Every drug that a person takes has a defined lifespan. Each drug has a unique lifespan, which refers to the amount of time a drug stays in the body. When discussing how long a drug stays in someone’s system, the lifespan of that drug is typically referred to in terms of half-lives.

A half-life refers to the length of time required for a certain substance, usually some kind of drug, to reduce to half of the initial dose. Half-lives are not a term that is always widely known by the general public and even individuals who take prescription medication. Instead, half-lives are typically associated with medical professionals, pharmacists, clinical researchers, and other individuals who work in the pharmaceutical industry. This information about a drug, along with other details such as how the drug is absorbed and processed in the body is known as clinical pharmacology.

Now, why is information about a drug’s half-life important to know? Well, there are many reasons that it is important to understand how long a drug will stay in someone’s system.

Understanding a drug’s half-life will allow a prescriber of medication (a doctor or other medical professional) to prescribe a proper dosage and instructions for frequency of doses. This information can ensure a patient takes an appropriate amount of medication and is spacing out the medication in appropriate time intervals. A doctor wouldn’t want their patient to overdose or risk complications by taking too much medication in too short of a time frame.

Half-lives of drugs also play a big part not just for prescription medication, but for over-the-counter medication as well. In a drugstore, all medication gives instructions on the package for dosage and frequency of doses. For example, Tylenol® (acetaminophen) instructions usually suggest an adult take one or two pills per dose and space doses out by approximately four hours. For reference, the half-life of acetaminophen is somewhere between two and four hours. Of course, it is not just Tylenol packaging that offers instructions. Bottles of over-the-counter allergy medication and eye drop bottles in your cupboard also provide instructions for use based on the drug’s clinical pharmacology.

Although clinical pharmacology heavily focuses on prescription drugs and manufacturing, this does not mean that information about drug half-lives is reserved just for licit drugs that are prescribed or available over-the-counter. There is some information available on how long illicit drugs like cocaine could last in the body’s systems.

Of course, the motivations for understanding how long illicit drugs like cocaine can be found in the body’s systems may be linked to drug test results for some individuals who find themselves in that situation.

At Vertava Health Ohio, we strive to offer our patients accurate information about addiction and substance use to help them lead better, healthier lives. Taking on addiction with individualized cocaine treatment programs is a mission we pour our energy into and work every day towards advancing.

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What Is Cocaine?

Cocaine is a very strong and potent stimulant that is usually recognizable by its white powder state. Cocaine is an illicit drug and is most often used for illegal recreational use. Regular users of cocaine might find themselves coming back to the drug in order to experience the feelings the substance gives them. As a stimulant, cocaine can offer a boost of energy and increase awareness in some people. For some, this may be a good reason to use it as a means of getting through the day or making themselves feel more energized when they feel down.

What are stimulants? Stimulants are a specific group of substances that target the body’s central nervous system and speed up the body’s systems. There are a variety of substances—both prescription and illicit drugs—that fall under the category of stimulants. For example, well-known prescription stimulants include Adderall®, used for treating attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or Didrex®, a weight loss and diet aid drug. Illicit stimulants include substances such as methamphetamine and methcathinone.

Prescription stimulants also retain the possibility of misuse and later dependency and addiction in users. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2015 and 2016 data collected from the National Surveys on Drug Use and Health conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) reported that some 5 million Americans misused their prescription stimulants at least once. Cocaine is listed as a Schedule II substance, meaning it has a high potential for misuse.

Cocaine is usually snorted through the nose in its powder form. Continued snorting of cocaine can leave a user with nasal damage. Cocaine can also be smoked or dissolved in water and then injected into a vein. Inhaling the vapors produced by smoking cocaine can lead to cough or chest pain and other complications. Meanwhile, injecting cocaine can lead to skin and vein deterioration and damage.

Cocaine’s Clinical Pharmacology:

Cocaine has a relatively short half-life, especially when compared to lots of other drugs, both illicit and licit. Commonly used Tylenol has a half-life of two to three hours. Benadryl® (diphenhydramine), an antihistamine and common allergy medication have a half-life of anywhere between 3.4 to 9.5 hours, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Cocaine, however, has a half-life of approximately an hour. The half-life also corresponds with the quick and intense high that cocaine gives as a stimulant drug. It performs quickly and well, but the high tends to fade within a short period of time, which is what leads some users to use cocaine in dangerous binges.

Besides the half-life of a drug, metabolization is another key point in discussing a drug’s clinical pharmacology. According to Redwood Toxicology Laboratory, cocaine is metabolized (meaning broken down and processed) mainly by the liver and blood enzymes. The majority of cocaine is fully metabolized by the body. In fact, only 1% of the substance can be found unchanged when excreted in the urine.

Cocaine is a rapidly absorbed substance. The Redwood Toxicology Lab records that “peak plasma concentration occur[ring] at about five minutes.” In a urine drug test, cocaine is identified by the presence of metabolites called benzoylecgonine and ecgonine methyl ester. Metabolites are the substances that are formed during metabolism, the process of breaking down and processing substances in the body. When cocaine is broken down, metabolites that are excreted in the urine show up as identifiers for cocaine in a drug test.

How Long After Cocaine Use Will It Appear In A Drug Test?

According to the University of Arizona, no matter how a user has taken cocaine, whether snorted, smoked or injected, cocaine’s metabolites are detectable in a urine drug test for approximately three to six hours after initial use.

The manner in which a person uses the initial cocaine only affects how fast the substance will reach the brain and produce a high. Research shows that injecting or smoking cocaine produces the fastest physiological effects. Snorting or ingesting cocaine can also produce a high, but the onset will take several minutes longer to come into full effect.

When discussing drug use and the effects of persistent use, it is always important to keep in mind that different people may react differently to substance use. Just because one person can tolerate a particular amount of cocaine, does not mean that another individual could handle the same amount.

Similarly, there are several variables that can affect how long cocaine will remain in a person’s body. These factors include:

  • The length of time a person has used (tolerance they have built up)
  • Dose
  • Time of last use
  • Frequency of use
  • Urine concentration and acidity (pH level)
  • Kidney  and liver function
  • Patient’s body mass
  • Age
  • Metabolism

Other Kinds Of Drug Tests: Blood, Saliva, And Hair

Up until now, we have discussed the time frame for identifying cocaine in a urine drug test. However, there are several other kinds of drug tests that exist. Each type of test can have a different time frame for identifying cocaine. Some of these can positively identify cocaine for months longer than a drug test. Drug tests, however, remain one of the most common ways for employers, schools, and other organizations to conduct tests.

Blood tests can detect cocaine some 12 hours after use and can detect the metabolite benzoylecgonine for up to 48 hours after use. Metabolites in a saliva sample can be detected for up to two days following cocaine use. Meanwhile, hair samples can also be used in drug testing, even though it is not as commonly seen or heard of.

Test results for hair samples can depend on where the hair on the body is collected. According to healthline, usually, hair samples are removed from the head with scissors and then sent off for testing. Washing, dying, or styling hair with products do not affect the outcome of a test. A hair follicle drug test can test for cocaine use 90 days out from initial use.

History Of Cocaine

Cocaine is made from the leaves of the coca plant, a plant native to South America. Approximately 3000 years B.C., native populations made use of these plants to better adapt to their habitat. Indigenous groups such as the Incas, who lived in and along the Andes mountain range, chewed coca leaves in order to help speed up their breathing and heart rates. The Incas harnessed the natural stimulant properties of coca to help combat the thinner air in their mountainous home. By chewing coca leaves, one could temporarily boost the ability to breathe in an air-thin climate and provide a quick way to supplement some energy.

Cultivation of the coca plant may have begun in the Amazon Rainforest and continued into the region of the Andes Mountains.

Other indigenous groups like the native Peruvians, meanwhile, only chewed coca leaves during religious ceremonies. The coca plant began to move beyond use in indigenous groups when the Spanish arrived in South America.

In 1532, Spanish forces invaded Peru and used indigenous labor to work in silver mines in the region. Coca leaves were supplied to the captive laborers as a means of control and power.

In 1859, a German chemist named Albert Niemann was the first to isolate cocaine from the coca leaves. Upon testing some of the white powder on himself, he noted that the powder created a kind of numbing sensation on his tongue. According to History.com, a French chemist named Angelo Mariani created a unique combination of coca leaves and Bordeaux wine, naming it a Vin Mariani. The drink was advertised as a remedy for health restoration.

For several decades, nothing really became of the isolated cocaine until it began to gain traction in the 1880s among the medical community.

By 1884, famous—if not controversial—neurologist Sigmund Freud published articles about the wondrous properties of the substance and touted it as a cure for depression or impotence. Freud’s publication came under a lot of scrutiny and is generally seen as more biased rather than scientific, especially given his regular, recreational use of cocaine and his recommendation of cocaine for general use. Freud, however, also developed a cocaine addiction and struggled with it for about 12 years of his life.

In 1886, coca leaves were added as an ingredient to the Coca-Cola® drink. The side effects of cocaine, including euphoric feelings and higher energy, skyrocketed Coca-Cola to wild success. The drink became popular as people continued buying it to receive the same kind of feeling and energy boost that it provided.

For a long time, cocaine was widely used in many areas of American society. Over time though, the dangerous and side effects of cocaine, addiction, and dependency became clear. Hospitals were reporting more side effects like dependency, as well as physical symptoms, such as bloody noses and other nasal damage caused by snorting the powder. In 1903, growing public pressure led to the removal of coca as an ingredient from Coca-Cola. By 1922, the drug was completely banned in the United States.

Side Effects And Risks Of Cocaine

Cocaine will speed up all of your body’s systems. Therefore, many of these common side effects include increased breathing or heart rate, for example.

Short-term cocaine effects can set in almost immediately after a dose and last anywhere from a couple of minutes to an hour.

  • Feelings of euphoria
  • Boost of energy
  • More talkative
  • More sensitive to sight, touch, and sounds
  • Feeling more mentally alert and present
  • Constricted blood vessels
  • Dilated pupils (the pupils grow in size, causing potential light sensitivity)
  • Faster heart rate
  • Higher blood pressure

Long-term side effects of cocaine see the brain become less responsive to its natural reward system and reinforcers, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Long-term effects include:

  • Increased stress or anxiety when not using cocaine
  • More focus on using or keeping a stock of the drug
  • Developing a tolerance
  • Binge using (leading to irritability, panic attacks, and potential for overdose)
  • Lung damage/asthma/respiratory problems (when smoked)
  • Loss of sense of smell, nosebleeds, chronic runny nose (when snorted)
  • Higher risk of contracting diseases like HIV and hepatitis C (when injected)
  • Allergic reactions (especially to street drug combinations that cut other drugs with cocaine)

An individual who uses cocaine for a long period of time also risks causing major damage to internal organs. Cocaine can reduce blood flow in the gastrointestinal tract, leaving it more vulnerable to ulcers or tears.

Chest pain is also a common side effect in long-term users. The heart and the whole cardiovascular system are particularly affected by cocaine use. The National Institute on Drug Abuse explains that cocaine use has been linked to an increased risk of stroke and heart inflammation.

Taking A Step Towards Cocaine Addiction Treatment

The best way to ensure a healthier and brighter future for yourself is to take a step towards getting addiction treatment from an organization that cares for your long-term recovery and best future. Vertava Health Ohio offers comprehensive and individualized care for all of our patients. Our programs are crafted in collaboration with licensed professionals who care deeply about providing quality programs for our patients.

Our inpatient program for cocaine addiction treatment addresses the symptoms of addiction and takes a deeper look at the causes of substance use or the tendency to relapse. These factors can include the family, environment, and healthy relationships. Our programs are not a standard 30-day rehab program. Instead, we adapt based on your needs.

We utilize evidence-based practices such as dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). These types of therapy are scientifically backed and are highly useful, effective forms of therapies that can help patients change unhelpful thoughts and patterns of behavior that are linked to substance use.

Not to be limited by just therapy, we also offer recreational activities that are aimed at getting our patients into new experiences and places. Through activities like yoga and hiking, patients have an opportunity to rediscover healthy outlets for recreation and activity that are free from substance use. Recovery is tough, but so are you.

Recreational activities and therapies are an excellent way to practice communication and relationship building skills that are needed for a healthy, substance-free life. Stress relief is also a much-desired benefit of engaging in recreational activities that take patients outside to reconnect and refresh themselves.

Don’t wait to start your recovery journey with Vertava Health Ohio. Cocaine addiction treatment can be an effective way for lifelong recovery. Call us today at 888-481-7821.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How long does cocaine stay in your urine system?

Cocaine can be identified through a urine drug test anywhere from three to six hours after initial use. However, an exact timeframe is difficult to pin down, since the metabolization (breaking down of a drug) depends on many factors such as age, body mass, and tolerance to the substance.

How long does cocaine stay in your blood system?

Cocaine is identifiable from a blood sample up to 12 hours after use and can detect the metabolite benzoylecgonine for up to 48 hours after use. Metabolites are substances that the body creates in the process of breaking down the drug.

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