How Long Does Cocaine Stay In Your System?

Cocaine has a short half life of about 60 minutes. But cocaine can stay in your system and be detected in urine 2-4 days after use. Detection time increases to 12-14 days for chronic or binge users. More on detection times, drug testing methods and liability of cocaine addiction here.

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Reviewed by: Dr. Dili Gonzalez, M.D.

ARTICLE OVERVIEW: Cocaine’s action in and on the body depends on several factors: dosage, mode of administration, and single versus multiple uses. But in general, cocaine and its metabolites stay in the system and can be detected 12-48 hours after use. More on cocaine half life, peak levels, and drug testing for cocaine here.


How Do People Take Cocaine?

There are different ways to consume cocaine. The main ways people take cocaine are:

  • Injecting or mainlining
  • Rubbing it into the gums
  • Smoking
  • Snorting

Most people snort cocaine powder through the nose, or they rub it into their gums. Others dissolve the powder and inject it into the bloodstream. This increases addiction potential.

Another popular method of use is to smoke cocaine that has been processed to make a rock crystal; it is heated to produce vapors that are inhaled into the lungs. This form of cocaine is called “crack”, which refers to the crackling sound of the rock as it’s heated. Some people also smoke crack by sprinkling it on marijuana or tobacco, and smoke it like a cigarette. Crack is highly addictive.

What Is Cocaine Used For?

When applied topically, cocaine can be used as a local anesthetic. Traditionally, coca leaves are chewed as a stimulant or brewed into a tea for refreshment and to relieve fatigue. Recreationally, cocaine is used to increase alertness, relieve fatigue, feel stronger and more decisive. However, cocaine is highly addictive due to its intense euphoric effects. It produces a strong feeling of well-being.

Getting high on cocaine is possible because cocaine produces its psychoactive and addictive effects primarily by acting on the brain’s limbic system, a set of interconnected regions that regulate pleasure and motivation. Cocaine blocks the removal of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain. This result in an accumulation of dopamine that causes continuous pleasurable stimulation of brain cells.

Peak Levels And Half Life Of Cocaine

The high you get on a single dose of cocaine depends upon how you take it. Here are the main methods of administration and their onset of effect.

Injection = Injecting cocaine produces an effect within 15-30 seconds.

Oral consumption = The effects onset more slowly after oral ingestion usually results in peak plasma concentrations at 1 hour general effects will persist for 1-2 hours depending on the dose.

Smoking =A hit of smoked crack produces an almost immediate intense experience and will typically produce effects lasting 5-15 minutes.

Snorting =Similarly, snorting cocaine produces effects almost immediately and the resulting high may last 15-30 minutes.

The apparent half life for cocaine is short, approximately 0.8 ± 0.2 hours. That means that the time required for cocaine levels to decrease by half in the body is somewhere around 60 minutes. However, with chronic use, cocaine accumulates in the body and resulting a prolonged terminal elimination phase for cocaine and its metabolites.

Cocaine Detection Windows

A cocaine drug test is use to find out whether you have used cocaine recently, or not. The test can be done on your urine, saliva, blood, hair, or even in your sweat. These screens looks for the presence of cocaine or one of its metabolites, or chemicals your body makes to process cocaine. The most important metabolite of cocaine is benzoylecgonine.

Cocaine and its metabolites are detectable for different amounts of time in different biological specimens. The main detection time windows include:

Blood = Cocaine can be detected via blood test for 12-48 hours after last use.

Hair = Cocaine can be detected in hair for 90 days to years after use, depending on the length of the hair sample.

Saliva = Cocaine can be seen in saliva for 12-48 hours.

Sweat =Cocaine is detectable in sweat for several weeks after use.

Urinalysis = Cocaine can be detected in urine for 2-3 days after use.In general, cocaine metabolites, like benzoylecgonine, can be detected in urine 2–4 days after use for sporadic users and up to 12 days after use for chronic users or following a binge.

The detection windows can vary. The length of time cocaine can be seen in these different drug tests depends on:

  • How long you have been using cocaine.
  • The functionality of your liver and its ability to process the drug.
  • The average amount used each time.

Still, another factor in the detection of cocaine in the system is mode of administration and dosage. For example, an intravenous dose of 20 mg cocaine can be detected for 1.5 days while street doses of cocaine administered via different routes can be detectable up to 1 week. Extremely high doses of cocaine can be found in the system up to 3 weeks after last detectable up to 1 week. Extremely high doses of cocaine can be found in the system up to 3 weeks after use.

Cocaine Drug Testing

Cocaine drug tests generally use a cut-off of 300ng/ml to indicate positive use. Rapid screening tests can be done in an office, school or clinic. The results arrive in minutes. Because lab tests are more sensitive and reliable, positive results should always be sent to a lab for confirmation.

Below is a more full description of the types of test that can be use to determine the presence of cocaine in your system. Testing procedures vary by laboratory, but generally follow a similar standard.

Blood Tests for Cocaine: Blood samples are collected by extracting a small amount of blood from your vein and then sent to a laboratory. This type of drug testing is not widely used due to the need for specialized equipment and professional medical administrators, but is one of the most effective ways of telling if a drug or its metabolite is present in the body at a specific time.Blood cocaine and metabolite concentrations should be interpreted with caution because they vary widely and do not predict the severity of clinical findings of a person who consumed, the incidence of adverse effects, outcome, or need for additional intervention therapy.

Hair Tests for Cocaine: Hair samples are taken by extracting a few strands of your hair. Usually, the hair is cut close to the scalp and a sample taken about 1.5 inches from the top is sent for analysis. The hair sample is then dissolved and many xenobiotics are incorporated permanently, in contrast to blood or urine samples where they are generally only detectable for a few hours or days. Some factors that can affect the concentrations of cocaine in hair, such as passive contamination, age, ethnicity and cosmetic treatment, must be considered.

Saliva Tests for Cocaine: In the last few years, significant developments have occurred on the key issues involved in oral fluid cocaine testing. Oral fluid has become an important sample type in driving under the influence research. It can be expected that the role of oral fluid as an alternative sample will keep increasing in the future.

Sweat Test for Cocaine: Sweat samples are collected on sweat patches for drug testing when urine testing is not practical. The patches are left attached on the skin to collect sweat for up to 2 weeks and then sent to a laboratory. It is an effective and reliable method of monitoring cocaine exposure.

Urine Tests for Cocaine: This is one of the most common methods used to test for cocaine because this method is not invasive. Urine samples are collected into a clear container and then given to the medical staff, or in some cases, you will need to provide a urine sample in the presence of a nurse. Very low concentrations of cocaine may be detected in urine during the initial few hours after use.

False Positives

False positives are test results which show that a drug is in the system, even when you have not ingested it.Typically, cocaine does not create false positives. This is mainly because there are no prescription medications containing cocaine. However, false positives associated with exposure of cocaine to the mucosa of the nose or ear, as well as the ingestion of coca tea have been documented.

What If I Test Positive?

Any “positive” screening test that shows levels of cocaine in your system require additional analysis. Usually, medical review officers use a gas chromatograph/mass spectrometry system for double confirmation. Confirmatory detection cutoff levels are more stringent than the initial screening levels. In the case of cocaine, the first cutoff level is at 150ng/ml to start and 100ng/ml to confirm.

So, what can you do if you test positive for cocaine? What does that mean for school, work, or legal issues?

If you’ve failed a WORKPLACE drug test…you can oppose drug test results. Remember,labs can make mistakes. So, your employer might allow you to retake the test or you can ask the laboratory to test your sample again. Also, you should know that some employers can require a random drug screen for cocaine with only one hour notice. Another option is take a hair drug test, but, usually you have to cover the costs.

If you’ve failed a CLINICAL drug test…You may be facing time in jail, or state or federal prison, OR lose your privileges in a probation setting.If you feel that your test result is incorrect there are several things you can do. First, you can ask for a laboratory confirmatory test in case it’s not already a part of the testing process. Also, you can talk with your practitioner about other prescription or OTC medications you use.Finally, you can request a follow up drug test at a random time or even submit a hair sample test.

If you’ve failed a STUDENT drug test…there are a few measures you can take to prove your innocence. You should know that your parents or legal guardians will be informed about the test results, but the school may allow you to retake the test.Your parents and school can require the laboratory to retest your sample or collect a new sample in a short window of time. Finally, you and your parents can ask for a hair sample to be sent to the lab for testing, but usually at your own expense.

Home Tests

There are some home drug testing kits that don’t require laboratory analysis. Most of these are urine based and provide results fairly quickly. However, if the home test detects drugs in a urine sample, is imperative that you send the sample to a laboratory for additional testing. Remember, a home drug testing kit is not 100% accurate. Some have a high percentage of false positives.

Addiction Liability

Cocaine is highly addictive. It is a Schedule II drug under the Controlled Substances Act, meaning it has a high potential for abuse and limited medical usage.

However, only some people who experiment with it develop dependence. If you’re using cocaine on the weekends, watch out for weekly use. Compulsive cocaine use develops soon after the person starts using, because the substance in the blood stream rapidly. A tolerance can then develop quickly. Within a few weeks, a cocaine addict soon fails to achieve the same high experienced earlier from the same amount of cocaine.

Over time, cocaine will:

• Damage a person’s ability to experience pleasure at all.
• Damage the brain’s ability to transfer and produce dopamine.
• Impair brain neuron communication.

So, how can you diagnose a full-on addiction?

The DSM-V provides criteria for diagnosing cocaine abuse and cocaine dependence as distinct disorders the latter characterized by additional symptoms related to loss of control over drug use. The new diagnostic standard describes cocaine problems as drug use that leads to clinically significant impairment or distress. A doctor or psychologist or social worker can screen you for specific criteria and let you know if you’re addicted, or not.

If you or someone you love has a problem with cocaine, take hope! There are several ways in which this disorder can be treated. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Call us for help now.

Let’s verify your coverage for treatment at an American Addiction Centers location. Your information is always confidential.


Get Help Now!

Cocaine can be very addictive, and can affect the brain in ways that you may not expect. If you’re ready to get help and don’t know where to turn, please give us a call. Compassionate operators are standing by 24-7. We understand addiction as a medical condition and can talk you through treatment.

Do you have what it takes to quit for good?

Give us a call and find out.

You can also send us an email or write us in the comments section below. We can help explain what happens during treatment. If you are ready for help, if you are ready to stop, there is a way. And you don’t have to do it alone.

REFERENCE SOURCES: NCBI: A sensitive assay for urinary cocaine metabolite benzoylecgonine shows more positive results and longer half‐lives than those using traditional cut‐offs
NCBI: Blood cocaine and metabolite concentrations, clinical findings, and outcome of patients presenting to an ED
NCBI: Cocaine and metabolites urinary excretion after controlled smoked administration
NCBI: Cocaine levels in sweat collection patches vary by location of patch placement and decline over time
NCBI: Current developments in drug testing in oral fluid
NCBI: DSM-5 criteria for substance use disorders: recommendations and rationale
NCBI: Hair analysis by GC/MS/MS to verify abuse of drugs
NCBI: Urine testing for cocaine abuse: metabolic and excretion patterns following different routes of administration and methods for detection of false-negative results.
NHTSA: Drugs and Human Performance Fact Sheets: Cocaine
NIDA: Cocine
NIDA: Pharmacokinetics of cocaine: considerations when assessing cocaine use by urinalysis
URMC: Health encyclopedia: Cocaine Screen
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
Medical Reviewers
Dr. Dili Gonzalez, M.D. is a general surgeon practicing women's focused medici...

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a licensed medical professional.

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