How long does cocaine stay in your system?

Our bodies are fascinating, intricate organisms. Different parts of our bodies can hold onto things, containing impressions of our histories as we move through our lives. Many things, including drugs, chemically alter our bodies. These drugs – such as cocaine – can imprint our bodily matter far after consumption.

But how long do these echoes last? What does cocaine do to the body, and how can it be identified in our systems?

The importance of knowing

When drugs are consumed, the focus is typically on the moment – how the high might feel or what the high can help us deal with. It’s not as often that we think about what comes afterwards: the comedown, the potential health effects, or how long the substance lingers in our bodies.

It’s important to know how long drugs stay in our system for several reasons:


we can better understand substances’ effect on us when we realise how long they can be present in our bodies. Knowledge about drugs helps us to understand their impact. For example, cocaine can be detected in breast milk, leading medical professionals to advise that mothers not breastfeed their children for 90 days after using cocaine.


knowing how long drugs are present in our bodies helps us to understand the potential legal risks of using drugs when it comes to drug testing.

Cocaine: The Science

Cocaine is a potent stimulant that accelerates communication within the central nervous system (CNS). Derived from coca plant leaves, its primary active component is cocaine hydrochloride. Cocaine exerts its effects by targeting the mesolimbic dopamine system, inhibiting dopamine transporters, leading to an artificial elevation of dopamine levels. Since dopamine is closely linked to feelings of reward and pleasure, this inhibition triggers intense euphoria as the brain interprets this surplus of neurotransmitters as a rewarding experience.

Once the body starts to break down cocaine, the drug creates metabolites. Metabolites are chemical compounds that are specific to different substances.

Cocaine has several primary metabolites:

  • Benzoylecgonine (BE)
  • Ecgonine methyl ester (EME)

And several more minor metabolites:

  • Norcocaine
  • P-hydroxy cocaine
  • M-hydroxy cocaine
  • P-hydroxy benzoylecgonine (pOHBE)
  • M-hydroxy benzoylecgonine

The identification of any of these compounds in a sample would suggest that cocaine is (or has recently been) present in the body.

Cocaine and the Body: Short-Term Effects

Alongside its effects on the dopamine system, cocaine causes a plethora of short-term symptoms.

Physical Effects

  • Dilated pupils
  • Narrowing of the blood vessels
  • Tachycardia
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Higher temperature
  • Tremors
  • Twitching in the muscles

Dilated pupil

Psychological Effects

  • Anxiety or panic
  • Agitation
  • Paranoia
  • Restlessness, finding it hard to stay still

The period of time that these effects can be felt will depend on several factors, including the method of use.

Cocaine and the Body: Long-term effects

Like with any other drug, the more frequently you use cocaine, the more likely you are to experience long-term effects.

Physical Effects

  • Risk of stroke
  • Risk of seizures
  • Risk of haemorrhage
  • Heart inflammation
  • Aortic ruptures
  • Weight loss
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Respiratory issues
  • Impaired sense of smell
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Nosebleeds
  • Frequently runny nose

Psychological Effects

  • Panic attacks
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Psychosis

Man having panic attack

How can cocaine be detected?

Cocaine can be detected in your system by tests that identify cocaine metabolites as your body breaks the drug down. Major cocaine metabolites can be detected in various different bodily matter.

Blood Tests…

Cocaine metabolites can be present in your blood plasma for up to two days after use.

This means a blood sample drug test may read positive for cocaine for up to forty-eight hours after use.

Hair Tests…

Cocaine metabolites can be present in your hair for up to ninety days after use.

This means a drug test using a hair sample may read positive for cocaine in the hair follicle for up to three months after use.

Saliva Tests…

Cocaine metabolites can be present in your saliva for up to two days after use.

This means a drug test using a saliva sample may read positive for cocaine for up to forty-eight hours after use.

Urine Tests…

Cocaine metabolites can be present in your urine for up to four days after use.

This means a blood sample drug test may read positive for cocaine for up to ninety-six hours after use.

Cocaine and detection time

What is Detection Time?

Detection time (sometimes known as a detection window) is the period during which a substance can be identified in your body through toxicological testing.

What affects it?

Whilst research has given us rough estimates to help us understand the detection time for cocaine, there are variables that can affect this, including:

  • How much you use cocaine
  • How frequently you use cocaine
  • The strength of the cocaine you use
  • If you use other drugs
  • Your general health and well-being
  • Your height, weight and body mass

All of these variables will impact how quickly your body can break down cocaine.

If you use cocaine frequently, detection windows might be harder to identify as they may begin to overlap.

Cocaine Detection: Potential Risks

Research published in 2020 estimates that around 976,000 people in England and Wales used powder cocaine in 2019.

When might testing happen?

Testing is likely to happen in two contexts: at work or by police. Your employer has the power to conduct drug tests at work as long as they are random and justified. A Police officer can request a sample if you are arrested for a related offence, or they have reasonable suspicion that you have been using substances.

The Legal Risks

Cocaine is a Class A drug, meaning there are penalties for carrying, possessing, using, selling or producing cocaine. These penalties can take the form of cautions, fines, or imprisonment.

Risks at Work

If you test positive for a drug at work, there can be repercussions in your workplace. This could lead to disciplinary action or dismissal and, in some lines of work, can risk restricting the use of professional licences, especially in workplaces that operate vehicles and heavy machinery.

Man stressed after losing job

Clearing cocaine from your system: How to do it safely

The safest option to clear your system from cocaine is by abstaining from use.

Some of the ways you can do this include:

  • Contacting a specialist provider for advice
  • Restricting contact with people, places or events related to use
  • Being honest with family and friends about use in order to build a support network
  • Joining a support group in your area

Get support from us

UKAT is known for running exceptional addiction centres that provide bespoke support for individuals dealing with drug and alcohol addiction.

If you or a loved one are struggling with cocaine addiction, we can offer specialist advice and treatment packages facilitated by industry professionals at our Oasis Bradford treatment centre.

Professional support means putting you first. We have a range of packages available with several types of rehab programmes to suit the needs of each individual.

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