Cocaine levels peak in the blood an average of 30 minutes after it’s ingested, which usually occurs via smoking, snorting, or injection. The speed of onset of cocaine’s physiological effects, as well as the total duration of action, is influenced by the method of use.
Other factors include the amount taken at once, individual body chemistry (e.g., rate of drug metabolism), and how long and heavily the individual uses it (which will determine the extent of any tolerance, if present). Though it takes time for the levels of the drug to peak, some effects may be felt almost immediately, especially when it is injected or smoked. This initial high is often referred to as a rush. This fades after a short period of time, resulting in an unpleasant crash. The cycle of high, crash, and then seeking more of the drug to counter the crash can easily lead to an increased tolerance and eventually addiction. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than 900,000 people in the United States met the criteria for a cocaine use disorder – more commonly referred to as a cocaine addiction – in 2014.
Cocaine’s half-life is roughly one hour. This means that it takes about an hour for half of the cocaine absorbed into the bloodstream to leave the body. However, heavy, long-term use may cause the drug to start to accumulate in body tissues, allowing certain tests to detect the drug in the system for an extended period of time.
For example, after a single use of cocaine, agents created by the metabolization of the drug can be detected in a person’s urine for 2-4 days. However, for chronic users, or if it follows a heavy binge, cocaine can be detected in urine for up to 14 days. The length of time that urine tests are effective also depends on the size of the dose and the purity of the substance. Extremely high doses can result in cocaine metabolites being detectable for up to 3 weeks.Cocaine can also be detected in the blood and saliva for an average of 12-48 hours after the last use. Unlike many other intoxicants, cocaine will stay in a person’s sweat for an extended period of time, up to several weeks. It may also be detectable in a hair sample for years after an individual stops using the drug. However, urine toxicology screening remains the most commonly used method of testing for most medical facilities and in legal situations.
Anyone whose cocaine use is prevalent enough to be concerned about regularly submitting for cocaine testing should consider the possibility of an underlying cocaine use disorder.
No matter how it is used, cocaine is a particularly addictive drug, and its intense stimulant effects can cause long-term damage to the body and brain.
As such, those who struggle with cocaine addiction and subsequent compulsive cocaine use may benefit from substance abuse treatment as soon as possible.