What Is the Half-Life of Cocaine?

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Cocaine is a stimulant that can be snorted, smoked, or injected by users to experience an intense, albeit brief, high. Desired effects include euphoria and increased energy, sociability, and hyperactivity. Cocaine is a commonly misused drug, so businesses and entities may have a vested interest in an individual taking a drug test for employment or legal reasons. Those concerned about cocaine’s half-life and the length of time cocaine could remain in their system may want to seek professional addiction treatment.

Treatment approaches for cocaine dependence include cognitive-behavioral therapy, counseling, and support groups. Many factors underpin and contribute to addiction, and integrated, evidence-based treatment can effectively address them. At Guardian Recovery, we are committed to providing our clients with the care and support they need to reclaim their lives and end drug and alcohol misuse for good.

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How Does the Body Break Down Cocaine?

Cocaine is rapidly absorbed after snorting, smoking, or injecting, and enzymes in the liver and blood are primarily responsible for its metabolization. Cocaine is broken down into other mostly inactive compounds, although some cocaine (about 1%) may be excreted unaltered. Approximately 45% of cocaine forms benzoylecgonine (BE), a metabolite that results from cocaine’s metabolization process. (1)

The term “half-life” refers to the time it takes for half the amount of a substance to be expelled by a person’s system. Research suggests that, depending on the test used to detect cocaine, the half-life of cocaine ranges from 0.7–1.5 hours (an average of one hour) in blood plasma. It also has a urine detection window of less than one day. (2) However, the plasma half-life of its major metabolite, BE, is much longer at 5.5–7.5 hours (an average of 6.5 hours), and the urine detection window is up to two days after use. (3) For this reason, cocaine tests primarily screen for BE rather than the drug itself.

Factors Affecting Cocaine’s Duration in the Body

Several factors can influence the entire length of time (not half-life) it takes for cocaine and its metabolites to be eliminated from the body, including the following:

Amount, frequency, and duration of use: Individuals who use cocaine heavily and chronically may have traces of cocaine or its metabolites in their system for extended periods than occasional users. (4) Excessive cocaine use can lead to more prolonged elimination and detection times, suggesting the long-term use of cocaine results in it accumulating in the body.

Product purity: Differences in cocaine purity (such as fewer additives) and potency can influence elimination times. Highly refined cocaine can remain in a person’s system for longer than low-quality cocaine.

Metabolic and biological differences: Age, sex, weight, genetics, and health profile may affect cocaine metabolism and the speed at which the drug and its metabolites remain in the system.

Consumption of other substances: Medications, alcohol, and other substances can accelerate, delay, or in some way alter how the body processes cocaine, thereby impacting how long the drug and its metabolites remain in the system.

Type of test used: Cocaine and its byproducts can be detected in various ways, each of which has different detection windows following the last use:

  • Urine: 2–3 days, possibly up to two weeks in heavy users.
  • Blood: Up to 12 hours for cocaine, up to 48 hours for benzoylecgonine.
  • Saliva: 1–2 days.
  • Hair follicles: 3 months or longer.

As noted, urine testing is the most commonly used method to identify cocaine use. Blood tests are invasive, and urine screens offer a wider detection window than either blood or saliva and quickly yield results. Hair testing can detect cocaine for the longest period but is more expensive, and results are prone to inaccuracy.

How Does the Half-Life of Cocaine Compare to Other Drugs?

The following include the half-lives and urine detection windows of other commonly misused drugs and how they compare to cocaine, which has a half-life of approximately one hour: (5)

Illicit Drugs:

  • Heroin: 0.1–0.25 hours
    Urine detection: <1 day
  • Marijuana/THC: 4–12 hours
    Urine detection: 4–6 days
  • Methamphetamine: 6–17 hours
    Urine detection: 1–5 days
  • MDMA: 6–10 hours
    Urine detection: 1–3 days

Stimulants:

  • Amphetamine: 7–34 hours
    Urine detection: 1–5 days
  • Methylphenidate: 1.4–4.2 hours
    Urine detection: <1 day

Prescription Painkillers:

  • Hydrocodone: 3.4–8.8 hours
    Urine detection: 1–3 days
  • Morphine: 1.3–6.7 hours
    Urine detection: 1–3 days
  • Fentanyl/Norfentanyl: 3–12 hours
    Urine detection: 1–3 days

Prescription Sedatives:

  • Alprazolam: 6–27 hours
    Urine detection: 1–4 days
  • Diazepam: 21–37 hours
    Urine detection: 1–7 days
  • Lorazepam: 9–16 hours
    Urine detection: 1–7 days

How Long Do Cocaine Effects Last?

The approximate amount of time a person will continue to feel the short-term effects of cocaine varies by the method of administration:

  • Intravenous (injected): 15–20 minutes
  • Inhalation (smoked): 5–10 minutes
  • Intranasal (snorted): 15–30 minutes

Oral (by mouth): 90 minutes

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Effects of Long-Term Cocaine Use

Cocaine misuse can cause a wide range of health effects, and many risks increase as cocaine is used over long periods. After the short-term effects of cocaine wear off and the drug and its metabolites are eliminated from the body, the long-term consequences of chronic and excessive misuse will persist. (6) Long-term effects on the body include the following:

Nose, Sinuses, & Mouth:

  • Sinusitis.
  • Chronic nosebleeds.
  • Runny nose.
  • Congestion.
  • Hoarseness.
  • Loss of sense of smell.
  • Nasal tissue deterioration and necrosis.
  • Difficulty swallowing.
  • Perforated septum and palate.

Brain & Nervous System:

  • Seizures.
  • Brain bleeding.
  • Damage to blood vessels in and near the brain.
  • Parkinson’s disease.
  • Impaired attention, memory, impulse control, psychomotor performance, and decision-making.
  • Increased risk of mental health conditions, such as addiction, anxiety, and paranoia.

Heart & Cardiovascular System:

  • Severe chest pain.
  • Increased heart rate.
  • Arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythm).
  • Reduction in the heart’s contraction ability.
  • Aortic ruptures.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Arteriosclerosis.
  • Heart muscle inflammation.
  • Increased risk of sudden cardiac death.
  • Reduction in the heart’s contraction ability.
  • Increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

Respiratory System:

  • Chronic cough.
  • Worsening of asthma.
  • Respiratory distress.
  • Pneumonia and other respiratory infections.
  • Emphysema or COPD.
  • Pulmonary edema or fluid buildup in the lungs.
  • Lung tumors.

Digestive System:

  • Gastrointestinal tears and ulcers.
  • Reduced appetite and dramatic weight loss.
  • Abdominal pain.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Death of bowel tissue.
  • Bowel obstructions.

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Getting Treatment for Cocaine Addiction

Cocaine misuse can adversely affect all aspects of a person’s life, including employment, academic performance, and overall physical and mental health. If you are ready to end cocaine use and reclaim your life for good, we urge you to start exploring evidence-based professional treatment beneficial for the recovery process.

At Guardian Recovery, we offer personalized treatment plans in various levels of care that address the underlying factors contributing to drug misuse and teach individuals healthier ways of coping with stress. Contact us today to speak to a skilled Treatment Advisor and receive a free, no-obligation assessment and health insurance benefits check. We can provide you with the therapeutic services, tools, and support you need to recover successfully and sustain long-term sobriety and wellness.

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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave

L.M.H.C.

Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

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Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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