a whopping 52.4%.
Part of this surge in cocaine addiction and overdose has to do with the ever-raging opioid epidemic and the appearance of illicitly manufactured fentanyl (an opioid 50 times as strong as heroin). Once cut exclusively with drugs like heroin, fentanyl has now been found in both powdered and rock coke being marketed on the streets as pure cocaine.
And this sneaky combination, which resembles normal cocaine at first glance, has spurred an increasingly deadly problem for unaware drug users.
Ultimately, cocaine abuse is incredibly addictive, particularly dangerous, and especially widespread today.
Like any other addictive substance, people abuse (and become addicted to) cocaine because of the pleasurable effects associated with the drug. These effects include an increased mental alertness, boosted confidence and sociability, and, most notably, an intense euphoria.
How long it takes to feel these effects of cocaine, however, largely depends on how the drug is taken. Added to that, the actual duration of the high also varies between snorting, smoking, swallowing, or injecting coke.
Normally, traces of the drug can be found in the body after three days of use depending on the testing method. In some cases, this time period can end up being much longer.
This length of time varies based on many factors. If an addict abuses coke or crack cocaine regularly, for example, the drug can stay in the system for up to a week after the last use. If they’ve only tried it once, this time period can be quite a bit shorter.
This length is also determined by other aspects of the user such as their health or diet and the severity of their habit.
How much you use: When it comes to drug testing, those who use large amounts are obviously more likely to show signs than those who take very little. Someone who, say, has a $3,700 weekly habit (which, by the way, is a reality for some people), is going to be much more detectable than someone who only uses once a month.
Of course, a “large” dose is also relative to the size (height, weight, BMI) of the user. A small person who uses large amounts of coke is more likely to find the drug in their system than a large person who abuses the same amount.
How often it’s used: Addicts and regular users are likely to accumulate the drug in their system over time. Cocaine tends to bind to fat cells in the organs and tissues of the body. And that can mean it takes more time for them to be excreted entirely.
The body of a rare user, then, will often fully metabolize cocaine far quicker than a long-time user.
Method of testing: Whether or not coke shows up on a drug test depends on the method used for testing. If the hair is tested, for example, cocaine may show up months after the person stopped using drugs. If the urine is tested, however, the body can stop showing signs of use only days after the last dosage. And when it comes to saliva, the length of time this drug stays detectable is even lower (depending on the method of administration).
Health: As with any other drug, the speed at which the body metabolizes cocaine depends on the overall health of the body. A healthy liver, for instance, helps break down cocaine more efficiently and lets it move out of the system quicker. However, an unhealthy liver, (caused by alcohol abuse or by cocaine abuse alone) needs to work harder to do the same job.
Added to that, a weaker liver puts more pressure on the kidneys to cleanse the body’s blood. And if the kidneys are also damaged or weakened by cocaine abuse or other problems, it can end up taking even longer to clear the coke.
Another factor that determines the detectability of cocaine has to do with the amount of time it takes for a drug to break down in the body is called its "half-life."
The term “half-life” comes from the fact that, with every substance, there is a certain amount of time it takes for the body to reduce the amount that can be found in the blood by one-half. If, for instance, a system has 1 gram of coke in the bloodstream, after it’s half-life there will only be about 0.5 grams left.
When it comes to cocaine specifically, the half-life of this drug is particularly short – as brief as 30 to 90 minutes long. However, that doesn’t mean that drug tests will no longer detect whether someone is a cocaine user just a few hours after they last got high.
In fact, the majority of tests look for what cocaine is broken down into – called metabolites – rather than the cocaine itself.
Since the half-life of cocaine is so brief, most drug tests look for the metabolites of cocaine – specific substances that coke is broken down into and that stick around in the body for longer than the actual drug.
This allows for a greater testing window (i.e., days rather than hours) when trying to determine if someone has recently used cocaine. The majority of tests will be on the lookout for metabolites that only appear after coke use.
The most easily detectable metabolite of cocaine is called benzoylecgonine. And in most cases, a drug test of any kind (urine, blood, hair, saliva) will be designed to detect this metabolite in particular.
However, there are a few other metabolites as well. These include:
Some tests may also try to detect these compounds as well. In general, though, benzoylecgonine is going to be the best indicator of past cocaine abuse.
To put it plainly, yes.
Alcohol abuse increases the half-life of cocaine within the body, meaning it takes longer to clear the drug completely from the system. Those who drink and use coke or crack at the same time, then, will have traces of the drug in their system for a longer duration.
This is because the two substances, when combined, actually create a new chemical. This chemical is called cocaethylene. Unlike other metabolites of cocaine like benzoylecgonine, cocaethylene is an active metabolite, meaning it has a direct effect on the body and its organs.
And when it comes to cocaethylene, these impacts can be especially damaging. For instance, studies have shown that this metabolite has been linked with a higher risk of seizures, liver damage, and compromised immune function. It can even increase the likelihood of serious heart failure.
It is also much more inherently toxic than cocaine too. It’s LD50 (the measure of a drug's lethality) is lower than that of cocaine and carries an 18 to 25-fold increased risk of immediate death compared to coke.
On top of that, it also takes significantly longer to leave the bloodstream once it’s produced. And the longer it stays within the system, the more it can damage the organs within it.
In general, mixing almost any drug with alcohol typically makes both substances more hazardous for the body. But when it comes to cocaine, it’s especially important to avoid doing so thanks to cocaethylene.
Cocaethylene, produced by the mixture of alcohol and cocaine, has a half-life that’s typically much longer than cocaine – around 4 hours. Essentially, this means that the amount of the chemical found in your bloodstream will be reduced by half every four hours after using. If you are an addict or heavy user, therefore, the chemical can stay in your system for days or even weeks.
Plus, cocaethylene can end up building up over time too. And that means that combining these two drugs every other day or every weekend often won’t give the body enough time to break down this dangerous compound – therefore increasing the risk of detrimental health effects like seizures or heart failure.
And when you add that to the health risks already present from using cocaine alone, mixing alcohol and coke can end up being especially dangerous.
If you are being tested for cocaine, crack or other substances in your system, the lab may be looking for cocaethylene in addition to benzoylecgonine and cocaine itself.
Cocaethylene is a clear sign of drug use and is therefore helpful in finding the drug within someone’s body. The chemical, after all, is not produced in the body without the introduction of cocaine and alcohol.
In general, four different types of drug tests are typically used to help companies identify whether someone has been using cocaine or any other drug for that matter. They are urine, blood, hair, and saliva tests.
Now that you know a little more about what's involved in each type of drug testing method, it's time to take a look at how each stacks up when it comes to detecting the presence of cocaine or its metabolites.
Which one is the most effective when it comes to detecting coke? Which one is the worst? And most importantly, how long does cocaine remain detectable for each?
Usually, coke itself will stay in the urine for less than a day according to ARUP Laboratories, possibly even for a couple of hours after using, depending on the amount taken.
However, most urine tests look for cocaine metabolites rather than coke itself. As a result, many tests can accurately detect benzoylecgonine and cocaethylene for up to two days after using.
And because both of these metabolites are only present in the body after an individual has been abusing cocaine, spotting these is a solid indication that they've been using recently.
The speed at which cocaine is flushed entirely from the system, of course, depends on the individual health of the patient, their body size, and the amount of water consumed before testing.
Cocaine stays in the bloodstream for a much shorter period compared to the urine. In fact, most traces of the drug itself will be undetectable after just an hour and a half.
However, cocaine’s metabolites tend to stick around for much longer. Benzoylecgonine, for example, can stay in the blood for as long as 7.5 hours in some individuals.
Of course, the window of detection depends largely on the general health of the patient’s main filtration organs (the liver and the kidneys) as well as their past cocaine abuse habits. Chronic users will tend to accumulate deposits of the drugs within their actual tissues.
And that can mean that cocaine and its metabolites can end up remaining detectable in their bloodstream for far longer compared to a casual user.
Like most other substances of abuse and party drugs, clear signs of cocaine use can be found in the hair for at least 90 days after using.
To explain, the hair is like a time capsule of drug usage. Most drugs leave long-lasting traces in the hair, almost like a tree trunks rings can show whether there was ample rainfall or a devastating drought.
Similarly, the hair will store trace amounts of coke, crack, and other substances for years upon years. They won’t be found in every single strand, but only in tiny parts of individual hairs. As a result, the drug can only be erased entirely if the hair falls out or the head is shaved.
It isn’t any wonder, then, that this type of testing method is often considered to be the “gold standard” for cocaine and drug testing in general. It offers the most complete picture of substance abuse out of any other testing method available today.
However, the more comprehensive method also comes at a greater cost to employers. And as a result, it’s often the least-likely test to be used today.
It does take almost one week for signs of coke use to show up in the hair. This is because drugs are not stored in the hair until completely broken down.
It sure does.
For saliva, cocaine itself can remain detectable for around 5 to 12 hours. It’s metabolites like benzoylecgonine, on the other hand, can be detected in the saliva for about 12 to 24 hours.
Sweat tests can detect both cocaine and its metabolites 1 to 2 weeks after abusing this drug.
As the liver attempts to detox your body, it will expel cocaine through the sweat and salivary glands. Cocaine can be found in saliva for almost two days after using depending on how comprehensive the test is.
Regular users often sweat more while under the influence, or when withdrawing from cocaine. This is, in part, due to the fact that the body is trying to detox itself. As the liver works hard to rid your system of coke, it floods your sweat glands with the chemicals and toxins that have built up over the course of an addiction.
The type of drug test used depends on which organization is administering it. Most often, however, urine tests are used to test for cocaine. This is among the most cost-effective ways to test for drugs. It is, therefore, pretty popular with companies trying to keep their budgets down.
Courts, for example, almost always use the urine-testing method. In certain cases, they may also call for a hair or blood test to be administered. Companies who test employees for cocaine or other drugs usually use urine as well. Because hair and blood samples are somewhat costly, they are rarely administered by employers.
Saliva tests are popular with only some institutions. They require very little equipment and give results quickly. It can take less than 20 minutes to process a saliva sample. However, the technology hasn’t been perfected yet, so it doesn’t produce the most accurate results. Added to that, the testing window is relatively small. So unless they’re trying to determine if someone has been using at work or the night before, a saliva test usually isn’t the best way to go for corporate testing.
Even if someone uses this highly addictive and widely abused drug only once, it can still show up in their system on a drug test.
The body, after all, needs a few hours to break down the drug before someone can test clean. If they’ve only done coke one time, the drug probably hasn’t had time to accumulate in the tissues yet. And that means that it will move through the body much more quickly as a result.
For urine testing, then, most casual users should be able to pass if it’s been at least two days since last using. If the test is more comprehensive like a hair test, however, it’s likely that the even a casual user will test positive for cocaine.
There are primarily two reasons for detoxifying from cocaine: an individual has a drug test coming up for a potential employer, or they are going through recovery and are trying to estimate when withdrawals will begin.
In either case, the fastest and healthiest way of speeding along the detoxification process is to fuel the body with proper nutrition, get a fair amount of exercise, ensure that you get a good night’s sleep, and reach out to a professional treatment center for help along the way.
Professional detox services offer the best way of overcoming the sometimes-excruciating symptoms of withdrawal without resorting back to cocaine abuse to feel better. These programs will also be able to provide expert guidance and even medications to help stave off withdrawals or make them more manageable in general.
And the more manageable the detoxification process is, the higher the likelihood will be for staying off of cocaine for good.
When all is said and done, cocaine detox can last anywhere from around 10 days to several weeks. Some users may also experience an additional stage of withdrawal known as PAWS that can last for years.
Given that this drug tends to move through the body quite quickly, cocaine’s withdrawal timeline can end up starting sooner compared to other substances of abuse.
In fact, symptoms of withdrawal can appear as soon as 90 minutes after the last use. Patients going through detox at this time will usually begin feeling intense cravings that can be unbearable for some.
After a few hours, other more serious symptoms will appear. Depression, anxiety, paranoia, and more will all make their way through a detoxing coke user over the course of the next 3 to 7 days. This is what’s known as the acute stage.
After the acute stage has passed, some cocaine users will also experience mental confusion, exhaustion, a lack of motivation, and more for several weeks after. This is considered the protracted withdrawal stage.
Some recovering users may also experience what’s known as Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome, also known as PAWS. This condition is marked by especially long-term symptoms of withdrawals that can affect an individual for months or even years after their last cocaine use.
Some of the symptoms of PAWS include:
Working with an addiction professional can help reduce the likelihood of PAWS and make it far more manageable should it occur.
Breaking free from the clutches of a cocaine habit can be incredibly hard to do. It can be both psychologically and physically addictive and, as a result, can cause a particularly uncomfortable withdrawal process.
Some users on Bluelight.org, a drug addict online forum, describe the process as “hellish,” “brutal,” or “quite unpleasant.” The worst part of the process, they say, is one symptom called euphoric recall. This symptom describes the phenomenon of remembering past experiences in an overly positive light while ignoring the downsides of such experiences.
Essentially, it’s a glorification of cocaine use that doesn’t acknowledge the ugly side of addiction. And that can lead to intense and sometimes overwhelming cravings to use cocaine again.
For many users, the pull can be so intense that they are unable to remain clean for long enough even to begin actual recovery.
The majority of cocaine withdrawal symptoms are psychological in nature rather than physical as with drugs like heroin. However, that doesn’t mean that the process is a picnic to get through.
According to Mental Health Daily, some of the most common symptoms of experienced during cocaine detoxification include:
Cocaine can be a difficult drug to detox from. The drug and its byproducts can remain present in the body of an addict for several days or even weeks, months, or years later. And if you or someone you know is abusing coke, the absolute first step is to stop enabling the abuse problem and seek out professional treatment.
At Ashwood Recovery, our dedicated addiction professionals can help you kick your cocaine habit for good. Whether you’re an every-now-and-then coke user or someone that’s been abusing this drug for years on end, our individualized programs offer the expert knowledge and professional guidance you need to get clean.
On top of that, our facility is nationally accredited by the Joint Commission and is proud to provide one of the highest staff-to-patient ratios in the area.