How Long Does Cocaine Stay in Your System?

A man about snort multiple lines of cocaine off of a metal tray

Cocaine is a commonly used illicit recreational drug that is associated with a high risk of addiction. It often has profoundly negative physical, psychological and social ramifications. Consequently, cocaine use is frequently tested for by employers, courts and parents. While the effects of cocaine only last an average of 30 minutes, the drug remains in the system and is detectable on drug tests much longer. 

Duration of Effects of Cocaine

Cocaine has a rapid onset (immediately to a few minutes after use) and a short duration of action (roughly 30 minutes). Immediately after consuming cocaine, people report euphoria, alertness, self-confidence, and often believe they are socially adept. The effects of cocaine on the brain substantially increase levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which regulates the “reward pathway.” When these effects begin to subside, the reward pathway signals that more cocaine is needed, causing intense cravings.

Cocaine Half-Life

Cocaine has a short half-life (roughly 1 hour). However, this does not mean that you will have a negative drug test within hours after using cocaine. Most drug tests screen for metabolic byproducts, which are often present for 2–3 days following cocaine use. 

Cocaine Screening Detection Time

People who use cocaine recreationally can expect to test positive for cocaine or its metabolic byproducts for 2–3 days in urine, blood or saliva. People who use cocaine heavily can deliver positive tests for 5 or more days after their last use. Cocaine hair tests can deliver positive results months after use. 

Understanding how cocaine gets into the blood can offer insight into specific drug testing modalities. When you snort powdered cocaine, it travels through mucosal cells that line the nasal passages and into an extensive network of tiny blood vessels called capillaries, which flow into the general circulation.  

Urine

Ninety percent of cocaine is broken down in the liver into the metabolites benzoylecgonine and ecgonine methyl ester, which are then either recirculated through the bloodstream or excreted via urine and feces. These metabolites have half-lives of 12 hours and 15 hours, respectively, meaning that a urine test can pick them up for around 2–3 days after last use. 

Blood

Inhaled cocaine is almost immediately transported into the bloodstream and circulated throughout the body and to the liver, where most of it will be broken into metabolic byproducts that have half-lives of 12–15 hours. Since most cocaine blood tests screen for these metabolites, a blood test can deliver positive results 2–3 days after last recreational use. 

Saliva

Saliva is essentially blood that has had the red blood cells filtered out of it. Thus, cocaine makes it into your saliva almost immediately after it has been inhaled. Since cocaine metabolites have half-lives of 12–15 hours in the blood/saliva, they can be detected in saliva for 2–3 days after recreational use. 

Hair

Hair is constantly growing and as blood and hair follicle cells interact, cocaine is transferred into the follicle. The result is that cocaine is incorporated into hair that was growing at the time of use. Hair tests can detect cocaine for 90 days or more. 

Factors Affecting How Long Cocaine Stays in Your System

Several factors influence how quickly cocaine is metabolized, including intrinsic factors (weight, metabolism, health status) and extrinsic factors (amount and frequency of use).

  • Amount used: Using large amounts of cocaine in a short amount of time means that your blood has a high concentration of cocaine. As blood circulates, some cocaine will be transferred into fatty tissues throughout the body. Heavy cocaine use can lead to positive tests for more than two weeks after last use.
  • Frequency of use: Similar to the amount used, chronic cocaine use leads to elevated cocaine levels in the bloodstream and fatty tissues. 
  • Method of use: Intravenous injection delivers cocaine directly into the bloodstream. Inhaled powder cocaine or smoked “crack” cocaine also rapidly makes its way to the bloodstream and clears relatively quickly. 
  • Body weight: Cocaine sticks to fatty tissues, so people with higher body fat content will retain cocaine for longer amounts of time than others.

False Positives for Cocaine

Although some drugs have a moderate false-positive rate, tests that deliver a false positive for cocaine are incredibly uncommon, unless you ingested coca leaves or if you had surgery where cocaine was used as an anesthetic. However, there are rare exceptions.

How Cocaine Is Broken Down in the Body

Regardless of the route of administration, cocaine travels to the liver, which filters all of the blood in your body. For each pass through the liver, approximately 90% of cocaine is broken down into metabolic byproducts. Some of the byproducts will be excreted in urine or feces, while the rest of the byproducts (and the remaining intact cocaine) recirculate through the body. This iterative process continues until all of the cocaine and byproducts have been excreted. 

How to Get Cocaine Out of Your System

The only reliable way to get cocaine out of your system is to stop using the drug and wait. Little evidence supports the theory that drinking large amounts of water and performing vigorous aerobic exercise hasten the process. However, alcohol slows cocaine clearance, so avoiding alcohol can help you eliminate cocaine from your system.

Key Points: How Long Does Cocaine Stay in Your System?

  • The half-life of cocaine is short (a few hours), so it is often undetectable within a day of use
  • Cocaine drug tests measure cocaine byproducts, which have half-lives of 12–15 hours and are detectable for 2–3 days in blood, urine and saliva
  • Hair tests can detect cocaine for 90 days or longer after last use
  • Several factors affect how long cocaine remains in your system, including the amount and frequency of use as well as your metabolic rate
  • The best way to rid your body of cocaine is to stop using it and wait. Alcohol can slow cocaine clearance, so avoiding alcohol can help

Cocaine is a powerfully addictive drug that can be challenging to quit. If you or a loved one is struggling with cocaine use, call The Recovery Village Ridgefield today. Trained staff can help you find more information about treatment options.

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