Cocaine History

Before the drug wars, cartels and addiction programs, cocaine was celebrated as a medical innovation. From surgery to drugstore elixirs, the substance was used to treat a wide range of ailments. Once its dangers were discovered, it was made illegal for recreational use before seeing a resurgence at the end of the 20th century. If you have a cocaine charge, contact our drug crime attorneys today for a free case evaluation.

Origins of Cocaine

Cocaine in its natural form, Erythroxylon coca, has been used for thousands of years as a medicinal agent. Originating in Central and South America, it was noticed by European explorers in the 16th century. These explorers noted how indigenous peoples used the plant by chewing its leaves. This process was done in efforts to elevate their moods, suppress their appetites and aid with digestion.

Though noticed by Europeans during this time, coca remained at use only in its native region for three more centuries. It wasn’t until the late 1800s that Western medicine made use of the substance for broader purposes. By this time American pharmaceutical companies had begun to explore Central and South America for the creation of new medicine.

Use in Medicine

Many physicians, including Sigmund Freud and William Halsted, began using the drug for its properties as a stimulant and pain reliever. Both doctors explored its effects on themselves and others to the point that they may have become addicted. At this time, however, cocaine was still praised for its benefits, thus it was used as an active ingredient in many products including those for toothaches, nausea, exhaustion and pain.

In the operating room, cocaine was used in surgery as a quick anesthetic. It eventually came to be appreciated for its psychological effects and was also used to treat anxiety and depression. Most commonly the drug was used as a means to treat morphine addictions.

The substance was used so frequently it was included in margarine, ointments and beverages. Vin Mariani was a Bordeaux wine that contained almost 200 milligrams of cocaine in each bottle. It was said that at times Pope Leo XIII carried a flask of the wine around with him and presented a Vatican gold medal to its creator Angelo Mariani. In America, Civil War veteran John Syth Pemberton created his own version.

As a wounded survivor of the war, he became a morphine addict and was intrigued to learn of the treatment that had gained such popularity. Once prohibition banned the sale of alcohol in his area, he created a legal version of the intoxicating beverage and called it Coca-Cola. Cocaine was used as a main ingredient to add flavor as well as relief from exhaustion. Cocaine was later removed in its natural form and subsequent recipes used only the extract of the coca leaf.

Resurgence as a Common Drug

The substance that initially caught the attention of those in more prestigious circles eventually made its way to criminals and the lower class. Along with this class change came racial stereotypes associated with its use. On the legal side, Congress passed the Harrison Narcotics Act in 1914. This law banned the use of cocaine and other drugs for nonmedical purposes. The drug’s popularity eventually waned for the next half of a century.

During the 1970s cocaine regained popularity, only this time as an illegal substance. Once again, with its new popularity it became associated with the upper classes. Cocaine users of the 1970s were usually wealthy, trendy and members of the young social elite. At this time it was thought of as the champagne of the drug world due to its price and the status associated with it. It was also still considered to come with few risks.

By the 1980s cocaine was widely exposed as being highly addictive, dangerous and destructive. Around this time a more dangerous form of the drug known as “crack” quickly gained popularity. In comparison to cocaine, crack was able to reach the brain faster while providing a more intense high.

Fortunately, the number of Americans using cocaine illegally has decreased significantly since its later resurgence. The substance is still used in some medical procedures as a local anesthetic. It is also used as a topical pain reliever for cuts as well as in dental, nose and throat surgeries.