6 Things You Didn’t Know About Cocaine

risks of cocaine overdose and addiction

Cocaine is one of those drugs you hear a lot about. You see it in the headlines, and you see it on TV shows. Celebrities are always caught with it, and there’s always an obscene amount of money associated with it. But there are probably many things you don’t know about cocaine – how it’s made, where it comes from, the status of cocaine today, and what this means for you or your loved ones.

Cocaine’s History Goes Back Thousands of Years.

Cocaine’s popularity as a recreational drug exploded in the 1980s, but it’s been around for much, much longer. The indigenous people of South America would chew the leaves of Erythroxylum coca, a shrub of the coca plant. Quoting Drugged: The Science and Culture Behind Psychotropic Drugs by Richard J. Miller, Salon writes that the natives of what is today Colombia, Peru and Bolivia would chew the drug for its nutritional value, and also because it could be used as a stimulant and anaesthetic – foreshadowing contemporary effects and uses of cocaine.

The coca leaf played an integral role in indigenous South American society. Britain’s The Independent writes that it was the purview of royalty, and it was also a significant element in social, tribal, medical, and religious rituals.

Cocaine Was Marketed in Medicine for Children.

When the chemical compound of cocaine within the coca leaf was isolated by German chemists in the mid-1850s, it was quickly marketed for its properties in a number of uses:

  • Local anesthesia
  • Shampoo for women
  • Toothpaste
  • To treat alcohol and morphine addictions
  • In cigarettes

The cocaine extract was also used in a Bordeaux wine named Vin Mariani (6 milligrams of cocaine in every ounce), which proved so popular that Pope Leo XIII commissioned a Vatican gold medal for the maker of the wine and appeared on a poster that endorsed the wine.

As late as 1885, cocaine was still legal and so popular (and considered so beneficial) that it did not require a prescription for use. For example, an exhibit on 19th-century medicines by the University of Victoria shows that cocaine was advertised in tooth drops for children, offering an “instantaneous cure” for only 15 cents.

Cocaine’s Dangers Caught Up with Its Success.

Despite the widespread popularity of cocaine, evidence of its addictiveness became hard to ignore or hide. In a story entitled “Cocaine: The Evolution of the Once ‘Wonder’ Drug,” CNN quotes historian Dr. Howard Markel as saying that the reputation of the drug waned in the dying years of the 19th century, as cases of addiction and poor health began to overtake the touted wonders of cocaine. Even Sigmund Freud (who sang cocaine’s praises because of its effects in treating depression and anxiety, according to a review of Dr. Markel’s book The Anatomy of Addiction in The New York Times) swore off cocaine after suffering from an irregular heartbeat and nosebleeds, two common symptoms of cocaine abuse.

As the world moved into the 20th century, cocaine lost its public standing. It was no longer allowed to be used in the manufacture of Coca-Cola (ironically, cocaine extract was included in the production of Coca-Cola when, as the Atlantic says, alcohol was criminalized due to Prohibition). The perception that cocaine was only used among “Negro cocaine fiends” (in the words of Edward Huntington Williams, who wrote as much to The New York Times) further served to drive cocaine to the outer limits of early 20th century society.

Finally, the 1914 Harrison Narcotics Tax Act prohibited the use of non-medical cocaine (in addition to a number of other drugs) in the United States. Cocaine largely disappeared off the public’s radar, being driven underground until its explosive return in the 1970s.

Crack Cocaine Was Developed Because Cocaine Became Too Popular.

Cocaine experienced a resurgence in the latter part of the 20th century. Fueled by celebrities and socialites who could afford the high manufacturing costs – reminiscent of Incan royalty and nobility using the coca leaf thousands of years prior – and assisted by drug lords from Peru and Colombia (which NBC called the two biggest cocaine exporting countries in the world), cocaine returned to America in a big way.

But as the popularity boomed, the demand exceeded the supply, so much so that chemists were forced to cut corners to make a cheaper, purer product that anyone could buy. The result was a substance that was infinitely more powerful and addictive than traditional cocaine. By removing the hydrochloride salt present in street cocaine, a new generation of manufacturers unleashed crack cocaine on a market of poor, disenfranchised users who wanted to get high not to celebrate life, but to escape it.

The new product proved so successful that hospitalizations for medical emergencies related to the use of crack cocaine increased by more than 100 percent in the time between 1985 and 1986, when crack first started to spread in the United States (from a study published in the Primary Care journal).

The perception of crack cocaine as a dirty drug – not the purview of the clubs and parties of street cocaine, but that of gangs and society’s outsiders – led 42 percent of Americans to vote that crack cocaine was “the most serious problem for society” in a 1986 Gallup poll.

The United States Is the World’s Greatest Cocaine Consumer.

Notwithstanding cocaine’s well-publicized dangers and the general decline in its usage due to stricter enforcement and the availability of other drugs, it remains disconcertingly popular in the United States. The 2011 World Drug Report, published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, estimated the global value of cocaine to be $85 billion in 2009. About $38 billion of that total came from the United States. The figure was down from a 2005 estimate of the American market value of street cocaine at $70 billion.

Nonetheless, the CIA World Factbook calls United States the world’s greatest consumer of cocaine and a key money laundering center to cover up the proceeds from cocaine smuggling.

Data from the National Survey of Drug Use and Health suggests that cocaine is a drug of choice among the college-aged crowd, who may use the drug for socializing purposes, and to cope with the stress of academic life. Over 16 percent of people aged 26 or older reported using cocaine at least once in their lifetime.

The 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (reporting to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) found that over 600,000 people (over the age of 12) had used cocaine for the first time in the preceding 12 months. On average, this is about 1,800 people per day who experimented with cocaine for the first time.

Three Countries Are Responsible for the World’s Dwindling Supply of Cocaine.

For years, Colombia was the undisputed king of cocaine production and supply. Cartel bosses bought off local law enforcement with promises of money and threats of savagery, allowing the cocaine business to flourish with impunity. Impoverished locals were either intimidated into joining the business, or willingly signed up for the only stable work they could find. In 2000, 74 percent of the world’s coca leaves came from Colombia, per The Economist.

But under pressure (and incentives) from the United States, the Colombian government stepped up its efforts to crack down on the cocaine business. In 2008, USA Today reported that the Colombian government succeeded in confiscating or destroying 144 tons of cocaine and 350,000 gallons of the chemicals used to create recreational cocaine. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s profile on Colombia showed the country had cut down 25 percent of the areas where the coca leaf was cultivated, or around 39,000 acres of land that was being farmed by organized crime rings.

Into this void rushed Peru, which is now the world’s primary supplier of cocaine. MSN News, quoting a White House report, says that Peru produced 143 more tons of cocaine than Colombia in 2011. Similar to Colombia, rampant poverty – 67 percent of Peruvians live below the poverty line, according to a professor at the University of Santiago, speaking to MSN News – and poor government infrastructure is a major driver in the country becoming the world’s chief producer of cocaine.

Bringing up the rear is Bolivia, now the largest provider of cocaine; but the local narcotics industry has also struggled in the wake of stronger measures to curb production and trafficking. The Daily Mail reports that the Bolivian government has authorized its military to shoot down planes suspected of transporting cocaine, as special anti-narcotics police burned over 3,300 pounds of seized contraband in May 2014. The Wall Street Journal reported that the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime said that the cultivation of the coca leaf in Bolivia dropped by nine percent in 2013, thanks in part to more education among locals and an aggressive government policy that has opted to fight the cocaine industry without the help of the United States.

Getting Help for a Cocaine Problem

Although cocaine isn’t the dominant drug it was for the last couple decades of the 20th century, it nonetheless remains a wicked, potent substance that can poison the lives and relationships of its users. Families have been destroyed and families have been ruined by the ever-expanding ripples of cocaine addiction. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

There’s one more thing that you should know about cocaine – or, more specifically, about cocaine addiction – you can get help for it. Here at The Oaks at La Paloma, we can answer your questions and work with you on taking steps to leave cocaine behind. We will work with you on breaking your dependence on cocaine, and then help you understand what drove you to abuse the drug in the first place. You’ll learn how to think better and live better, and recognize the pitfalls and traps of addiction and temptation. Please call us today to find out how to start getting better.