Cocaine, classified as a stimulant, is known today as an illicit drug, but it has legitimate roots in the medical field. Originally used as a medical-grade pain reliever or anesthetic, cocaine eventually came to be phased out as its addiction potential outstripped its therapeutic value. However, pharmaceutical grade cocaine remains in use today in prescription drugs such as Esterom for myalgia. The black market production of cocaine involved refining the drug from coca leaves of a plant of the same name. Cocaine is said to have experienced its heyday in the 1980s and 1990s, but this stimulant continues to be a drug of abuse today.
When a person takes cocaine, the ensuing high typically lasts 30 minutes to two hours. Cocaine typically circulates through the body in a 12-72 hour period. When a person consumes cocaine (chemically known as benzoylmethylecgonine), the liver converts it to the metabolite benzoylecgonine. Many individuals may think that the focus of cocaine screening is for cocaine, but usually it is for benzoylecgonine, which usually takes longer to be eliminated from the body. To provide clarity on this distinction, cocaine has a one-hour half-life whereas benzoylecgonine has a six-hour half-life.
The length of time benzoylecgonine takes to be eliminated from a person’s body depends on the following factors:
- Volume of cocaine consumed
- How regularly or frequently cocaine is used
- Individual physiological factors, such as weight and body type
- A person’s rate of metabolism
In terms of an estimated timeline, the minimum time benzoylecgonine takes to be removed from the body is 4-5 days. If a person has been using cocaine heavily, benzoylecgonine may take approximately 10 days to exit the body. In regular users, even if they have a pattern of consuming modest amounts of cocaine, it may take approximately 20 days for benzoylecgonine to leave the body. Certain factors may cause the elimination time of benzoylecgonine to take longer, including consumption of alcohol or caffeinated beverages.
Detecting Cocaine Use
Detection methods are sensitive to the presence of cocaine or benzoylecgonine in different ways. A saliva test can reveal cocaine use as soon as 5-10 minutes after consumption and for up to four days. In urine, cocaine is detectable within 2-5 hours of use, and it can be detected for up to four days. Blood testing can identify cocaine within 5-6 hours of use and for up to seven days or more. Benzoylecgonine usually shows up in the hair 5-7 days after first use and will remain detectable for up to 90 days. All of the foregoing timeframes are based on estimates; individual cases may vary.
Among chronic users of cocaine, the drug has been shown to store itself in different fatty tissues in the body, including the liver. After each use, a small portion of the drug is stored in the body, leading to a higher inventory with each use. But the drug does not remain stored; it is continuously released into the bloodstream even after a person stops consuming it. For this reason, former chronic users who become abstinent may still test positive for this drug for up to six months. After cocaine is entirely eliminated from the body, a person can then be said to be fully detoxed.
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