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Article Summary

History Of Cocaine

At some point in history, cocaine was sold as a wonder drug and cure-all for most ailments and pains. The drug set its roots in the days of William Halsted, a pioneering surgeon, and Sigmund Freud. History also shows that the drug was popular among the upper classes and used by Pope Leo XIII and Queen Victoria.

It was only much later that people started to realize the powerful stimulant effects of the drug, as well as the inherent dangers that accompany it - such as the high potential for misuse and abuse, addiction, and other adverse side effects.

Read on to learn more about cocaine and its history of use:

Cocaine In Pre-Historic History

As far back as 3000 BC, the drug was used in the Andes by the ancient Incas as a solution for speeding breathing. By so doing, they were able to counter the effects of living high on the mountains, where the cold mountain air slowed their breathing. The Incas would chew on the leaves of the coca plant, which resulted in the stimulant effects that speeded up their breathing.

Cocaine was also used in Peru for religious purposes during the 1500s. At the time, native Peruvians chewed coca leaves during their religious ceremonies for the stimulant effects that cocaine has today become popular for - including both visual and auditory hallucinations. This mode of use only stopped after Spain invaded the country.

At the same time, Indian laborers working in early Spanish mines also chewed the coca leaves because Spanish settlers believed that cocaine would make it easier for them to control the laborers.

However, cocaine was only isolated from the leaves of the coca plant in the mid-19th century. In 1859, Albert Niemann - a German chemist - extracted cocaine from the leaves.

However, there was no medical use for the drug for a number of years - until the 1880s. Around 1884, Sigmund Freud - an Austrian psychoanalyst - developed his Freudian model of thought that relied heavily on cocaine. Freud himself used the drug and advanced the theory that it was a cure for sexual impotence and depression.

From then on, the history of the drug began developing especially after Freud explained how cocaine was a magical drug in an article, and expounded that it had a wide range of uses and benefits. These included the ability to cure several ailments.

However, Freud was not objective in his advocacy for cocaine. In fact, he was a heavy user and he prescribed it to his acquaintances. He also recommended it for many other uses - some of which were not entirely medical.

Although he was addicted to cocaine, nobody would have known just how serious his condition was. This was because the dangers of cocaine as an addictive drug that caused serious tolerance and dependency were not known at the time.

However, one of his friends who used cocaine as a result of Freud's recommendation ended up suffering psychosis. Other friends noted that the drug caused hallucinations, paranoia, and delusions, with some stating that they felt like they had white snakes on their skin.

Even so, the dangers of cocaine still remained unknown for a number of years. Eventually, Freud stated that there was a danger to abusing cocaine especially when it became toxic.

Understanding Cocaine

Today, cocaine is known as a stimulant substance that is made from the leaves of a plant native to South America - the coca plant. As mentioned above, the drug was used by the indigenous inhabitants of the Andes Mountains and the Amazon Rainforest, where people chewed the leaves of the plant to get energetic.

After it was isolated from the leaves by European scientists in the 1850s, cocaine was eventually lauded as a medical marvel and wonder drug. However, recent findings show that the drug is quite addictive and has a high potential for abuse.

The Coca Plant

Coca is among the oldest cultivated plants. Indigenous to South America, people might have started cultivating it in the Amazon Rainforest from where it was spread to the mountains of the Andes.

Since the leaves of the coca plant increases energy and causes exhilaration, the indigenous inhabitants of the area started chewing them - a habit that persisted for centuries. The leaf was additionally included in many religious and cultural ceremonies of the Incas.

When the Catholic Church started spreading in colonial South America, it viewed the use of cocaine as undermining its ability to spread Christianity. As a result, Catholic bishops petitioned the government of Peru to prohibit the chewing of coca leaves in 1551. Although the government did not ban it entirely, it put restrictions on the amount of land that could be used to cultivate the coca plant.

Cocaine As Medicine

As mentioned above, in 1860 Albert Niemann - a German chemist - isolated the cocaine drug from coca leaves. He noted that the resulting white powder caused his tongue to turn numb.

Around the same period, Angelo Mariani - a French chemist - concocted an unique tonic by mixing coca leaves and Bordeaux wine. Marketed as Vin Mariani, adverts claimed that this drink could restore vitality and health. Due to the addictive nature of cocaine, the concoction eventually became popular.

Over 20 years later, Carl Koller - an Austrian ophthalmologist - experimented with the drug as an anesthetic for surgeries. This is because, at the time, cataract surgery was usually performed without using any anesthesia. Chloroform and ether could not be used because patients would vomit - a problem that made it difficult to perform the typically delicate eye surgeries. Koller found that after soaking the affected eye(s) in a solution of cocaine, patients would no longer flinch after the scalpel he was using touched the eye.

Eventually, many pharmaceutical companies started manufacturing and marketing cocaine heavily. However, enthusiasm for the use of cocaine as a surgical anesthetic waned quite fast because most patients would die of an accidental overdose during surgery.

Freud And Cocaine

Sigmund Freud was an Austrian neurologist known for founding psychoanalysis as a field of medicine. After discovering cocaine, he was soon fascinated by its effects and started experimenting with it.

In 1884, when he was barely 28 years old, Freud published "Uber Coca". In this medical paper, he described the amazing benefits that could be discovered from cocaine - particularly for medicinal purposes.

However, in the paper as in his life, Freud largely overlooked the main disadvantage with the drug - the potential for abuse and addiction. He was to struggle with his addiction over a decade.

Coca-Cola And Cocaine

The Coca-Cola company was founded in 1886 by John Stith Pemberton, an American pharmacist. He created and started marketing Coca-Cola as a beverage that contained a concoction of sugary syrup and cocaine.

Have you ever wondered where Coca-Cola got its name? Well, you might be surprised. When John Pemberton first made the drink, he used coca leaves as the main ingredient in his cola beverage.

Eventually, the drink became popular, mostly because of the increase in energy and euphoric effects it caused in users. This was as a result of the effects that cocaine has on users - including its stimulant characteristics.

Although people did not realize the dangers of cocaine at the time, Coca-Cola became the most popular and widely consumed beverage. Its popularity has never waned since, even with the introduction of other soft drinks into the market.

At the time, the beverage was only sold at soda fountains. Due to racial segregation, the drink became quite popular, particularly among white individuals from the middle and upper classes.

By 1889, the company changed tact and started selling the beverage in bottles. This allowed minorities and the lower classes to access the largely cocaine-infused concoction.

It was only in 1903 that the company completely removed cocaine from all its products. This move was most likely motivated by tightening regulations and racial bias - more so than by any health concerns.

The Harrison Narcotics Act

In 1914, the Harrison Narcotics Act was officially passed. It was the first forays by the United States into drug legislation. Introduced by Francis Burton Harrison - the Representative for New York - the Act officially outlawed the manufacture, sale, and use of cocaine (coca) and other opium products and derivatives.

At the time, the law received popular support mainly due to racist sentiments. Physicians, politicians, and newspapers all capitalized on the broad fear by most white people that cocaine turned peoples of African descent into dangerous criminals.

Crack Cocaine

Even so, the use of the drug still continued unabated. In the 1970s, cocaine was crystallized into crack cocaine, a popular drug of the times. The crystallization of the substance made its prices shoot down by as much as 80% in the 70s when the glut of cocaine's white powder form flooded the market.

Dealers who were looking for newer, more effective ways to market the drug eventually turned their attention to crack cocaine. This is because they could easily produce crack by dissolving the cocaine powder into a mixture of ammonia and water before boiling it to form a solid.

The solidified form of cocaine was then broken down into smaller chunks or rocks that could be smoked to achieve the same effects that users desired. In particular, smoking crack cocaine brings about a short and intense high that makes the drug even more addictive than cocaine sold in powder form. Crack cocaine is also cheaper, costing about 5 dollars for a rock in 1985.

The first crack house was uncovered in 1982 in Miami. However, it caused little attention nationally because the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) thought that the problem was localized. By 1983, however, the drug showed up in New York and eventually spread to many other major cities in the US.

The Crack Cocaine Epidemic In The 80s

The use of crack cocaine began surging in the 1980s. From 85 to 89, the number of regular users of the drug, for instance, shot up from 4.2 million to about 5.8 million. At around the same time, the rates of crime started spiking in most major cities.

A study published in 1988 by the BJS (Bureau of Justice Statistics), for example, showed that the use of crack cocaine could be linked to 60% of all drug related homicides and about 32% of all homicides in NYC (New York City).

Throughout the 80s, therefore, public concern over the use of illicit drugs began building up. Political tensions also erupted as the country entered the crack cocaine epidemic of the times.

Cocaine Laws

As part of the War on Drugs, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act was passed in 1986. This Act effectively established disparities between the amounts of powdered cocaine and crack cocaine that could trigger established criminal penalties. The weight ratio was set at 1 to 100. The Act also set mandatory a minimum but mandatory sentence of 5 years for anyone caught in possession of crack. Therefore, a minimum mandatory penalty of 5 years would be issued for possessing 5 grams of crack - the same as possessing 500 grams of cocaine in powder form.

However, opponents of the law argued that it was racist mostly because most of the people who were likely to use crack cocaine were African American. As a response to the critics, the Fair Sentencing Act was passed in 2010. The Act effectively reduced the weight ratio between powdered cocaine and crack cocaine to 1 to 18. It also eliminated the traditionally previously mandatory 5 year sentence for possessing crack.

The Dangers Of Cocaine

With advancements in the use and spread of cocaine, more people - including the elites of the world, particularly in Hollywood - started using the drug. As cocaine became more mainstream, millions of others became addicted to it.

With time, the dangers of using cocaine became more apparent. However, it would be many years before the drug was considered potentially lethal and dangerous to those who abused it.

In the early 1900s, for instance, the use of the drug was quite commonplace. At the time, it was reported that as many as 5000 deaths a year were directly related to cocaine.

With the drug posing such serious problems for users, laws were passed to make it illegal. Therefore, cocaine was illegalized by 1922 although Coca-Cola had removed it from its recipes in 1903. The spread of the drug tapered off for some years.

Developments In Cocaine Use

However, cocaine abuse would not stop there. By the 70s, the drug started emerging as a fun and fashionable way to stay alert and awake and get high. As a result, elites, business professionals, and entertainers started using it in a bid to increase energy and focus, and provide the stimulating effects the drug is known for. The use of cocaine eventually spread and continued unabated all through the 1980s and deep into the 1990s.

NIDA, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, reports that even though most people now know that cocaine can be so addictive and dangerous - with no safe or beneficial use - it is still one of the most popular drugs among both the poor and rich.

The drug is so widespread that cocaine abuse, dependency, and addiction are quickly turning into a national epidemic that affects all users, irrespective of their background or social class.

Today, the drug is trafficked by South American cartels into the US - with some batches weighing in the hundreds of tons. From there, cocaine finds its way to Asia and Europe. Most of these cartels cause serious problems in the US - at times engaging in crime and promoting violence in the areas they operate in.

The War on Drugs, however, has been trying to mitigate the problem - starting in the 1990s and continuing deep into the new millennium. At a time when the history of the drug has been progressing for thousands of years, there are still hundreds of known and identifiable drug cartels and trafficking outfits smuggling cocaine from countries like Columbia.

A Timeline Of Cocaine Abuse

As you already know, cocaine is made from Erythroxylon coca, a substance found in the leaves of the South American coca plant. Although the powdered form of the drug only came into being in the 20th century, the leaves of this plant were used for their stimulant effects as far back as the 16th Century, and even before. However, the cocaine was first extracted from coca in 1859.

Cocaine was first used in its raw form (coca leaves) as far back as 3000 BC in the Inca civilization of the Andes mountains, South America. The Spanish explorers who visited the regions of South and Central America in the 16th century noted the use of the coca plant by local peoples.

The Andes Mountains that are the original source of the coca plant now covers the modern countries of Bolivia, Peru, and Colombia. The plant is restricted by the climate, the rocky and mineral-rich soils, cool temperatures, and tons of sunlight. As a direct result, the plant has stayed close to this area until the 19th century when it started spreading elsewhere.

That said, many indigenous South Americans have been using the coca plant for a variety of purposes. Ancient Incas, for instance, would chew the coca leaves for the stimulant effects cocaine produced. This would speed up their breathing, which helped because they lived in high altitudes were the levels of oxygen were relatively low - making it difficult to breath. Others used the leaves to aid in digestion, decrease their appetite, or elevate their mood.

On the other hand, Peruvian natives ingested the coca leaves during their religious ceremonies. This is because the drug stimulated their minds and caused visual and auditory hallucinations that they believed empowered them to reach the state of ultimate spiritual transcendence.

In the United States, cocaine was first reported in the 19th century. Many local drug companies started exploring the other regions of the globe in search of medicinal cures and remedies. In their exploration, they found coca and started using cocaine in toothache drops, nausea pills, and sinus medications, as well as for pain relief.

The following is a short timeline of the use of cocaine around the globe, with a particular focus on the United States:

- 1859: German chemist Albert Niemann first extracts cocaine from natural coca plants.

- 1884: An Austrian neurologist, Sigmund Freud who was later recognized for founding psychoanalysis publishes Uber Coca (About Coke), a book that praises the drug for its magical benefits and properties, such as the potential to cure sexual dysfunction and depression.

- 1885: John Stith Pemberton develops and a French wine coca and patents it as a tonic or medicine that he later heavily advertises as an OTC (over the counter) remedy; his actions are inspired by the success of Vin Mariani, a similar coca wine popular in France

- 1886: As a response to legislation against cocaine, John Stith creates the non-alcoholic version of his French wine coca and names it Coca-Cola; he also claims that the drink can still cure erectile dysfunction, indigestion, headaches, nerve disorders, and morphine addiction

- 1903: Coca-Cola officially removes cocaine from its list of ingredients in response to mounting public pressure against the addictive properties of the drink. However, since the popularity of the soft drink was a result of the flavor it received from cocaine, Coca-Cola starts using a version of coca leaves from which cocaine has been eliminated to produce a similar taste.

- 1905: Cocaine's powdered form is already being snorted by some people for recreational reasons.

- 1910: The drug starts receiving greater public attention from medical literature and hospital records showing that it causes nasal damage among those who snort it

- 1914: The Harrison Narcotics Act effectively bans the recreational use of cocaine, but with exceptions to some medical uses

- The 1970s: Cocaine makes a comeback into society as a drug for the rich; this is due to the relatively high price tag of the drug as well as its growing use among the rich and elite, including wealthy business people and entertainers. Since cocaine was price prohibitive at the time, as a well as the general belief that it lacked serious consequences, it was commonly referred to as the champagne of all drugs

Freebasing also came into play during the 70s. It refers to the process of smoking cocaine through a pipe, which introduces it faster into the system as a potent substance that causes users to achieve the desired effects in a shorter time span.

By the late 70s, drug traffickers and cartels from Colombia started setting up elaborate trade networks that were closely connected to the United States; they also transported more of the drug all through the country with relative ease.

- The 1980s: At this time, cocaine lost its status as a drug for the rich. In fact, as more people started discovering, displaying, and dealing with its adverse effects, the drug was soon associated with crime, poverty, and death.

It was also during the 80s that crack cocaine became known. It got its name from the crackling noise it produced when burned. The drug hits the brain at a much faster rate than ordinary freebase cocaine and, as a direct result, produces more intense effects.

By 1985, close to 6 million Americans were heavily addicted to the drug and using it on the regular. A national survey tracking the use patterns among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders that started in 1981 showed that the use of cocaine has increased by a quarter in the South, and almost doubled in the Midwest. It also tripled in the West and Northeast. The ratios so described remained relatively steady over the next 6 years before cocaine use started declining in some regions and the gaps between the various areas reduced.

- The 1990s: At the turn of the decade, Colombian drug cartels were exporting between 500 and 800 tons of the drug a year to Asia, Europe, and the United States. By 1995, however, most of these cartels were broken up by US law enforcement; however, the larger cartels were only replaced by numerous but smaller organizations.

From 1993 to about 1999, it was reported that the number of 12th graders using cocaine rose from 1.5% to 2.7%.

- The 2000s: From 2000 to 2007, there was a gradual decline in the annual use of cocaine among twelfth graders. After that, it leveled out for a time.

- The 2010s: The annual use of cocaine among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders as well as among young adults and college students continued declining starting in 2007; the use of the drug was relatively low in these groups and ranged from 0.2% to 1.1%.

Additional Information On Cocaine

a) Nomenclature

Cocaine can be defined as a crystal tropane alkaloid. Its name, as you might already have guessed is derived from the coca (as in coca plant) and the alkaloid suffix -ine. This forms the name of the drug, which is among the most recognizable names around the world today.

The drug works both as a suppressant and as a stimulant. The two powerful but opposing effects work hand in hand to create a highly euphoric sensation of energy and happiness. However, using cocaine also comes with a variety of negative side effects, some of which will require hospitalization and/or drug treatment for addiction.

b) Uses

Traditionally, cocaine was derived from coca leaves in South America where natives would chew the raw leaves. This mode of use produced mild stimulus that is quite similar in terms of effects to strong coffee. The plant was also taken for medicinal purposes to help with blood clotting, as an anesthetic, and for energy. At the time, people believed that it could help cure ailments like indigestion, malaria, ulcers, and asthma, as well as to improve longevity and as an aphrodisiac.

The characteristics of the plant - it provides essential nutrients and is rich in both vitamins and proteins, as well as the fact that it grows in areas where other plants cannot - means that it is possible that the plant was used for survival reasons. The plant was primarily grown in South America in the Andes region, an area where it is quite difficult to grow other more nutritious plants. The high altitudes of the region also means that indigenous people needed coca leaves for the extra boost of energy as well as its pain relieving qualities.

However, the original uses of coca as a spiritual, medicinal, and nutritional plant should not be confused with the widespread abuse of the drug cocaine. Most people today smoke, snort, and inject the isolated alkaloid for its stimulating effects, to get high, and to feel good. Similarly, the rates of abuse have led many people down the path to addiction, with some requiring extensive periods of engagement in rehabilitation and treatment centers. Others have lost their lives as a direct result of overdosing on the drug, which can happen even with the first instance of use.

c) Later Uses

After the alkaloid cocaine was first isolated from coca plants, it was used for different purposes. First, it became popular as an anesthetic in hospitals and doctors' offices. The drug was also recommended for overcoming alcoholism. Additionally, it was mixed into many popular beverages like wine (leading eventually to the creation of the popular Coca-Cola drink) and found in cigarettes.

d) In Popular Culture

Freud claimed that it was a magical drug although he did not understand that cocaine woks by interfering with how the brain re-takes chemicals like dopamine and, in the process, creating the sense of exhilaration that it has become infamous for. Additionally, popular characters in books have glorified the use of cocaine - including Sherlock Holmes.

At the time, cocaine was accepted and popularized as a great and enhancing substance. The company Coca-Cola also used the ingredient in its first soft drinks, but soon stopped doing so when the adverse effects cocaine has on the brain were uncovered.


Today, cocaine is responsible for many drug-related crimes and deaths. Additionally, it is also one of the main reasons so many people seek treatment for overdose and for addiction to it. Luckily, there are many drug rehabilitation and detoxification facilities/centers that provide assistance to anyone in need of rehab for cocaine addiction.








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