What is a Drug’s Half-Life?

One term that is frequently encountered when dealing with abuse of prescriptions or illegal drugs is “half-life.” It is also sometimes called an “elimination half-life.” As the name suggests, a drug’s half-life is how long it takes for the drug’s concentration to drop 50%.

Each drug has a different half-life. This is determined by the drug itself, but also factors impacting how the drug is metabolized in an individual’s body like weight, age, physical health, and sex.

The drug’s half-life determines how long the substance will be in someone’s body and doesn’t directly relate to the onset of euphoric effects. Effects may be felt immediately or within a few minutes, but the half-life of the drug can last hours or days. The drug’s half-life is the same regardless of route of administration (orally versus injection).

The half-life of illegal drugs includes:

  • Heroin: Between 2 and 6 minutes.
  • Cocaine: One hour.
  • Marijuana/THC: Between 4 and 6 days.
  • Methamphetamine: About 11 hours.

Opioid painkillers:

  • Oxycodone: 3 to 5 hours.
  • Morphine: 1 to 7 hours.
  • Fentanyl: 3 to 12 hours.

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