Cocaine History

Most people don’t realize the history of tug and war with this drug and how it has evolved into the notoriously addictive narcotic that it is today. This stimulant drug has been around since the ancient Incas living in the Andes cultivated the coca plant for ceremonial use as well as only for designated people (royalty, messengers and warriors). Of course it wasn’t technically cocaine, as it wasn’t processed and extracted back then. The coca plant leaves were literally chewed, which made for a lot less of a dosage of actual cocaine than people who use it nowadays take. In the early 1500’s the Spanish conquerors that invaded Peru attempted to prohibit the use of coca plant leaves, pronouncing the stuff as “evil”. This was the first semblance of cocaine disapproval. Even back then some held common sense on the matter. However it was soon recognized after that that the Inca workers got a lot more work done while chewing these coca leaves (go figure). This is where the Spaniards got the clever idea to start using this coveted plant as currency.

Cocaine itself (extracted from the coca leaves) was brought about in 1860, invented by Albert Niemann (a chemistry student at Germany’s Gottingen University). He ended up publishing a book on it in that year, which was called On a New Organic Base in the Coca Leaves. Three years later Angelo Mariani (French chemist) concocted an alcoholic beverage which was basically just a combination of red wine and coca (6.5 mg of cocaine per ounce). This alcoholic and simultaneously stimulant beverage was called Vin Mariani and became predictably very popular. It also was promoted (however falsely) as a medicinal drink, said to prevent conditions like malaria and influenza.

Cocaine Addiction: Not Just a Present Day Issue

Freud was endlessly praising cocaine by 1884 in his published article Uber Coca. He called it a “magical substance” and promoted it as a cure to depression and sexual impotence. Addiction isn’t a thing of the present, Freud was a famous cokehead along with William Halsted who was a leading surgeon of the late 19th century. Freud prescribed cocaine to his patients and was under the impression that there was “no lethal dose”. However a patient of his unfortunately ended up dying from a cocaine overdose off of an amount Freud himself had prescribed. Despite the fact that Freud ended up stating somewhere that cocaine led to moral and physical deterioration, he still promoted the drug after that. It seems as though cocaine had a real hold on him.

Freud was known for snorting the stuff, but William Halsted went so far as to shoot it up (that is, inject it into his veins via a syringe) and was even hospitalized a few times due to addiction. William Halsted was an addict for the rest of his life. As you can see, cocaine addiction traces pretty far back. Cocaine was very popular, and so remained Vin Mariani as well. Among this list of famous cokeheads back in the day were some interesting folk: inventor Thomas Edison, actress Sarah Bernhardt, Jules Verne (a French novelist), H.G. Wells (British sci-fi novelist), the queen of Portugal, the King of Spain and Auguste Rodin (French sculptor). The drug was so common that even the famous literary works Sherlock Holmes (A Study in Scarlet) and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde both involved their characters with using cocaine. In fact, cocaine was widespread all over Hollywood especially, which in turn affected the general public in a domino effect fashion.

Cocaine and Its Connection To The Coca-Cola Company

Around 1884 the famous Vin Mariani beverage began to evolve. At first John Pemberton (a physician) made his own alcoholic beverage containing cocaine, naming the drink “Pemberton’s French Wine Coca”. The product was discontinued  but in 1886 what would eventually be the famous soft soda staple, Coca-Cola, was created as a non-alcoholic alternative. It was promoted as healthier, due to the fact that it wasn’t alcoholic, however still had cocaine in it. Fast forward to 1903 and the dangers of cocaine started to become obvious. Coca-Cola was then forced to evolve into a cocaine-free drink as well, where the mind altering part of cocaine was processed out of the drink.

Cocaine: Past to Present

By 1905, snorting cocaine was a common everyday habit, but within the five years that followed it became widely known amongst hospitals and the medical industry that cocaine use lead to nasal damage. The recognition that nasal damage was the least of their worries became clearer in 1912 when the United States government reported 5,000 deaths all relating to cocaine in that past year. By 1922 action was taken to ban the drug officially.

Fast forward about fifty years, to the 1970’s, and cocaine appeared once again, now as this trendy new drug amongst the corporate groups and entertainers. It inherited its reputation for being a powerful upper, perfect for people on the go. Columbian drug lords established a far reaching system for smuggling the drug into the United States in the late 70’s. This increased access to the illicit drug by a long shot. Soon it was everywhere and by 1980 the amount of American university students trying out cocaine for size increased tenfold. Cocaine was the most popular drug of choice in the 1980’s. The narcotic’s much deserved stigma was only increasing in direct proportion to its rising popularity.

Originally, cocaine was pretty expensive in terms of using it habitually which made it most popular with scenes on the wealthier side. But due to the Columbian drug lords’ established networks in this country, the prices became more reasonable. From there it became a lot more commonly used and by the late 80’s was it was intensely widespread. At this time it was also even more intensely stigmatized for its addictive properties, dangers (including fatal dangers) and its link to poverty and crime. It actually became known as the country’s number one most dangerous recreational drug by this point. By the mid 1990’s law enforcement successfully and finally cracked down on these Columbian drug cartels (who had been exporting hundreds of tons of cocaine each year). However, smaller drug smuggling organizations showed up in their place. Fast forward to the early 2000’s, and by 2008 cocaine became the second most trafficked illicit drug.

In conclusion, cocaine has been around for a lot longer than some users are aware of. Slight recognition of its addictive properties were pretty much instantaneous and now there are a myriad of statistics and facts to back up that once visceral observation via the Spanish conquerors in the 1500’s. In other words, tons of scientific research and evidence have emerged and evolved stating that this stimulant is indeed not safe by any means. It’s widely known as a harmful, potent drug, yet people still struggle with addiction of it these days. These days cocaine is cut with adulterants which also make the dangers of it even more vague, increasing the risk factor with using. However rehabs specifically designed for cocaine dependency also have a stance for this very problem and there are a litany of therapies and ways in which somebody could recover from being hooked on the drug.

By Erica D'Arcangelo