How Long Does Cocaine Stay In Your System?

How Long Does Cocaine Stay In Your System?

Cocaine is an extremely powerful stimulant and addictive drug that has a wide pattern of abuse within the United States. When a loved one is exhibiting signs that they may be abusing cocaine, concerned family members are often left confused as to what exactly this drug is and how it affects the body. In this article, the central question we’ll answer is how long cocaine is present in the system of someone who is abusing it. Along the way, we’ll touch on what cocaine is and how it interacts with the body. By discussing these subjects, we hope to shed some light on how quickly cocaine dependence can form and how to best go about the cocaine detox process.

History of Cocaine

Cocaine is a stimulant synthesized from the coca plant. The use of cocaine in its natural form, embedded in the leaves of the coca plant, goes back over 5,000 years. Indigenous populations chewed the leaves to help them acclimate to the high altitudes of the Andes mountains. The coca leaves have also been used historically to brew tea and used in a variety of religious functions. Within its natural state, cocaine interacts with the human body in far different ways than modern, synthesized versions. Chewing the leaves of the coca plant produced a low yield of energy, a slight euphoria, and dilated the blood vessels, allowing users to breathe easier at higher elevations.

It was not until the mid-1800’s that cocaine was first synthesized. Although not responsible for first extracting cocaine from the coca leaf, Sigmund Freud, the noted psychoanalyst, was the first to tout the medicinal values of cocaine. The use of cocaine as a medicine quickly gained traction both in Europe and the United States during the late 1800’s. Cocaine was a popular addition to several different products, some promising medicinal effects and some not. One of the most well-known of these was the beverage Coca Cola, which did not use synthesized cocaine but rather the coca leaves as an ingredient in their early formula.

By the turn of the 20th century, cocaine was commonly seen on nearly any shelf in a grocery store or pharmacy. However, despite the clear desire of the public to use any product that had cocaine as an ingredient, the dark side of the drug quickly became apparent. It was becoming obvious that cocaine created a strong chemical dependency in regular users. As users of the products built up a tolerance to cocaine, they had to use greater amounts to achieve levels that would once again create a euphoric state.

By the 1920’s, cocaine had been reclassified as an illicit substance that had no medicinal value outside of certain head and neck surgeries which used the drug as a topical anesthetic. Once it was made illegal, cocaine quickly fell out of favor as a preferred drug of abuse until the early 1970’s when it experienced a resurgence. This time period saw not only a sharp rise in the use and abuse of cocaine, but also resulted in the growth of powerful drug cartels, which saw opportunity in a product that was cheap to produce, highly addictive, and had an extremely high demand in the United States.

The Length of Time Cocaine Remains in the Body

The length of time that cocaine stays in your system is influenced by many different factors. The first factor that affects this is the modality of use. Cocaine is typically used through either inhalation through the nose (snorting), smoking, or injection. Some people also rub cocaine powder on their gums, although this is a significantly less common method of consumption and usually accompanies another modality of use.

The method through which cocaine is introduced into the body has a direct correlation to how quickly it takes effect, and subsequently how quickly it is broken down by the body. Injection of cocaine into a vein results in the fastest onset, with full effects being felt nearly instantly. Smoking cocaine, otherwise known as “freebasing,” causes cocaine to enter the body through lung tissue, resulting in a much faster onset than snorting. Full effects of smoking cocaine result in less than a minute, and have a consequently shorter but more intense high lasting around 15 minutes. Snorting causes cocaine to enter the body through the tissue lining the nasal passages. This method of use results in the onset of a high within 3-5 minutes. This high is less intense than cocaine used by injecting or smoking, but can last anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour.

Regardless of how it is introduced to the body, once cocaine enters the bloodstream, it interacts powerfully with the central nervous system (CNS) and brain’s pleasure centers. Cocaine produces a high by binding to the molecules responsible for transporting dopamine in our bodies. It then reduces the rate at which dopamine can be removed by the synapses responsible for regulating our sense of pleasure. The result of this increase in dopamine levels is an intense, powerful feeling of euphoria. This feeling of euphoria can vary in intensity depending on how quickly cocaine enters the body and interacts with the brain, thus accounting for the discrepancies between the onset and intensity of a high between the different methods of use.

The rapid nature of cocaine’s interaction with the pleasure pathways in the brain is a key factor in the addictive nature of this drug. Combined with this, cocaine has a short-lived high and is quickly broken down and excreted from the body. Because of this fast but short life-cycle, users of cocaine must continue to re-dose at relatively short intervals compared to other drugs to maintain an effect.

This has two major effects. The first is that cocaine use results in chemical dependency at a much faster rate than many other illicit substances. The second effect is that users build a tolerance to the effects of cocaine much faster as well. These factors are influenced by the method that cocaine is used; users that smoke or inject cocaine are much more likely to develop a powerful addiction and high tolerance within a short period of time. This is not to say that snorting cocaine won’t result in both addiction and a high tolerance, as the vast majority of users snort cocaine and have crippling addictions and high tolerance to the drug.

How Long is Cocaine Detectable by Drug Tests?

Although the full effects of a cocaine high may only last 15 minutes when smoked, or an hour when snorted, the presence of cocaine within the body is detectable for a much longer period. When cocaine enters the body it primarily produces its effect by interacting with the brain and central nervous system (CNS). However, cocaine also enters organs such as the kidneys and liver, as well as embedding itself in some fatty tissues. The body quickly begins to break down, or metabolize, cocaine into metabolites that then begin to be excreted. These metabolites are how tests detect cocaine long after it has been used. Specifically, drug tests look for the presence of the cocaine metabolite benzoylecgonine in either urine, saliva, or hair. The presence of this metabolite is a strong indication of recent illicit cocaine use.

Detecting the presence of cocaine in the body using a drug test is strongly influenced by a number of factors including how much cocaine was used and how long it was used for. Additional factors that influence the ability to detect cocaine use are the overall health of the person in question, how much fatty tissue they have, and how active and well hydrated they are.

The habit of the person in question has a strong correlation to how long cocaine remains detectable in their system. Although people that abuse cocaine over a long period of time will develop a significant tolerance to the drug’s effects, cocaine will be detectable in their bodies for a much longer period of time than someone who just tried it once. This is due to a number of factors, the primary factor being that cocaine and its subsidiary metabolites continue to accrue in the tissues of a person over a long period of time. Because these deposits of metabolites will be greater in the fatty tissues and organs, full excretion of the them will take much longer.

In a similar sense, the amount of cocaine used in a short period of time will also result in higher concentrations of cocaine metabolites in the fatty tissues and organs of the user. The use of large amounts of cocaine in a short period of time, known as binging, significantly increases the length of time that it takes the body to fully flush cocaine metabolites from the body. In such cases, cocaine can be detected in urine for as long as 12 days after last use. In contrast, a person who tries cocaine once will only have detectable levels of metabolites in urine for anywhere from 2 – 4 days.

Drug tests for cocaine vary in their effectiveness and ability to detect the presence of cocaine. Because cocaine is broken down and excreted relatively rapidly compared to other drugs such as marijuana, cocaine can be a difficult drug to test for. With a typical saliva or blood test, cocaine remains detectable in the body anywhere from 24-48 hours after use. Urine tests are capable of detecting the presence of cocaine metabolites for a much longer period of time.

As mentioned, a one-time user of cocaine will test positive on a urine test for cocaine use in most cases for up to 4 days after use. The most effective method of testing for cocaine use is a drug test that takes a sample of hair follicles. Cocaine remains detectable in hair samples up to 90 days following use, making this a highly effective, albeit expensive and not widely available, method of testing.

Effects of Cocaine Abuse

Although cocaine is a fast acting drug that is quickly excreted from the body, the effects of cocaine abuse have far reaching consequences. The first, and most long-lasting consequence of cocaine abuse is a crippling chemical dependency on the drug. Cocaine’s cycle in the body of fast action on the brain’s pleasure pathways followed by rapid excretion force users to administer ever increasing doses at faster rates. Within a short time, this process results in a powerful addiction to cocaine.

In addition to addiction, cocaine has a number of negative health consequences resulting from both short and long-term use. Intense periods of depression, anxiety, and paranoia are all common symptoms in those who abuse cocaine recreationally. Cocaine use over an extended period of time can also have a serious negative impact on physical well-being. Lastly, interactions between cocaine and the musculoskeletal structures of the body can cause lasting damage.

If you suspect your loved one is abusing cocaine, it is vitally important that you seek out a professional drug treatment program for them as soon as possible. The cocaine detox process is difficult and should be conducted in an inpatient cocaine addiction treatment detox center where your loved one will have access to constant medical supervision and care. Detoxing at an inpatient drug rehab care facility will allow medical staff to treat the depression and anxiety that often accompanies long-term drug abuse.

Most importantly, medical staff will also be able to work with your loved one to overcome the chemical dependency and underlying pattern of cocaine addiction. Detoxing from cocaine and overcoming the addiction and chemical dependency can be a straining process, and in many cases results in repeated relapse outside of an in-patient care facility. To give your loved one the best chances of success, contact HARP, a drug treatment center, today and we can create a comprehensive cocaine treatment plan that is uniquely tailored to their needs.

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