Along with being one of the most addictive substances, cocaine is one of the most popular drugs among users in the U.S. It is attractive because of its ready availability and the minimal amount of time it takes to achieve a high. To many, the euphoria is hard to resist. However, the euphoria is short-lived, and the damages to your body are anything but. If you or someone you care about is caught in a cocaine addiction, it is important that you understand how the drug works, how it affects your body, and how long it remains in your system.
What Is Cocaine?
Cocaine is a Schedule II controlled substance that carries a high risk for abuse. Users can easily become both physically and psychologically dependent on it. This powerful stimulant is made from the leaves of the coca plant. While there are some limited medical uses, such as a local anesthetic, it is primarily considered to be an illegal recreational street drug.
Coca leaves are processed into a powder that is usually snorted or mixed with water and injected into a vein. With a little more processing, the smokable variant known as crack is formed. The drug is commonly used in binges where the user will ingest a large quantity in a short period of time. During a cocaine binge, the user will require increasing doses to maintain the high that they seek.
How Long Does the High Last?
In contrast with other addictive substances, the cocaine high is relatively short. When the drug is introduced through smoking, the high will only remain for an average of five to 15 minutes. If the drug is snorted, the high usually lasts for an average of 30 minutes. For the chronic user, the short high is expected, leading them to use ever-increasing quantities to maintain the initial euphoria.
How Does Cocaine Affect You?
Cocaine introduces a feeling of euphoria in the user. They will feel mentally alert and wide awake. Those who may be normally shy will feel more confident. Some users may become sexually aroused. Most users become talkative during the time that they are high. Chronic cocaine users will feel a sense of invincibility.
From a more physiological perspective, the user will exhibit the following physical signs when they are high:
- Dilated pupils
- Elevated blood pressure
- Rapid pulse
- Constricted blood vessels
- Irregular heartbeat
- Elevated body temperature
Once the high has ended, the user tends to crash relatively quickly. A crash will leave the user feeling severely depressed and agitated. They will experience mood swings and anxiety. Finally, they will be exhausted and might sleep for extended periods of time.
The Potential for Overdose
From the very first time a user tries cocaine, there is a possibility of overdose as the drug affects everyone differently. Those who binge on the drug can find themselves at higher risk for overdose. When mixed with other substances, the effects of cocaine can become even more lethal. For example, one would think that mixing cocaine with alcohol would minimize the effects of both substances because of their opposite effects of stimulant and depressant. Instead, the two substances metabolize in the liver to become a chemical called cocaethylene.
These days, cocaine can be cut with other drugs or substances so that it is more profitable for the dealer. However, the products that are being used might make it even more dangerous, and it might take even less of the cocaine to reach levels of overdose. If you or a loved one is chronically using cocaine, you should try to get them help quickly to prevent them from doing further damage to their body.
Common long-term effects on the chronic cocaine user include weight loss, liver damage, kidney damage, memory loss, and damage to the nose that includes the drug eating a hole in the septum that separates the two nasal passages. Chronic users will also suffer from frequent sinus infections and gastrointestinal responses such as nausea, vomiting, and frequent diarrhea. Many of these long-term effects are not only a result of the cocaine use itself but also the ingestion of any filler substances that are commonly added to it.
How Cocaine Works in the Body
It takes approximately 30 minutes to enter the bloodstream when cocaine is taken orally. When the drug is snorted, large amounts of the drug enter the bloodstream through the thin nasal membranes. The high when the drug is snorted typically lasts for about 15 to 30 minutes.
If you are smoking cocaine in the form of crack, the drug enters your lungs and is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream. This approach gives you a high that lasts an average of five to 15 minutes.
When you administer cocaine intravenously, the drug enters the bloodstream immediately. The drug then travels through the circulatory system and becomes distributed throughout the body’s tissues. Highs from intravenous administration tend to last up to an hour or more.
Cocaine acts on the dopamine that exists in brain cells. Normally, dopamine is released and then recycled by the same brain cells. Once the cocaine reaches your brain tissue, it gives you the feeling of a rush by blocking the reuptake of dopamine, the feel-good chemical, which then keeps dopamine levels high. This allows for an ongoing stimulation of the receptors as the dopamine continues to build up between brain cells.
When cocaine reaches the liver, it is metabolized into different metabolites. The primary metabolite is called benzoylecgonine. Cocaine then reaches the kidneys for processing. Approximately 1-5% of the drug is excreted through urine. The whole process of using cocaine from ingesting it to it being excreted takes an average of an hour to an hour and a half.
What Happens to the Metabolites?
The metabolites will continue to be processed through the system at rates that depend on factors such as age, weight, and the amount of the drug you have done. In general, benzoylecgonine levels are found in drug tests within five days of use. This number should be considered for the occasional user who is younger, in good physical shape, of average weight, and generally healthy. There are situations where benzoylecgonine levels are detected long after the drug is used, and those will be addressed later in this article.
When you have blood, urine, saliva, and hair drug tests, it is the metabolites that bring a positive result. For a healthy individual who uses the drug rarely, a positive drug test for cocaine can be received within the following timeframes:
- Blood test: Cocaine is detectable for 24 hours.
- Saliva test: Cocaine is detectable for one to two days.
- Urine test: Cocaine is detectable for one to three days, but benzoylecgonine can be detectable for up to two weeks.
- Hair test: Cocaine is often detectable for months and sometimes years.
Detection Times When Cocaine Is Mixed With Alcohol
When you mix alcohol with cocaine, the chemical cocaethylene is metabolized in the liver. Studies have shown that the presence of alcohol will slow the elimination of the drug, and cocaethylene is detected in drug tests long after cocaine would have been eliminated by the body without the presence of alcohol. The cocaethylene metabolite has been known to remain in your system for up to five times longer than cocaine alone.
What Are Detection Timeframes for Heavy Users?
Detection of metabolites related to cocaine use is much different for heavy users of the drug. The following factors can influence the time that the metabolites remain in your system:
- Frequency of use: Chronic users will retain metabolites in their system longer than those who only use the drug intermittently.
- Quantity: Higher doses stay in your system longer, so when coming off a binge, the metabolites will be present for an extended period of time.
- Age: As you get older, your metabolism slows down, and it takes longer for your body to eliminate the metabolites.
- Health: Your overall health matters. Those individuals who suffer from any degree of kidney or liver disease will be slower to metabolize cocaine. This is because the kidneys and liver are the locations in the body where the blood is filtered and where toxins are eliminated.
- Exercise: People who exercise frequently and live an active lifestyle usually have a higher metabolic rate, so cocaine is metabolized quickly. Those who live a more sedentary lifestyle will retain the metabolites for a longer period of time.
- Body Mass: Cocaine is fat-soluble. A body with a higher fat percentage will retain the metabolites in the fat tissue for a longer period of time than in a body with a lower body mass.
- Purity of the Drug: Most of the cocaine on the street is cut with other substances, such as cornstarch, laxatives, methamphetamine, and even fentanyl, among other things, to be more profitable to dealers. The higher the percentage of pure cocaine, the longer it will stay in your system.
Granite Recovery Centers
Our treatment program at Granite Recovery Centers offers a customized treatment option for everyone. Our founders are well-versed in the recovery process as they have been where you are. We offer an evidence-based treatment program that is highly effective for helping you begin your sober journey.
When you first enter treatment, you will be medically evaluated and placed in a medically supervised detox program where you will remain for approximately one week or longer if necessary. Following detox, you enter inpatient treatment where you will attend group therapy, individual counseling, and 12-step meetings. There will also be daily exercise and time spent learning how to channel your energy into positive behaviors such as meditation. You will also learn how to incorporate healthier nutritional habits into your lifestyle.
Granite Recovery Centers will work with you to determine the amount of time that you will need to remain in the inpatient program. You might be able to transition to our intensive outpatient program depending on your circumstances. Following inpatient and/or outpatient treatment, you will have options to help you stay on your path of recovery. It is highly recommended that you stay in an aftercare program where you will continue to receive counseling. We also offer options for sober living so that you can live in an environment where your peers are as focused on recovery as you are.
Each of our Granite Recovery Centers locations is set in an environment of tranquility to help you heal. As you learn new behaviors to replace your addictive activities, you will find a supportive, healthy, and nurturing environment. Give us a call today to take the first step on the road to recovery.