This article has been reviewed for accuracy by our peer review team which includes clinicians and medical professionals. Learn more about our peer review process.
A powerful stimulant made from the leaves of the coca plant, cocaine is, of course, highly addictive. Most cocaine is used recreationally and is an illegal street drug. When sold illicitly, cocaine resembles a fine, white powder that users may sniff, snort, inject, or even rub onto their gums.
Some users smoke crack cocaine (its freebase form) to achieve a high. Cocaine is known to produce an intense feeling of euphoria while increasing energy and alertness. It is also associated with many health risks in addition to its addictive properties.
A cocaine high is not long-lasting at all–often quite short-lived. However, people who use the drug may use it often in order to maintain their high and, eventually, to stave off withdrawal symptoms. Here, we’ll explore time factors associated with a cocaine high and how other substances can affect its use.
How Long Does Cocaine Take to Have an Effect?
The speed at which cocaine takes effect depends on how the individual uses it. Smoking or injecting the drug usually causes a more immediate effect than snorting it or placing it on the gums. That is because the drug enters the bloodstream more quickly when it is injected or smoked. When a person snorts, sniffs, or places it on their gums, the drug must travel through the skin, mucus membranes, and various other bodily tissues before it reaches the bloodstream and begins to cause its euphoric effects. The following is an average timetable for the length of time cocaine takes to produce its effects:
- Snorting/sniffing: 1-3 minutes
- Using it on the gums: 1-3 minutes
- Smoking: 10-15 seconds
- Injecting: 10-15 seconds
Keep in mind that these are average times. The time can be affected by the individual’s own chemistry, the amount of cocaine they use, their tolerance level, and if any other substances are present along with the cocaine.
How Long Does a Cocaine High Last?
Various factors impact the length of cocaine high. Typically, the way a person uses cocaine will influence the length of the high. Although injecting or smoking cocaine can cause the drug to take effect in mere seconds, these methods are also associated with highs that are shorter-lived. On average, cocaine highs last roughly:
Snorting/sniffing: 15-30 minutes
Placing it on the gums: 15-30 minutes
Injecting: 5-15 minutes
Smoking: 5-15 minutes
A cocaine high’s intensity and duration vary from person to person, however. In some situations, a person might feel the effects of the high for more than an hour.
Other substances taken with the cocaine may also affect the high’s duration. Meanwhile, the comedown period (as the high wears off) can also fluctuate. Some people may experience unpleasant side effects like headache or irritability that can last for a few days.
How Long Does Cocaine Stay in a Person’s System?
When cocaine’s effects linger, they do not typically extend beyond four days. The effects of cocaine may disappear for some people after a single day. However, the drug may still be detected for a much longer period of time depending on the method of detection. Factors that affect the amount of time that cocaine will remain in the body include:
- The amount of cocaine used
- How frequently the individual uses cocaine
- The method of using cocaine (i.e. sniffing, snorting, etc…)
- The purity of the cocaine
- Other substances that may be used with the cocaine
- The person’s unique chemistry
There are various methods for testing if an individual has used cocaine. These include:
- Urine: 1-4 days
- Saliva: 1-2 days
- Blood: 1-2 days
- Hair: up to three months
The Effects of Cocaine When Used with Other Substances
People who use cocaine may also knowingly or unknowingly do so with other substances. Some drug dealers may add other substances to cocaine to produce the desired effect. Some people may use cocaine while taking other drugs such as prescription medications like narcotics, club drugs, or alcohol.
On its own, cocaine use can be dangerous, but the risks of overdose or some other serious health emergency or outcome can increase when other substances are in the mix. For instance, when fentanyl, a powerful prescription painkiller, is mixed with cocaine, the resulting cocktail can be fatal. Cocaine and fentanyl produce competing effects in the body. Remember that cocaine is a stimulant but fentanyl is a depressant.
People may knowingly take this compound because they like the effects of a euphoric high paired with physical relaxation. For most people, a mere two milligrams of fentanyl is deadly. Would you trust a drug dealer to measure those amounts precisely?
Cocaine and heroin have also been a popular but deadly cocktail. Heroin affects the same area of the brain as fentanyl since both drugs are opioids. While a heroin overdose may be reversed with Narcan if the person is brought to the hospital or treated by EMTs in time, fentanyl does not respond as well to Narcan.
Unfortunately, taking cocaine along with other substances heightens the risks for adverse effects considerably. The substances can drastically alter the effects of cocaine. In short, it is never wise to mix illicit or legal drugs together.
What Are the Long-Term Dangers of Cocaine Use?
The long-term dangers of cocaine need to be taken seriously. In addition to the ever-present risk of overdose, cocaine use can damage organs in the body. Many people have developed tears and ulcerations in their gastrointestinal tract because of the reduced blood flow caused by cocaine use.
Of course, regular cocaine abuse can also lead to the development of addiction. Cocaine use, particularly among those addicted to it, can cause changes in the brain’s chemistry that result in the development of a mental health disorder such as anxiety or depression.
Perhaps most notably, cocaine use is associated with an increased risk for heart emergencies. Cocaine has toxic effects on the cardiovascular system. It can cause inflammation of the heart, deterioration of the heart’s functionality (literally, it’s ability to contract), and ruptures of the aorta.
The way that a person uses cocaine can also lead to the development of health problems. For instance, use of needles carries an increased risk for contracting hepatitis or HIV.
Recognizing a Cocaine Emergency
Taking too much cocaine can lead to a toxic emergency. As mentioned, cocaine is associated with an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. A person who is experiencing a cocaine emergency might mention feeling intense chest pain or extreme dizziness. They may become confused and incoherent. Other symptoms of cocaine overdose include:
- Increased body temperature
- Teeth grinding
- High blood pressure
In a recent year, nearly 16,000 people lost their lives because of a cocaine overdose. However, that number increases when one factor in the damage that cocaine use causes to organs like that heart, damage that may contribute to their premature demise.
Do not underestimate the dangers of cocaine use. If you are using this drug or have become addicted to it, seek help right away. FHE Health specializes in addiction treatment. The sooner you are able to kick your cocaine habit, the sooner you can protect your health.