A Closer Look at the History and Use of Cocaine

From medical use to raging addiction, cocaine has a long and storied history.

 

Cocaine is a popular CNS (central nervous system) stimulant that is naturally derived from the cocoa plant, which is most commonly grown in South America’s Andean region. Though its proper, chemical name is benzoylmethyl ecgonine (C17H21NO4), users refer to cocaine as coke, snow, blow, nose candy, dust, white lady, toot and a host of other names.

The Basics of Cocaine

Cocaine is a white powder with a bitter and numbing taste. The drug causes stimulation, mild to extreme euphoria, sexual arousal and increased focus.

The most common method of abuse is through insufflation (snorting), though it can also be injected or orally ingested. Crack, an alternate form of cocaine, is made from a mixture of powder cocaine, baking soda and water. The resulting hardened pieces, known as crack rocks, can be smoked and provide a much more intense high.

The negative side effects of cocaine are varied and depend on both the dosage and the person using it. These may include insomnia, paranoia, anxiety, increased body temperature, faster heart rate and nausea/vomiting.

Long-term users who snort cocaine run a high risk of damaging cartilage and mucosa in the nose, which can ultimately create a hole in the nasal septum. The people who inject cocaine, like all IV drug users, are at risk of developing dangerous infections directly related to use of dirty needles and communicable diseases. Life-threatening problems such as kidney failure, seizure, stroke and heart attack can also occur.

Additional cocaine-related concerns include the drug’s highly addictive qualities. Although it is not believed to cause physical dependence, many people find cocaine to be highly addictive on a psychological level, making it extremely difficult for heavy or frequent users to quit without professional help. That said, many people who use cocaine do so without experiencing addiction and other severe problems, as researchers like Dr. Carl Hart of Columbia University have pointed out in the past.

Who Uses It?

The Western world was first introduced to cocaine during the 19th century, when many physicians began marketing it as a cure-all “wonder drug.” The most famous early advocate was the legendary psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. But, since the cocoa plant is indigenous to South America, people in that region were likely aware of the plant’s effects long before the 19th century.

Contemporary cocaine culture in America took off in disco clubs during the 1970s, where the drug fueled all-night parties at such iconic establishments as Studio 54 in New York City. Today, powder cocaine remains popular among the wealthy and within the college crowd.

The United States is currently the largest consumer of cocaine in the world; it is the second most popular illegal recreational drug in the country. Data from the 2013 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHADA) revealed 601,000 people over the age of 12 used cocaine for the first time during the course of the previous 12 months. This figure may seem high, but NHADA points out that the number of first-timers in 2013 was actually much lower than in any year between 2002 and 2012.

The Legalities of Cocaine

Both cocaine and crack are considered Schedule II drugs in the U.S.

arrested for cocaineSchedule II drugs have a high potential for abuse, limited medical use or a currently accepted medical use with severe restrictions and the potential for severe psychological/physical dependence.

Since it is legally recognized for marginal medical use, physicians can prescribe cocaine to patients. This, however, is very rare.

One of the drug’s few practical applications in contemporary medicine is its ability to temporarily numb mucous membranes. These membranes include the lining of the mouth, nose or throat. In rare circumstances, cocaine can be used to numb these areas in preparation for certain minor surgical procedures.

Similar to the U.S., most countries prohibit the recreational use of cocaine. Trafficking of the drug has fueled particularly powerful organized crime networks. In places like Colombia, cocaine trafficking has lead to outright wars between cartels and governments. On the other hand, Peru and Portugal have both opted to decriminalize cocaine, permitting it for personal use without the threat of significant legal ramifications.

 

Learn more about the signs and symptoms of cocaine abuse.

Image Credits: wired/dailystar/DEA