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How Long Does Cocaine Stay in Your System

How Long Does Cocaine Stay in Your System?

Cocaine is one of the most addictive drugs in the world. It is a popular party drug used by a wide number of American youth and celebrities. The cocaine users feel a euphoric high accompanied by increased energy levels, improved conversational wit and socializing skills. The drug produces its effects by stimulating the production of a neurotransmitter ‘dopamine’ associated with the feelings of pleasure and happiness. Apart from these desired effects, the drug produces a number of side effects such as agitation, dissociation, anxiety, increased blood pressure, elevated body temperature and drug induced psychosis.  The drug causes long term damage to health and once the addiction has been developed, it is difficult to get rid of it without a proper treatment program. The drug tends to stay in the system for a number of days after the last use and the user may test positive for it even after not having used it for days.

How long does cocaine stay in your system?

Cocaine can be a difficult drug to quit because of severe withdrawal symptoms associated with it. But quitting is important to clear it out of your system. Cocaine is a fast acting potent central nervous system stimulant that produces an intense high as soon as it is ingested. However, the high is short lived and usually lasts from 15 minutes to an hour.

Cocaine has a short half life of 1 hour. It means that half of the cocaine consumed is removed from the system within an hour of last use. So on average, cocaine tends to stay in the system for 3.5 to 5.5 hours. However, an active metabolite from cocaine, ‘benzoylecgonine’ tends to stay in the system for much longer. On average, it takes 1-2 days to completely remove it from the body.

When cocaine enters the system, about 40% of it is broken down to its metabolite benzoylecgonine. Another 40% is broken down by liver enzymes into ‘ecgonine benzoylecgonine’. Benzoylecgonine has a much longer half life as compared to cocaine itself. It has a half life of 6 hours so it tends to stay in the system for much longer than cocaine. For the same reason, the metabolite benzoylecgonine is tested on a drug test rather than cocaine.

The time duration cocaine and its metabolite stay in the system for may vary greatly depending upon a number of factors. When it is taken orally in high doses, combined with alcohol, the elimination time will be extended compared to when it is taken in low doses, intravenously, without combining with any other substance.

Since on a drug test, it is usually benzoylecgonine that is tested so the frequent question asked by the users is ‘how long benzoylecgonine stays in the system’. When cocaine is taken in small doses, it is cleared out from the system within 2 days, however, when it is taken frequently in high amounts, it may take between 5 to 10 days to completely remove it.

When cocaine is consumed with alcohol, the elimination time is further increased. When these two substances are combined, a metabolite ‘cocaethylene’ is formed that may take 15 days to completely eliminate from the system.

Factors that determine how long cocaine stays in your system:

Although there is an established half life for cocaine, there are a number of factors that can influence that half life and change the time duration taken for its removal. There has been a significant variation among different users when it comes to completely removing cocaine from the system.

  • Dosage:
    The amount of cocaine consumed is the most important factor that determines the time taken for its elimination. Taking cocaine in high doses increases the time taken for the its removal and its metabolite’s (benzoylecgonine) removal.
  • Mode of administration:
    The way cocaine is administrated in the body also influences the time taken for its removal. Some modes of administration are associated with faster elimination rate than others since some modes of administration causes rapid absorption and produce rapid high that subsides quickly.

    • Intravenous injections (50mg or greater) : With an intravenous injection, an intense high is experienced within seconds to minutes that usually lasts for 5-15 minutes. Because of fast absorption rate and shorter duration of effect, cocaine is rapidly removed from the system of the users who inject it. In this case, the half life is shortened to 5 minutes so it will take around 30 minutes for the drug to leave the body.
    • Snorting cocaine (50-150mg): Snorting cocaine produces a quick high that lasts between 10 to 30 minutes. In this case, the half life for removal is 30 minutes. So it will take around 3 hours for the complete removal of cocaine from the system. Since cocaine is snorted in high amounts as compared to the amounts taken when it is injected, it may be detected in the system for much longer periods of time.
    • Smoking freebase cocaine: freebase cocaine or crack is a form of cocaine that has been converted from salt to its base form by adding sodium bicarbonate to it. Smoking freebase cocaine produces a much quicker high as compared to oral ingestion. In this case, the half life is extended to 45 minutes so it may take around 4 hours to completely remove it from the system.
    • Oral ingestion: It may take some time for the cocaine to be absorbed in the blood from gastrointestinal tract and produce its effects. It usually takes an hour for the drug to fully produce its effects that may last up to 2 hours depending upon dose taken and other individual factors. With oral ingestion, cocaine has a maximum half life of 1 hour so it may take the drug 5.5 hours to be eliminated from the system.
  • Time drug was abused for:
    Long term users of cocaine take longer to remove it from their system. With the prolonged use, the drug is stored within the body tissues, especially fatty tissues such as liver. With each use, more and more drug is stored in these tissues.
    When the usage of drug has been quit, these tissues slowly release the drug into the blood stream over time that is removed by the body. For this reason, long term users may test positive for the drug for much longer period than short term users.
  • Frequency of use:
    Frequency of use also plays an important role in determining clearance rate of cocaine. The person who regularly uses cocaine may take much longer to clear it from the system compared to a person who uses it once every six months.
    With frequent use, certain changes are produced in the body as it adapts to the usage of drug. As a result, the process of removal is slowed down. Frequent use of the drug is also associated with accumulation of the drug within body tissues. As the tolerance builds up, the users tend to take more and more amount of cocaine to produce the desired effects. On the other hand, infrequent users tend to have a very high clearance rate.
  • Purity of cocaine:
    Cocaine is generally sold as cocaine hydrochloride in the powdered form or as freebase cocaine also called as crack. Since it is an expensive drug, its purity is often modified by the dealers by adding other drugs such as meth or amphetamines.
    Generally, these drugs do not affect the half life of cocaine so much. The biggest influencing factor is the amount of cocaine itself. When highly pure cocaine is ingested, it takes longer for the system to clear it and its metabolites.
  • Personal factors:
    Apart from above mentioned factors, individual variations also tend to affect the rate of its elimination. People with faster metabolic rate remove it at a faster rate compared to people with slow metabolic rate. Likewise, people who take detox supplements and have greater body mass exhibit faster clearance rates.

Drug tests used to detect cocaine in the system:

There are several different types of drug tests that can be used to detect if a person has consumed cocaine.

  • Urine tests:
    Urine tests are most widely used because they are non-invasive, easy to perform and they cost less. A fresh sample of urine is collected from the user and sent to lab for testing. Urine tests can be used to detect cocaine just after a few hours of drug consumption. These tests are effective for up to 2 days after last drug use.
  • Blood tests:
    Blood tests are among the most accurate tests used to detect cocaine and its metabolites. They can be used for the detection of cocaine 5 hours post ingestion and remain effective for up to 24 hours.
  • Saliva tests:
    Cocaine and its metabolites can be detected in salivary fluid within 10 minutes of consumption. Saliva tests can detect cocaine for up to 2 days of last usage but they are not widely used since they are not as accurate as urine or blood tests.
  • Hair tests:
    Hair tests have the longest period for effectiveness. They can be used to detect cocaine even after months of last use. However, it may take up to 7 days for new users to build up enough cocaine in their hair to be detected. Hair tests can be carried out for up to 90 days after last drug use.

Is some cases, all four types of tests can be carried out for cocaine detection to make sure there is no inaccuracy in the results.

How to speed up the process of cocaine removal?

Although cocaine has a short half life, its metabolites may take significantly long to exit the system and the user may test positive even days after the last use. However, some measures can be taken to speed up its elimination:

  • Avoid combining cocaine with other substances such as alcohol. Alcohol may significantly increase the half life of benzoylecgonine.
  • Adopting a healthy life style, eating healthy and doing exercise and yoga can also help to detoxify the drug faster.
  • Drinking plenty of water and staying hydrated can aid the process of benzoylecgonine removal.