Cocaine is one of the most popular drugs in the world, with an estimated 14-21 million people abusing it worldwide. In the U.S. alone, the illicit cocaine market is worth some $300+ billion. Cocaine is popular for its quick action, relatively low profile for abuse, and euphoric highs, but it is far from safe. The drug results in numerous side-effects including chronic conditions, addiction, and accounts for the deaths of 4,000+ people each year. As a result, workplaces and organizations often include cocaine in drug panel testing, especially considering statistics suggesting that as much as 3% of the population have used cocaine at least once in their lives.
If you or a loved one is about to face a blood test at work, there’s a lot you should know. If you’ve been using, it’s likely a good idea to discuss your use with your employer upfront or seek out rehab before the blood test. If not, it’s still useful to understand how long cocaine stays in your system, what’s likely to come up on a drug test, and when and how cocaine does show up on tests.
Cocaine Action in the Blood
Drugs react in the body for a duration known as the action period, which changes dramatically depending on how long the chemical lasts in the body before it is broken down into something else. Cocaine has a short action period, meaning that it is broken down and no longer in the body for a significantly shorter time than a longer acting drug such as heroin.
Use and Action
Cocaine is typically snorted, smoked, or injected, each of which affect the drug’s period of action.
Snorting – One of the most well-known forms of cocaine usage, snorting, takes action within a few seconds. The drug crosses the blood-brain barrier through the nasal passages and begins to take effect within a few minutes. Its action is typically gone in as little as 15-30 minutes.
Smoking – Crack cocaine can be smoked and inhaled through several devices. This method is one of the most dangerous, as it causes massive damage to the lungs and respiratory system. Here, the drug takes effect within a few seconds and last up to 5 minutes.
Injection – Cocaine is sometimes mixed with water and injected, with the intent of creating a longer and more powerful high. Injection creates added risks, but might lengthens the action of the drug, resulting in 20-30 minutes of drug action.
Ingestion – Eating coca leaves typically results in a slow and prolonged high, with effects kicking in after 10-20 minutes and lasting as long as 90 minutes.
Half-life refers to the duration of action of the drug in the body before its volume reaches half of the original. This is not affected by method of use. Half-life refers to how long it takes the drug to break down in the body into new chemicals and separate components. For cocaine, this period is one hour. Cocaine then breaks down into metabolites norcocaine, benzoylecgonine, and coca ethylene. These metabolites can still be detected in the blood and many drug tests will look for them. It takes another hour for that volume to diminish by half again.
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How Long Does Cocaine Appear in Drug Test Results?
Cocaine drug tests look for the drug and its metabolites in several different ways.
Saliva drug tests are conducted using a cheek swab, which is tested for cocaine or its metabolites. This test is fast, minimally invasive, and therefore often preferred for many types of drugs. However, saliva also has the shortest period of results. In most cases, saliva tests will show a positive result 1-2 days after someone has taken cocaine. This result will last longer if that person frequently uses cocaine.
Blood tests are the most invasive drug test and are therefore not used by many employers. Cocaine typically shows up in blood for the full duration of action of cocaine and its metabolites, or about one day.
Urine testing is considered the most common and most accurate way to test for cocaine, because it offers a balance of low-invasiveness and higher accuracy. This test will show cocaine usage from about 4-days prior for an occasional user. For a long-term user, this duration can be as long as two weeks.
Hair and nail tests are typically conducted as follow-ups to positive drug-test results on saliva or urine tests to determine longer-term cocaine usage. Cocaine can show up in the hair and nails for 90 days or longer after usage, depending on use and pattern of use. However, hair tests have been disproven to some extent. For example, one ruling stated that cocaine hair tests could not be used as conclusive evidence of drug usage, considering it couldn’t be proven the cocaine wasn’t picked up from the environment. This is especially crucial considering self-reported cocaine users taking hair sample drug tests show a direct correlation between increased hair pigmentation and cocaine retention in the hair. So, persons with dark black hair are significantly more likely to test positive for cocaine usage than persons with lighter hair.
False positive cocaine tests are extremely rare. While false positives for the entire drug-test industry are as high as 5-10%, false positives for cocaine are almost unheard of.
Factors Influencing How Long Cocaine Stays in Your System
The average person will test positive for cocaine usage 1-4 days after use or up to 90 days for hair and nails. However, various factors will impact this, sometimes greatly.
The longer and more frequently someone uses cocaine, the longer the drug will show up in their blood. This happens through a process known as accumulation, where the drug builds up in the blood, fat cells, and in the glands of the mouth and takes longer to be eliminated. Accumulation can increase the detection period of cocaine by as long as 10 days for urine tests through kidney accumulation, and significantly longer for hair and nail tests.
Cocaine metabolization is affected by the metabolism, body weight, and genetics. This can add anywhere from –1 to +3 days to drug test results. The median person will still test positive within 1-4 days.
Trace remains or drug metabolites can show up in the system for significantly longer than the drug itself. If the employer or lab is testing for those metabolites specifically or the body is very bad at processing them, someone could test positive for far longer.
If you or a loved one is struggling with cocaine use, it is important to get help. A rehabilitation center can help you with detox treatment and long-term therapy and behavioral therapy to help you get your life back. Treatment can help to identify underlying problems and behaviors that result in drug use, treat those, help individuals to create coping mechanisms and alternative behaviors, and help them build the skills to live a happy life without cocaine. Getting help also protects you from negative consequences at work, because while you can suffer repercussions for being caught using on a drug test, you are protected if you get help. The ACA and FMLA acts each list substance use disorder as a temporary disability and a mental health problem. You are entitled to protection, to keep your job, and to medical leave to seek out rehabilitation.
Cocaine is a very commonly used drug but that doesn’t make it safe. Users experience physical side-effects, illnesses, chronic (permanent) conditions, and addiction. If you use, your job and career could be at risk. While drug use doesn’t show up on a drug test for long, most users are eventually caught in drug tests, especially surprise ones. The best way to protect yourself, your career, and your health is to get clean.
If you or your loved-one is seeking help for substance addiction, call us at (714) 443-8218 and look into our recovery programs. Our Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center in Huntington Beach helps clients by providing them with addiction intervention services, detox, and residential addiction treatment.
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