How long does cocaine stay in your system?

Kate West AlphaBiolabs

By Kate West, Senior Toxicology Reporting Scientist at AlphaBiolabs
Last reviewed: 06/09/2023

As a UKAS-accredited laboratory providing peace of mind and legally-instructed drug tests, we are often asked about how specific drugs affect the body.

It’s no secret that cocaine use is widespread in Britain, with powder cocaine being the most used stimulant in the country, and the second most prevalent drug overall.

In this article, we take a closer look at cocaine, why it’s addictive, how long cocaine stays in your system, and the long-term effects of cocaine use.

What happens in the body when you take drugs?

When a person consumes drugs, they are broken down by the liver, and a proportion of the drug and its metabolites are released into the bloodstream.

Some of the drug and its metabolites can then be detected in the body in different ways including via sweat, urine, saliva, hair and nails.

In the case of hair and nails, a proportion of the drug and its metabolites travel to the blood vessels in the scalp and nail bed.

Substances then become trapped in the hair shaft (medulla) and the keratin fibres of the nails, remaining in hair and nails as they grow, and making it possible to determine whether someone has consumed drugs, using hair and/or nail testing.

What is cocaine?

Cocaine (cocaine hydrochloride), also commonly referred to as Coke, is a highly addictive and dangerous stimulant drug made from dried coca leaves.

Often sold as a white powder that is usually snorted, cocaine is categorised as a Class A drug in the UK, ranking it among the most harmful illegal drugs along with heroin, ecstasy, methamphetamine, and LSD.

Under UK law, offences involving the possession, supply or distribution of cocaine and other Class A drugs carry the most serious penalties.

What does cocaine do to you?

It’s important to remember that drugs affect different people in different ways, so not everybody will have the same experience while using the same substances and can even affect the same person differently when taken at a different time.

Cocaine belongs to a group of drugs called stimulants, which speed up the messages travelling between the brain and the body, making the user feel more alert, confident, or energetic.

Other examples of stimulants include caffeine, nicotine, ecstasy, and amphetamines.

Cocaine can also cause other physical side effects including increased heart rate, anxiety, nausea and/or paranoia.

Individuals using cocaine may also feel more confident than usual. This can make them more prone to risk-taking, which can be dangerous.

Is cocaine addictive?

Yes, cocaine is an extremely addictive stimulant drug.

The intense high caused by cocaine can often lead to people developing extremely harmful addictions.

When a person ingests cocaine, it causes the brain to release a powerful chemical (neurotransmitter) called dopamine, which creates a feeling of pleasure and reward.

This pleasurable sensation can lead to individuals developing a dependency, as the more cocaine a person uses, the more that is required to achieve what the user would deem to be a satisfactory high.

How long does cocaine stay in your system?

When a person uses cocaine, a proportion of the drug and its metabolites are released into the bloodstream, with a small amount being excreted by the body in a variety of ways.

How long a drug remains in the system depends on how much a person has taken as well as several other factors including frequency of use, body mass and metabolism.

How long does it take for cocaine to show up in a drug test?

The length of time that cocaine stays in the system and causes effects differs from the length of time it takes for cocaine use to be detected by a drug test.

This is because, unlike some drugs, the body can metabolise cocaine fairly quickly.

This means that although the high will have long worn off, cocaine use can be detected by a drug test long after is has been consumed, depending on the type of drug test you take.

For oral fluid (saliva) drug tests, cocaine remains detectable 24-48 hours after use, while urine drug tests provide a detection window of up to four days.

The rate at which head hair grows means that head hair drug tests provide a wide window of detection for cocaine use, making it possible to detect metabolites in the hair for up to 12 months of continuous use, depending on the length of the hair.

Similarly, nail drug testing can be used to provide an overview of up to 12 months for drug use (six months for fingernails and 12 months for toenails).

What factors affect how long cocaine stays in your system?

The length of time that cocaine remains in the system depends on many factors including:

  • Quantities taken and frequency of use
  • Metabolism and weight
  • Method used to ingest the drug – for example, whether it has been snorted, smoked, or injected

What are the long-term effects of cocaine use?

Cocaine is a dangerous, highly addictive stimulant drug.

Although its effects typically only last around 20-30 minutes after consumption, if used regularly, cocaine can cause several long-term physical and psychological problems, including:

  • Intense mood swings
  • Paranoia
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • High blood pressure and increased heart rate
  • Breathing problems

What are the signs of cocaine addiction?

With cocaine being one of the most common recreational drugs, many people who are battling cocaine addiction may not even realise that they have a problem.

Spotting the signs of cocaine addiction early can help ensure an individual gets access to the support they need to kick their habit as soon as possible.

If you have concerns that a friend or family member might be struggling with cocaine addiction, there are several signs you can look out for, including:

  • Dishonesty about using
  • Using alone or seeking out others who use
  • Taking cocaine when they have said they aren’t going to
  • Going to extremes to get hold of it
  • Disinterest in other things
  • Using cocaine outside of social occasions
  • Continuing to take it, even when it is causing them harm

There are many helpful resources online for individuals struggling with cocaine addiction, as well as for friends and family members affected by a loved one’s cocaine use.

How can I find out if a friend or family member is using cocaine?

AlphaBiolabs offers a range of easy-to-use, home drug tests, designed to give you peace of mind or enable you to seek support for a friend or loved one who has been abusing drugs.

Simply choose our Drug and Alcohol Nail Test (from £99) or our Home Urine Drug Test Kit (£18) and place your order online today.

For confidential advice about which test might best suit your needs, you can also call our Customer Services team on 0333 600 1300 or email

Please be aware that our home drug test kits are for peace of mind only, and the results cannot be used in court. If you require a drug test for legal matters, you will need a legally-instructed drug test.


Home drug tests

Concerned about a loved one using drugs? Order one of our home drug tests today and get the answers you need.

Kate West AlphaBiolabs

Kate West

Senior Toxicology Reporting Scientist at AlphaBiolabs

A highly qualified and respected Senior Toxicology Reporting Scientist, Kate joined AlphaBiolabs in 2018, bringing a wealth of experience from a background in forensic science.

A specialist in the examination of biological samples, Kate’s main responsibilities include writing Statement of Witness and Certificate of Analysis reports for legally-instructed drug and alcohol tests, and mentoring and training other members of the Toxicology Reporting team.

Kate holds an MSc in Forensic Toxicology by Research and a BSc with Honours in Biomedical Science and has previously been called upon to give evidence in court, reporting on complex child cases.

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