When does cocaine kick in?

The onset of cocaine effects can be felt within 5 to 10 minutes after you take the drug. But have you ever wondered which factors can influence cocaine onset time? We explain, here.

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Cocaine is a psychoactive and addictive stimulant drug, generally purchased on the streets under the slang names “coke”, “C”, “snow”, “flake”, and “blow”. When you take cocaine, it takes anywhere from 5 minutes and up to 30 minutes for its effects to kick in, depending on various factors.

So, what influences the onset and duration of cocaine effects? In this article we review the onset of cocaine action and cover what you want to know related to the time and duration of effects. Then, we invite you to join us for a discussion in the section at the bottom of the page. Feel free to post your questions and we’ll try to provide a personal and prompt response to all legitimate inquiries.

Cocaine active ingredients

Cocaine (benzoylmethyl ecgonine) is a psychoactive alkaloid of the coca plant (erythroxylon coca) with a chemical formula C17H21NO4. Cocaine is the only naturally occurring local anaesthetic and has a similar structure to other synthetic local anaesthetics.

Cocaine is commonly abused in the form of two different chemicals of the same substance:

  1. The water-soluble hydrochloride salt.
  2. The water-insoluble cocaine base (freebase).

Powdered cocaine is used by injecting or snorting. It is usually diluted with other substances, including cornstarch, talcum powder, sugar, procane, amphetamines, and other chemical ingredients. The base form of cocaine is processed with ammonia or sodium bicarbonate and water, then heated to remove the hydrochloride to produce a substance called “crack” which can be smoked.

When does cocaine start working?

When inhaled, snorted, or injected, cocaine works by entering the bloodstream and reaches the brain within seconds or minutes. Cocaine works by interfering with the normal processing of the brain, flooding the pleasure center of the brain with the dopamine, which creates a feeling of euphoria.

Q: How long will these effects last?
A: Cocaine has a short duration of action and its effects may diminish within an hour of dosing.

The duration of cocaine’s euphoric effects depends on the route of administration. The faster the drug is absorbed, the more intensive the effects are, but they last for a shorter amount of time.

  • Snorted cocaine kicks in relatively slowly, but may last from 15 to 30 minutes.
  • Smoked cocaine kicks in almost immediately, but may last for only 5 to 10 minutes.

Factors that influence cocaine onset

For cocaine to work, it must enter the body, dissolve into a solution, be absorbed by the body, and then distributed to sites of action. And in the process, a number of different factors can affect the rate at which cocaine onset begins (despite the route of administration). These include:

1. Route of administration

The most common route of administration for cocaine is snorting the drug. After intranasal ingestion, its effects kick in after 15 to 30 minutes.

Intravenously cocaine is administered through a hyperdermic needle for an almost instant rate of action.

Inhaled (smoked) cocaine, on the other hand, is delivered through a “crack” pipe and results in an onset of action within seconds.

Gastrointestinal (GI) or oral administration results in slower onset of effects from 20 and up to 90 minutes.

2. Cocaine bioavailability

Cocaine is rapidly absorbed following smoking, snorting and intravenous administration. Bioavailability is 57% following snorting and 70% following smoking. About 91% of cocaine is bound in plasma.

3. Cocaine purity

A study conducted by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) in 2007, showed that the purity levels for cocaine purchased on the street had purity levels often under 5% and on average under 50%.

For example, the needed amount of cocaine with a higher purity to produce wanted effects if smaller. On the other hand, you need a far larger amount of cocaine with low purity level to reach the same effects.

4. Level of tolerance

Tolerance to cocaine builds up rapidly in user’s bodies. This means that with repetitive and chronic use, cocaine doses that used to produce powerful effects are becoming less potent. It is not uncommon for a chronic cocaine user to develop tolerance to doses that would generally incapacitate a cocaine-naive individual.

When does cocaine peak?

Cocaine peak levels are also influenced by the route of administration of the drug:

  • The effects from snorted cocaine peak within 15 to 20 minutes of administration.
  • After oral administration of cocaine, a peak in effects is expected to be achieved in 1 hour.
  • Injected doses of cocaine produce a peak within 5 minutes.
  • Smoking cocaine results in a 3 to 5 minute peak, followed by an unpleasant crash.

When does cocaine wear off?

Cocaine doesn’t have a long-lasting ‘high’ and effects wear off fairly quickly after it’s ingested. Timeframes vary from 5 to 30 minutes, depending on how the drug is taken.

After cocaine’s effects wear off, more cocaine is frequently administered and a pattern of repeated use occurs. Following binge use of cocaine, the “crash” can last from 9 hours to 4 days and may consist of:

  • agitation
  • craving
  • depressed moods
  • insomnia to hypersomnolence

Withdrawal symptoms can typically last from 1 to 3 weeks and may consist of:

  • anxiety
  • apathy
  • bradycardia
  • depression
  • disorientation
  • drug craving
  • dysphoria
  • fatigue
  • hunger
  • irritability
  • long periods of sleep
  • paranoia

Risks of cocaine addiction

Cocaine is one of the most psychologically addictive drugs.

It stimulates the key pleasure centers in the brain and causes extremely heightened euphoria. Because of its intense ‘high’ followed by a profound ‘crash’, cocaine leaves users craving for more. With repeated use, tolerance to cocaine can develop very quickly. You can notice that your body has become physically dependent to cocaine when you start feeling withdrawal symptoms whenever you try to quit using. All these circumstances contribute to the formation of psychological and physical cocaine addiction in as little as two weeks.

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When does cocaine kick in questions

Did we provide you with all the answers and information you needed about cocaine onset and duration of effects? If you have something to ask, we encourage you to post in the section below. We’ll make sure to answer all your legitimate enquiries personally and promptly.

Reference Sources: The department of health: Pharmacology of cocaine
NCBI: Cocaine
NHTSA: Cocaine
NIH: What are the short term effects of cocaine
George Mason State University: Cocaine
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.
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