Who invented the first Cocaine

The Origins of Cocaine. A Stimulant from The South American Coca Plant. The last and fourth of a multi-part series on the origins and implications of recreational drugs. Purification of the coca plant led to debate and legislation.

Cocaine is an addictive stimulant derived from the leaves of the Erythroxylon coca plant, often described as a bush. The pure chemical is cocaine hydrochloride and, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) of the United States, has been abused for more than 100 years. Prior to the purification of the compound, coca leaves were chewed for thousands of years by the native inhabitants of South America, mainly Peru and Bolivia, where the plant grows. This practice was in place when the Spanish arrived in the sixteenth century.

History of Chemical Purification And Commercial Use

Pure cocaine was extracted in 1860 in Europe and used in medicinal and consumer products. The extract was popular as a topical anesthetic for eye, nose and throat surgery. Also, the psychologist Sigmund Freud was an advocate of its use to treat depression. The brand name soft drink, Coca-Cola, was named in 1885 after the coca leaf extract it contained and originally marketed as a medical elixir. The ingredient was not replaced until 1929, though it had been decreased to minimal levels in 1902 as a debate was questioning the negative effects of the drug. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a voice of opposition, laying out cocaine’s destructive properties with his fictional character Sherlock Holmes.

Drug Legislation

In 1916, despite growing popularity, cocaine use was heavily legislated. In 1970, controlled substances legislation, which affected many other recreational chemicals, listed cocaine as a Schedule II drug. This means that it has a high level of abuse, but can still be administered by a doctor for medical purposes. The addictive nature of the drug is due to the need to continue taking it to maintain the energetic and, some say, euphoric effects and to prevent the so-called crash produced by its effects wearing off.

South American Coca Use

The Andean culture used the plant to ease fatigue and hunger and was traditionally used as a political tool between the highland and lowland cultures. In recent years, due to the high profit garnered from the purification of the plant, coca has become a cash crop. This has resulted in environmental devastation in the form of deforestation and heavy pesticide use. Economically, relying on a crop that is illegal in many countries leaves the people vulnerable to international laws and programs. An increase in the purity and availability of the substance has led to an increase in addicts that is not manageable. There is also the danger involved in the processing as laboratories have sprung up in South America to accommodate the toxic chemicals and waste, which now pollute the ground water.

Legislation was attempted in the 1990s to shift the countries’ focus to other agricultural pursuits. The governments spray fields to control the growth of the plants, but there is still much debate as to how all considerations can be met. The traditional chewing of the leaves has been defended as a separate issue from the production of the drug. In Peru, politicians chewed coca leaves on the floor of their Congress in protest to international calls for the criminalization of the traditional uses of the plant. The leaves are still used today as a medicine and in tea to cure altitude sickness, which many travelers get when venturing to the Andes.

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