cocaine use

Benzoylmethylecgonine, more commonly known as cocaine or coke, is an addictive, fast-acting CNS stimulant, typically used as a recreational drug. The main motive for consuming this drug is to achieve dopaminergic euphoria. There is an increased feel of pleasure and absolute fast-paced thoughts, which are just two of the many effects of cocaine.

Apart from these psychological effects, not so favorable effects like anxiety, restlessness, and agitated behavior among others are also derived from cocaine intake. Physiological effects like fast paced heartbeat, perspiration, dilated pupils, stroke, lung infection etc. are some other common side-effects.

cocaine use

How long does cocaine stay in your system

Factors such as administration route of cocaine establish the level of a high followed by an intense depression, edginess and craving for more. Means or method in which it has been administered also determines the time period the effect the drug has on the person and what it does to the system (body, mind, soul). This differs from one person to another.

Besides, factors such as age and sex of the person also play a role in providing different results. Additional factors like the amount of cocaine ingested; the frequency at which it has been dosed; the general health condition of that person; his/her metabolic rate; the person’s tolerance level; the method in which it has been taken in (snorting, injecting, smoking etc.), and most importantly the potency of the drug, all play a role in determining how long cocaine stays in the system.

Cocaine stays for different time-frame in different portions of the body like the hair, urine, nails, saliva, blood, and skin. It can last for about 2-4 days for casual users though the detection window, vary in chronic or heavy users. Most drug test detects cocaine within 4 hours and lasting up to a week, but its presence can be visible for three months too, depending on specific kind of testing.

Cocaine in blood

Cocaine has a half-life of about 60 minutes. The half-life of benzoylecgonine, a cocaine metabolite, is around 6 -7 hours and traces of the cocaine metabolite can be detected in the urine/blood even after 72 hours; though the length of this detection time is affected by many other factors. In general, cocaine can be detected in the blood for up to 48 hours since the last use.

Cocaine in hair

The metabolites (benzoylecgonine, ecgonine methyl ester and cocaethylene of cocaine begin to show up in the hair as early as 3 hours and can stay up to a prolonged period of 90 days until the hair is chopped.

It is observed that at times the hair also gets contaminated with cocaine from external atmosphere, and though a wash may superficially remove the contaminants, it never completely gets rid of it. Carnegie Melon University conducted a study regarding testing of cocaine in hair, though it is still hazy whether cosmetic hair treatment may actually impact results or not.

Cocaine in urine

Similar to other tests for detecting cocaine, this test also depends on the way it has been taken. If cocaine is snorted, it can be detected in about 4 hours and to up to 24 hours after a single oral dose.

When injected, the cocaine can be detected for longer. A low concentration of cocaine can be detected within initial hours, but benzoylecgonine is retained in urine for 2– 4 days. With chronic and heavy users, it is detectable for even up to 15 days.

Cocaine in saliva

Depending on the dosage of the drug, the means through which it is administered, the duration or frequency of the intake, saliva test helps in detecting cocaine 2 – 3 days after its been taken, mostly depending on the dosage and frequency.

Cocaine users often exhibit black sputum called “crack lung” for 48 hours after using this drug. Cocaine can be detected in the saliva for upto 48 hours after the last use of cocaine, although typically it only shows up in the saliva for 24 hours.

Cocaine in sweat

Cocaine can also be detected in sweat for 12-48 hours after last use. Unlike other intoxicants, cocaine dwells in the person’s sweat for an extended period of time, sometimes for a few days in some chronic heavy users.

Cocaine in nails

Once cocaine is consumed, the coke moves through bloodstream into various parts of the body and starts affecting each cell. Tiny particles are left behind in the nails and hair as the blood keeps moving after the use of this substance, until they are chopped off with residues remaining in the nails for a very long time, eventually leading to change in color and texture.

Users who intake it with hot pipes can show signs of burns on lips, thumb and fingers. Some may even have a single long fingernail, used mostly to scoop the powder and residue can also be found under their nails.

Factors Determining Detection Times

Duration of Use

A chronic user  will have the metabolites of cocaine in his system for longer duration as it gets absorbed within the fatty tissue of liver and continues to accumulate in the fatty tissues with each consecutive usage and hence will take longer time to detoxify from cocaine.

The tissues takes time to release the drug, hence, the user tests positive for a longer time. Short term users may find their body release and clear the cocaine from the system relatively quickly, as the user would probably have been taking smaller and infrequent doses compared to the chronic user. Besides, short term use does not result in cocaine getting accumulated in the fatty tissue of the liver.


Another factor that determines how long cocaine remains in the body is the frequency of its intake. A person who uses or intakes cocaine for 12 times in a year may find that cocaine stays in his system for much longer time than a person who uses it just 2 times in a year. The more the regularity, the lesser efficient the body becomes to clear the drug. Infrequent users process cocaine more efficiently and clear it swiftly.

A simple factor which can sometimes give false negative results is a very high intake of water

Purity of Cocaine

Cocaine is modified to have different strains and it is sold as cocaine hydrochloride (powder) or freebase (crack). It can be cut at times with other chemicals to have a different effect on the buyer.

Regardless of the chemical that cocaine is cut with, the bigger determining factor is its purity. To sum it all – the greater the purity, the greater the effect of the drug and ingesting impure or diluted cocaine probably means that it could get cleared quicker than the ingestion of it in the purest form.

Personality Factors

A person with fast metabolism may end up clearing cocaine faster than a slow metabolic rate personality. The body weight, the size of the body, exercise, supplements, water intake, diet etc may also influence the stay of cocaine in the system.

How Long the Cocaine High Lasts?

Without the type of user and body weight, this question can have many different answers. For this case let us consider an infrequent male user weighing 80 kgs. At plasma concentrations below 200 ng/ml the high is known to subside. The graph below depicts the results of a popular cocaine study.

How long cocaine high lasts

When 48mg of cocaine is injected or taken through IV route, the drug directly flows into the bloodstream and heightens the intensity of its effects within a minute and the high can last for an hour at this dosage usually.

Smoking 100mg of cocaine results in cocaine vapor getting into the lungs and causes users to reach the peak in 20 minutes; this, however, again depends on the quantity and the purity of the dose. The high usually lasts  more than an 60-90 minutes for an infrequent user.

Snorting 160 mg of cocaine results in reaching peak levels at 45 minutes and reaching peak benzoylecgonine level after 3 hours.The high itself lasts for more 2 hours at this dosage for an infrequent user.

Oral intake of 160 mg of cocaine causes a delay in reaching peak levels and can take upto an hour to feel its effects and the high via this route is much subdued but can last for 2 hours.

The above figures are a rough estimation of the high when an infrequent user uses. The long term ill effects (not the high) are stubbornly bad and last much longer.

Drug testing

Different tests that are used to establish the presence of cocaine do not actually scrutinize the presence of the drug itself, rather it tends to detect the marker metabolite, benzoylecgonine. Some of the tests that aid in detecting this marker include blood test, urine test, saliva tests and even sweat patch test.

Urine test is most preferred test since it is cheap and can spot the recent use of cocaine, sometimes up to seven days too. The only major criterion is sufficient amount of urine sample for the test; around 300 mg/ml is sufficient for determining presence of cocaine metabolite in the body.

Hair test includes GC-MS confirmation that requires 60 mg, i.e. 90-120 strands of hair based on different types of hair types (coarse, thin and rough) with each strand of having a length of 0.5 inches (3.9 cm), taken from very close to the scalp.

Blood test is an invasive and expensive option, but considered to be the most accurate test. In this procedure, blood sample drawn using a syringe is sent for analysis to the laboratory. Blood tests helps in detecting the presence of the marker metabolite upto 2 days and sometimes even 3 days.

Sweat patch test is the latest entrant into the wide gamut of tests used for detecting presence of cocaine or its metabolites. This test is mainly done using a patch. The patch is placed onto the skin (like a band aid) and left on the skin.

The patch is designed to detect the presence of cocaine eliminated through perspiration. The patch is worn on the upper arm after thoroughly cleansing the part. After 7 to 10 days, it sent to the laboratory for the analysis using the GC-MS system. Many factors impact the determination of the accurate result, hence cautious handling becomes mandatory.

False results

Some factors which can give false negative results include high intake of water as well as the detox kit itself.

In spite of not using cocaine, a person can have false positive results on account of using drugs like lidocaine and amoxicillin. Apart from these, excessive intake of caffeine, liver or kidney infections, diabetes and ingestion of tonic water can alter results to false positive result.

Detox period and method

The period of time cocaine stays in the system will actually determine how intense or for how much duration the detox period will last. It also determines if it is safe to go through the testing to begin the detox. Urine test may be a safer mode than hair and nails to initiate the process of detox.

In case of a habitual cocaine user, the drug can be found in his/her urine for up to 4 weeks sometimes and they will experience intense withdrawal symptoms compared to those who use occasionally on binges/indulgence. A minimum of 3 weeks is generally the duration of the detox period or for treatment of the withdrawal symptoms of cocaine.

The routine followed during this type may give rise to symptoms that results in great changes in the person from the first week itself. The patient may become depressed, feel anxious, become irritable often times and undergo many more changes which are mainly related to the the withdrawals.

A week later, he may start feeling a little better and starts to get his confidence level up by a notch and one may get thoughts that it is easier than it was thought to be, to get out of this habit. Cravings start to wane and appetite tends to become better. Week two again may get him/her craving cocaine and he/she may tend to feel angry, depressed and hungry. In a month with healthy diet and exercise, one may begin to see vast changes, but with minor relapses. At this stage, psychological help offers the best way to break it completely.


People who use cocaine as a recreational drug do not realize it is not worth the risk (either legally or bodily); it is an unnecessary financial cost and can result in longer duration of neuro-physiological downfall. For those who are looking for a job or are in a job may randomly be tested for the drug and could be turned down for the job or get fired from the current one, if tested positive.

Apart from this, the mental effects may include loss of contact with reality, intense feeling of agitation with physical condition such as fast paced heartbeat and palpitations. Its regular use only makes you addicted with high risk of stroke, lung infection and even sudden cardiac death. Due to the depressed state that it causes, users can also develop suicidal or homicidal tendencies. Do not use cocaine!

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Dr. Freeman completed her Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) in 2008 from UT Health San Antonio. She was a fellow at the University of Michigan and performed a surgery residency at Lahey Hospital in Burlington Massachussets. Dr. Freeman is currently a surgeon at TRACC in the Dallas Fort Worth area.