Codeine is an opiate analgesic that is used to treat mild to moderate pain and sometimes to treat cough symptoms. It is a common ingredient in prescription cold and cough medicines, and it may be combined with acetaminophen as a pain reliever.
Codeine is usually detectable on a urine-based drug test for a couple days after use.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration classifies codeine as a Schedule III drug when the preparation has less than 90 milligrams of codeine. This means that the medication has accepted medical use and low risk of potential dependency and abuse.
As an opioid medication, codeine is weaker than morphine. There still remains some risk of dependency and abuse, and the medication can be misused.
It is also in the antitussive class of medications, which is why it is effective at suppressing cough symptoms.
Codeine is usually taken every four to six hours for medical purposes. It is available in tablet and liquid form often prepared as a cough syrup.
How Long Does it Take to Detox from Codeine?
The amount of times it takes to detox from codeine depends on how much of the drug you have been taking and for how long. Withdrawal generally lasts from a couple days to a week.
The length of time to detox will be influenced by other factors, such as other substances you are using and body composition factors.
Dependency develops if you have been taking medication for a prolonged period of time, and your body develops physical cravings for the drug. When this happens, people may experience withdrawal symptoms when they attempt to stop taking the medication.
Potential Detox Symptoms from Codeine Include the Following:
- Flu-like symptoms
- Changes in blood pressure
- Mood swings
- Variations in the respiratory rate
- Disrupted sleep
- Alterations in heart rate
- Cravings for the drug
The duration and severity of these symptoms will vary among individuals, depending on their level of dependency on the medication. Others who have only been taking the medication for a short period of time may not experience any of these symptoms.
How Long is Codeine Detectable in Your System?
Codeine has a half-life of approximately three hours. This is the amount of time it takes for half the drug to be processed out of the body. The drug is detectable in your body at this point, and you may still be feeling its effects.
The drug can be detected on drug tests within a couple hours after the first dose while it begins to be metabolized by the body. It can still be detectable for some time after that point, depending on the sample being used to test for the presence of codeine.
There are some general guidelines for detection time frames for different sample types.
- Urine sample: Codeine is detectable from two hours to three days after use.
- Blood sample: The drug is detectable for up to 24 hours.
- Saliva sample: It is detectable from one to four days after use.
- Hair sample: Codeine is detectable from two weeks to up to 90 days after use.
The effects of codeine will begin to be felt in the body within a few minutes when it is taken in syrup form and within 10 to 30 minutes when taken in tablet form. The effects may last for four to six hours.
What are the Risks of Use?
As with all medications, codeine use comes with some risks. The medication can be habit-forming and comes with the serious risk of respiratory depression.
Codeine is an opioid, so it has many of the same risks as other drugs in the opioid family.
Opioids are highly addictive. Even less potent forms of the drug, such as codeine, come with the risk of withdrawal symptoms if you have developed a dependency on the drug. This is why codeine should only be taken within recommended limits and should not be used recreationally.
As a central nervous system depressant, codeine can slow down the respiratory system. In extreme cases, people can stop breathing and die. This adverse outcome is more likely if codeine is combined with other drugs.
Misusing codeine by taking more than the prescribed amount, more frequent doses, or combining with alcohol or other substances can substantially increase the risk of overdose and other adverse outcomes. Other medications that are also CNS depressants are of particular concern because the combination of multiple drugs acting to depress the respiratory system can escalate the risk of overdose and fatalities.
Pediatric Use of Codeine
Codeine is sometimes used as an opioid of choice for children because it is a less potent form of opiate-derived medications. It is used in postoperative pain treatment and for other appropriate medical uses.
Researchers have warned that codeine can be dangerous for pediatric patients, with an increasing incidence rate of respiratory depression, brain injuries, and death even when given in clinically appropriate dosages based on weight.
Other medications have been shown to be just as effective as codeine for pain management, so there may be other options that have fewer risks.
Is Codeine Safe?
Adults using codeine as prescribed can use the medication safely. Always follow the prescribing instructions regarding dosage and frequency of use. Avoid using other substances with codeine unless a doctor specifically advises it.
Codeine should never be used as a recreational substance of abuse.