Substance Use

How Long Does Cocaine Stay in Your System?

cocaine lines on mirror with urine drug test

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People from all backgrounds and ages use cocaine, and some of them take this drug without understanding the immediate dangers and the future risk of addiction. 

Cocaine is a powerful and addictive stimulant drug that is often mixed with other substances on the street. From flour to cornstarch, the goal of these substances is to increase profits. Dangerous substances may also be used to cut cocaine, including life-threatening drugs like fentanyl. When cocaine is mixed with other substances, this can alter its effects. Sadly, cocaine toxicity results in over half a million emergency room visits each year. Yet, users continue to use this drug. 

After someone uses cocaine, levels of dopamine increase in the brain; this brain chemical is related to movement and reward. As dopamine builds up, this flood of dopamine reinforces drug-taking behavior. Other brain chemicals are involved as well, including norepinephrine. 

With continued use, people often become less sensitive to cocaine. 

They need to take larger amounts more frequently to feel the same high. Although the amount someone uses over time increases, their body cannot metabolize the drug any more rapidly. This means that while they may experience different effects, particularly in terms of the strength and frequency of those effects, drug tests will still be able to detect the drug for a set amount of time, depending on the method used. 

With that in mind, you may wonder: How long does cocaine stay in your body? How long does it take for cocaine to wear off?

Since cocaine metabolizes rather quickly, a user may no longer feel the effects of cocaine hours after taking it. However, the drug can be detected in urine for days and, when testing hair, for months. 

Some of the greatest determinants for how long cocaine stays in someone’s system include:

  • The amount initially taken 
  • How often cocaine is used (history of use)
  • The method of testing 
  • Whether the cocaine was mixed with other substances 

Cocaine is one of the most addictive drugs around, and researchers continue to unravel the effects of cocaine, focusing on how it is metabolized and how it affects the body. This helps researchers better understand how cocaine affects bodily systems and how that influences the amount of time the drug remains in a user’s system.

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How Long Does it Take for Cocaine Effects to Wear Off?

The effects of cocaine, whether they’re acute or chronic, can affect nearly every organ system. 

Aside from alcohol, the effects of cocaine are the most common cause of drug-related emergency department visits in the United States. As discussed above, cocaine is often mixed with other substances, leading to cocaine toxicity. In other cases, the absence of cocaine after a cocaine binge may result in an emergency department visit because of withdrawal symptoms. 

Once cocaine is taken, several brain chemicals and channels are affected. The primary effect of cocaine is the blockade of norepinephrine reuptake. As levels increase, users feel more alert, aroused, vigilant, and focused. Some may experience aggressive behavior. Serotonin and dopamine levels also increase. These brain chemicals influence how we experience pleasure, reward, and motivation. 

Cocaine can create a unique experience depending on the user. You could feel energized and more alert, anxious, or paranoid. This can come down to variables that set individuals apart, including differences in mental health, as well as the environment someone is in when they’re using. 

For example, cocaine can cause psychosis among individuals who are predisposed to psychotic thoughts. In this case, users often take more drugs to help cope with their diminishing health, creating a vicious cycle. How rapidly the effects of cocaine are experienced will depend on the method of use. Onset times differ, and peak effect times vary depending on these methods. Overall, the high from cocaine is fairly short-lived

  • When inhaled, the onset takes approximately 7 seconds. The peak effect hits between 1-5 minutes, with effects lasting around 5-10 minutes. 
  • When injected, the onset takes approximately 15 seconds. The peak effect hits between 3-5 minutes, with effects lasting around 20-30 minutes.
  • When snorted, the onset takes approximately 3 minutes. The peak effect hits in 15 minutes, with effects lasting around 15-30 minutes. 
  • When ingested orally, the onset takes approximately 10 minutes. The peak effect hits in 60 minutes, with effects lasting around 60 minutes. 

People who use cocaine long-term may dose as frequently as every 10 minutes, binging for as long as seven days at a time, using as much as 10 grams daily. This is when the effects of withdrawal become a significant concern. 

How Is Cocaine Detected on Drug Tests?

Those aware that a drug test is pending often wonder, “How long does cocaine stay in your body?” and “What tests can detect this drug?”

There are several ways to administer a cocaine drug test. These tests may be taken for one of several reasons to find out whether someone has recently used cocaine. 

Although there are several reasons why someone may be tested for cocaine, including criminal or hospitalization reasons, drug tests are often administered in treatment. This helps ensure someone is not using and helps determine when full detoxification from cocaine is complete. An individual is not considered completely detoxed until blood tests no longer show traces of cocaine left in their system.

These tests look for the presence of both cocaine and its metabolites. These metabolites are the chemicals that the body makes to process cocaine. Rapid screening tests can provide results in minutes, so they are generally used in clinics or offices. If a more sensitive and reliable test is required, lab tests are administered. Regardless, positive results should always be sent to a lab to confirm accuracy. 

  • The most common sample used is urine. In this case, the metabolites of cocaine can be detected two to three days after cocaine use. Test results may be positive for up to two weeks after use in heavy or chronic users. However, studies show that if the cut-off concentration levels are lowered, cocaine metabolites can be detected between 17 and 22 days after use.
  • Saliva testing is also increasing in popularity, as it is easier and less intrusive. Cocaine and its metabolites will only be detectable for one to two days after use.
  • Blood samples may be taken in select situations, particularly when someone is in the hospital and blood work is already being taken. However, the detection window is short, as blood only holds cocaine for approximately 12 hours and its major metabolite for around 48 hours.
  • Although available, the two least common tests are hair and sweat tests. Hair testing can potentially detect cocaine for months after use, but this process is complicated and not the most accurate. Depending on where the hair sample is taken, results vary. The same is true with a sweat test, as results vary and are not always accurate. 

When testing individuals for cocaine use, tests often pick up one of the drug’s major metabolites, benzoylecgonine, discussed below. This metabolite is present in the body longer than cocaine itself, which is why benzoylecgonine is commonly used as a cocaine marker when aiming to diagnose a cocaine addiction. 

Purity levels of cocaine will also affect test results. Since cocaine is often combined with other contaminants, detection times may vary. It’s also important to note that benzoylecgonine can be stored in fatty tissue. The more body fat you have, the more cocaine can accumulate in your body. However, chronic cocaine users are often underweight because of a reduction in appetite. That is why, in treatment, healthy eating is important. Proper nutrition is part of a more holistic treatment plan to improve the body and mind. 

How Is Cocaine Metabolized in the Body?

When aiming to answer the question, “How long does cocaine stay in your body?” you must dive deeper into how this drug is metabolized. 

How cocaine is metabolized and how quickly depends on the method of use. 

For example, when cocaine is injected, all the substance enters the circulatory system, compared to just 20-30% when ingested or inhaled. When injected, 80-90% of the cocaine administered is rapidly metabolized. 

Several enzymes are involved when cocaine is metabolized. Approximately 30-50% of cocaine is metabolized by hepatic esterases and plasma pseudocholinesterase (both enzymes are produced in the liver). These enzymes break cocaine down into a water-soluble metabolite. Another 30-40% is broken down into benzoylecgonine, another major metabolite, which has been known to induce seizures and can be detected for hours to days following the last use. 

Another 1-5% leaves the body unaltered through the kidneys within six hours of use. 

Based on how enzymes work to break down cocaine in the human body, researchers began developing and testing a modified enzyme that could break down cocaine into inactive products around 1,000 times faster than the human body does naturally. This engineered enzyme, called CocE, was of particular interest for potential clinical use. 

This research aimed to help reduce the damage that cocaine toxicity can cause while it continues to break down in the hospital. Emergency medical personnel are limited to treating life-threatening symptoms only. This is because of cocaine’s complex mechanism of action. Ten years later, this research continues. At this time, medications are administered during the detoxification process to help individuals feel more comfortable while supporting their mental health

Half of the cocaine taken is metabolized within 12 hours after first use. This is because cocaine’s half-life is just that, 12 hours. After that, cocaine metabolites will continue to break down in 50% increments over 12-hour periods. So, by 24 hours, 25% more is metabolized. As discussed, various factors will influence this time frame, ranging from the amount taken to metabolism differences, how long a person has been using, to the purity of the substance. 

Learn more about our substance use programs and how you can benefit from taking the first step. 

Zinnia Health Offers Comprehensive Cocaine Detox and Treatment Programs

Whether you or your loved one require support, cocaine is a highly addictive substance that can be challenging to treat. 

The first step toward sobriety is the detoxification process. This can be daunting for addicts, as the withdrawal effects of cocaine can be uncomfortable and even frightening. From paranoia to tremors, depression to strong cravings, the initial symptoms are often enough for someone to continue using. This is known as the acute phase of cocaine withdrawal, lasting anywhere from one week up to 10 weeks. Symptoms become less severe and often include intermittent cravings to use, which are addressed in ongoing treatment. 

The goal of medical cocaine detox is to make individuals as comfortable as possible to get through this initial stage of treatment. Once the body is rid of cocaine, the true healing and treatment process can begin. What treatment looks like differs for each person. No two individuals are identical, and each person requires specialized holistic care. 

Cocaine addiction is often complex. In many cases, overlapping mental health issues fuel one’s addiction, which then worsens symptoms of poor mental health. Cocaine also affects areas in the brain that are key to memory. This helps us recall where pleasurable experiences come from. Understanding and overcoming triggers are so important to one’s ongoing success. Simply seeing a picture, visiting a place, or spending time with certain people can trigger a renewed desire to use. 

To ensure success, a wide range of therapy and holistic treatment options are offered and ongoing support — even post-treatment. Achieving and maintaining sobriety is a life-long commitment, one that takes time. At Zinnia Health, we understand what it takes to ensure the highest success rates, which is why our treatment plans focus on each step of the recovery process. Offering highly trained professionals and medical supervision, our clients are provided with the best possible opportunity to achieve their goals. 

Are you or your loved one ready to take the next critical step? If so, Zinnia Health is here for you. Please contact us online or call (855) 430-9439 to discuss your unique needs or concerns. 

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