Cannabis, Coca, & Poppy:
Nature’s Addictive Plants

History

The Origins of Coca

For over 4,000 years coca, Erythroxylon coca, has been used as a medicine and stimulant in what is now Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia. European explorers in the 16th century made note of its existence and how it was used. In South America inhabitants would chew the leaves as they were believed to elevate mood, help with digestions, and suppress appetites. Up to the mid 19th century coca growing and use had been restricted to the area of its natural habitat, the Andes mountain range of the northwestern region of South America. Coca did not find use in Western medicine until the late 19th century when American drug companies began to explore that part of the world for new medicines. At first considered a safe stimulant and nerve tonic, coca's addictive and destructive properties became apparent within 30 years of its introduction as a pharmaceutical product.

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Reemergence of Cocaine

When cocaine reappeared in the 1970s it was touted as the champagne of drugs because it was expensive, high status, and said to have no serious consequences. The price dropped steadily, and by the mid 1980s, six million Americans used it on a regular basis. Cocaine was gradually rediscovered to be highly addictive and dangerous, a fact driven home by the death of college basketball star Len Bias in June 1986. Today, groups in Colombia produce 70 to 80 percent of the world's cocaine, which is made from locally grown coca plants and from cocaine base imported from Peru and Bolivia. It is estimated that Colombia produces 400 million dollars worth of cocaine each week.

Medical Use

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Cocaine: A Schedule II Substance

Cocaine is listed as a Schedule II controlled substance because it has medical use, but also has a high potential for abuse.

Early Medical Uses

Cocaine was known for its quick numbing abilities. For this reason many early medicines such as toothache drops, nausea pills, and pills to ease sinus pain emphasized its pain relief qualities.

Cocaine as an Anesthetic

Cocaine still has limited use in medicine today as a local anesthetic. It is occasionally used in medical procedures as a topical anesthetic for skin lacerations, nose or throat surgeries, and dental procedures.

Forms

Coca grown in the jungles of Columbia

Coca Leaves

These are leaves from a coca plant grown in Colombia.

Coca-Cola ad from the late 1800s

Coca and Cola

In the late 1800s cocaine was used as a primary ingredient for flavor in Coca Cola. In the early 1900s cocaine in its crude form was removed. Today the extract of the coca leaves, a de-cocainized version, is manufactured in the United States and used in the flavoring for Coca Cola. The crude cocaine that is left over is used by select pharmaceutical companies for medicines.

  • User smoking cocaine
  • User snorting cocaine

Freebase Cocaine

In the late 1970s freebasing, a method of smoking cocaine, coincided with an upsurge of cocaine abuse. The effects of freebasing are faster and more potent for the user, which makes this form of abuse more popular.

  • Crack
  • Crack in bags
  • Crack in tubes

Crack

In the mid 1980s crack emerged as a dangerous form of cocaine. Crack has a modified chemical structure which allows it to reach the brain more quickly and produce a more intense high, allowing crack to have a greater potential for addiction. The name “crack” is derived from the crackling sound this form of cocaine makes when burned.

A scale, razor blade and sifter are common tools used by cocaine dealers when preparing cocaine for sale on the streets.

Preparing Cocaine for Sale

A scale, razor blade and sifter are common tools used by cocaine dealers when preparing cocaine for sale on the streets.