How Long Does Cocaine Stay in Your System?
Cocaine use is one of the most destructive and common forms of drug abuse in America today. The effects of cocaine on the body can range from minorly annoying to extreme complications. In fact, cocaine is responsible for nearly half a million emergency room related visits a year (the highest of any illicit drug) and is the third most common drug found in high schools.
Couple this with its extremely addictive nature and the possibility to overdose, and you have a situation rife with danger.
This article will discuss:
- Factors that determine how long cocaine stays in your system
- How cocaine is detected and the most common drug tests used
- How many days cocaine is detectable in your system
- The accuracy of drug test results.
If you’re worried a loved one may be struggling with cocaine addiction, we’ll lay out everything you need to know about how long cocaine stays in your system.
If you’re worried about failing a test for cocaine, you should seriously consider if you suffer from Cocaine Abuse Syndrome. If you’re here to try to cheat an upcoming drug screening, seek help from a medical professional or a drug treatment center.
Before we dive deeper into the details of cocaine and how long it stays in the body, let’s talk about some basic cocaine facts. Some of these are interesting, others are surprising, but all of them can give you the knowledge you need to abolish cocaine addiction in yourself or others.
- Cocaine is a party drug: Many people try cocaine for the first time in social settings. This is because cocaine can make a user feel euphoric, confident, and social. The stimulating effects of cocaine speed up the thought process and make the user more talkative and social.
- Cocaine is extremely addictive: Cocaine overdose symptoms and effects are extremely dangerous and prominent due to its extremely addictive quality. The addictive potential is dependent on a number of factors, including the ingestion method. But the fact remains, just using cocaine once can set you up for a lifetime of physical and psychological dependence.
- The science: The scientific name for cocaine is ‘benzoylmethylecgonine’. Cocaine is considered a stimulant.
- Slang: The street names for cocaine include coke, blow, yayo, 8-ball, and snow.
- Side effects: The side effects of cocaine abuse include, appetite & weight loss, sexual impotence, agitation, convulsions, seizures, and reproductive damage. In fact, cocaine can damage sperm and cause birth defects. This means that if a male is on cocaine while he impregnates a female, their baby could suffer from cocaine-related abnormalities.
- Cocaine is expensive: Those addicted to cocaine can spend $100 a day or more on the drug.
- Cocaine is extremely fast acting: Cocaine acts on the central nervous system and produces a short yet intense feeling of happiness and euphoria. This can last 15 minutes to an hour followed by a crash, characterized as feeling dull, sluggish, or even depressed.
Those were just some facts about cocaine. Now we’ll talk about the ways cocaine is detected in the body, and how long it stays in the system.
Before we do that, we’ll have to talk a bit about the different factors that will be at play.
Though determining factors can be talked about as ‘rules-of-thumb’, the specifics of an individual user will vary greatly. Use these as guidelines, not hard and fast rules.
Drug Use History
An individual's history of cocaine use is often the biggest contributing factor to how long cocaine can stay and be detected in their system. The simple reason for this is that the more cocaine you’ve done, the more will store in your body.
The more detailed explanation has to do with what are called ‘half-lives’. A half-life refers to the time it takes for a substance to reduce by half. In this instance, we’re talking specifically about how quickly cocaine metabolites (more on metabolites below) are processed, secreted, and excreted from the body.
Depending on which expert you ask, the half-life of cocaine is anywhere from 1-4 hours, depending on the type of test used. This is a very quick half-life which means cocaine is removed from the body fairly quickly. This is because cocaine is water-soluble, meaning it’s easily flushed from the cells and excreted.
So when a user takes a substance repeatedly, they don’t allow the body to fully detox, meaning they can build an accumulation of cocaine residuals. This can occur both over periods of time (using small amounts over a duration), or from taking a lot of a substance over a short period of time (bingeing).
Like in most things, genetics has its part to play when it comes to ridding the body of cocaine. There are likely deeper genetic factors at play that researchers have yet to discover, but some of the obvious ones are weight, height, and gender. Age also has a role to play (with younger people detoxing from cocaine faster).
Health & Preexisting Conditions
Your organs are the powerhouse driving your body's maintenance and upkeep. This includes detoxing the body from cocaine. Any preexisting conditions can make getting rid of cocaine take longer for certain individuals.
This is especially true when considering the liver. The liver is the primary organ responsible for filtering toxins. So those with liver damage or disease may find it takes much longer to test clean.
Because the urinary tract is a major detox pathway, urine samples are the most commonly used form of drug screening. Because of this, having urinary issues can slow down the detox process.
How Cocaine is Detected
At this point, we’ll discuss that unknown word we used earlier, metabolites.
Metabolites refer to metabolic action or the body’s way of breaking down substances for use or excretion. So cocaine metabolites can be thought of as leftovers or byproducts of metabolic action.
So if we detect cocaine metabolites in someone’s system, it’s a strong indicator they were using the drug (more on why we can’t be 100% sure below).
Of course, there’s more than one way to test someone for the presence of cocaine. These include blood, hair, urine, and saliva.
Types of Tests
- Blood test: Blood tests are the least likely to be used. This is because they require more time (because blood has to be drawn) and more specialized equipment, meaning they’re much more expensive. Additionally, blood tests are able to detect cocaine metabolites for the shortest amount of time.
- Hair test: Hair testing is more common than blood testing, but is usually reserved for government jobs or jobs requiring the operation of heavy machinery. Other jobs using hair testing may include lifeguards, childcare, etc. An interesting fact, every half inch of hair contains 30 days of information.
- Saliva test: Because they require less advanced technology and equipment than blood or hair, saliva tests are more commonly used in at-home test kits. Saliva tests can detect cocaine metabolites longer than blood test can, but not by much.
- Urine test: Urine tests are the most commonly used form of drug screenings, both for at-home test kits and lab processed screenings. This is because testing urine is fast, cheap, and easy.
Now that we have an understanding of how cocaine is detected and the ways used to detect it, we’ll talk about the timeline of cocaine detox.
How Long Does Cocaine Stay in Your System
So how long exactly does cocaine stay in your system? Again, this is dependent on a number of factors. But below we’ll lay out a timeline for what you can expect.
12-24 Hours After Last Use
Cocaine has a short half-life, so after the first 12-24 hours, some users may be in the clear. This is generally only true for saliva and blood tests, but sometimes urine tests can fail to detect metabolites if drug use has been limited.
If a person is a heavy user, they’re extremely likely to fail a drug screening in the first 12-24 hours no matter the form used.
1-4 Days After Last Use
For most users, 1-4 days after last use is a normal range in which metabolites can be detected in urine screenings. However, this can depend on a number of factors, including the user’s history of use as discussed above.
Another important note about urine screenings is that they are easy to deceive. Users can buy detox drinks, fake urine, and even self-warming bladders that are worn under the pants. At-home kits are much easier to fake, due to the lack of protocol you’ll find at a lab.
Hair tests are preferred in certain situations because they’re less likely to show a false negative.
4-90 Days After Last Use
The only drug screening likely to find metabolites after 4 days since last use is a hair screening. However, for extremely heavy users or those affected by certain conditions, urine tests can produce positives for up to two weeks (sometimes even longer).
Remember when I said that a half inch of hair contained 30 days of information? Well, hair drug screenings will usually require one and a half inch of hair. That’s because cocaine can be detected in hair for 90 days (though in rare cases can stay for months). Not every user will show up positive for 90 days after use, but a heavy user can.
Hair test screenings have been said to cause false positives. More on that below.
90 Days & Beyond
For the majority of users, hair tests will be unable to detect cocaine metabolites after 90 days. But for chronic users or those coming off a binge, there is some evidence to suggest cocaine can be detected for 6 months or even longer.
Testing Accuracy & False Positives
Just like drug screenings can be cheated, they can also produce false results. One reason for this is what’s known as the cutoff limit.
Most people think that if a drug screening finds any amount of the drug (or really the drug metabolite) than it will come up as positive. But that’s not actually the case. To prevent false positives by environmental contamination (for example, inhaling second-hand marijuana smoke), drug screens use a cutoff limit.
The cutoff limit is the minimum amount of a metabolite needed for a positive to occur. This means an individual could have cocaine metabolites in their system but still pass the test.
And before you get outraged, false positives are a serious problem. In fact, according to the Massachusetts Civil Service Commission, hair testing isn’t reliable enough to be the sole reason for firing someone (this bill is only effective in Massachusetts. Check your local laws and guidelines for more information).
This law was passed after several police officers tested positive for cocaine. The bill was put in place because police officers are often in contact with illicit drugs (when performing ‘drug busts’, routine arrests, or handling evidence), so there is a high likelihood of some metabolites appearing in their system.
This may seem like it should only apply to police, but it’s been estimated that 90% of dollar bills in circulation contain detectable amounts of cocaine. Users roll bills to use as straws to snort cocaine.
Are You Suffering From Cocaine Addiction
If you’re concerned a loved one may be using or abusing cocaine, it’s important to talk with them. If they don’t come clean and tell the truth, you can give them a drug test armed with what you learned here. It may help to contact a trusted drug treatment center in Colorado to assist you.
If you’re concerned about passing a drug test for cocaine, it may be time to get help. Cocaine is massively addicting and can have majorly devastating effects. Don’t try to test clean, come clean. The most important step is asking for help. Detoxing from cocaine isn’t easy, but for many, asking for help is the hardest step.
Want to know how long it takes to detox from cocaine? Learn about Cocaine Withdrawal Timeline right on our blog.