In The Know Zone


History of Cocaine and Crack Use

In ancient times, South American natives used coca for religious and medicinal purposes. They used its stimulant properties to fight fatigue and hunger, and to enhance endurance. The Spanish conquistador banned coca at first, but when they discovered that the addicted natives could barely work the fields in the gold mines without it, they began to distribute it to the workers three or four times a day.

The Spanish conquistadors introduced coca to Europe, where it was used only occasionally until the 19th Century. The active ingredient of the coca plant was first isolated in 1859. Coca leaves were soon processed into cocaine hydrochloride, the powder form of the drug. However, cocaine was taken mostly in liquid form at that time, whether by mouth or by injection. Sigmund Freud experimented with cocaine extensively in the latter part of the century. Doctors began to use cocaine as an antidote to morphine addiction, but some of the patients ended up addicted to both.

In 1863, the coca wine Vin Mariani went on sale throughout France. It contained 6 mg cocaine per ounce of wine in France, but exported Vin Mariani contained 7.2 mg per ounce to compete with the higher cocaine content of American competitors.

German ophthalmologist, Carl Koller, discovered cocaine's effectiveness as an anesthetic for eye surgery in about 1880. Until that time, eye surgery was done without adequate anesthesia, sometimes requiring a conscious patient to move his eye without flinching as a surgeon directed him.

Cocaine was soon sold over-the-counter. Until 1914, one could buy it at department stores. It was widely used in tonics, toothache cures and patent medicines, and in chocolate cocaine tablets.

Coca-Cola was introduced in 1886 and was promoted as a drink "offering the virtues of coca without the vices of alcohol." Until 1903, a typical serving contained around 60mg of cocaine. The new beverage was invigorating and popular. Today, Coca-Cola is still flavored with an extract of coca-leaves, but contains none of the drug itself.

By 1890, the addicting and psychosis-producing nature of cocaine was well understood in the medical community, but no laws banning the general use of the drug were made until 1914. Perhaps it was cocaine's effectiveness in reducing the swelling of mucous membranes, consequently enlarging the nasal and bronchial passages, that gave users the idea of sniffing cocaine. Whatever the origin of that idea, by 1905 it was the most popular method of using the drug. In 1910, the first cases of nasal damage from cocaine snorting were written of in medical literature. In 1912, the U.S. Government reported 5,000 deaths from cocaine use -- when the US population was only a third of what it is today!

In 1914, cocaine was banned in the US Except for a few uses in medicine as a local anesthetic, cocaine has been illegal worldwide ever since. Since 1914, the possession, sale, and giving away of cocaine have been highly regulated and subject to severe legal penalties. During the 1940s, 1950s, and most of the 1960s, the smuggling of cocaine into the United States was very limited and the black market in cocaine was relatively small. Other drugs, such as amphetamines, which were available far more cheaply than cocaine, grew in popularity as drugs of abuse. Late in the 1960s, law-enforcement agencies began cracking down heavily on the amphetamine black market, and cocaine smuggling and cocaine use regained popularity. As it had been early in the century, in the 1960s and 70s, cocaine was mostly sniffed. Cocaine hydrochloride is a fine white powder with a bitter, numbing taste. Some cocaine abusers, no longer able to get the high they were seeking from sniffing the drug, have mixed it with water and injected it intravenously. However, most people are unwilling or unable to inject themselves. Soon, a smokeable form of cocaine was developed. Freebasing cocaine involves mixing it with highly explosive solvents, such as ether, and heating it. This technique is physically dangerous because the solvent tends to ignite.

In the early 1980s, a more convenient and less dangerous method of producing smokeable cocaine became common. The process involved concentrating ordinary cocaine hydrochloride by heating the drug in a solution of baking soda. This process rarely ended in fires or explosions. In addition, it allowed dealers to "stretch" the raw material; a tiny bit of cocaine hydrochloride made a full dose of the new freebase. Freebase cocaine vaporizes at a low temperature, so it can be easily inhaled from a heated pipe. This type of freebase cocaine makes a crackling sound when heated, so it was named "crack." The wholesale price of a kilogram of cocaine dropped from about $55,000 in 1981 to about $25,000 in 1984. In addition, turning cocaine hydrochloride into crack meant that one "dose" went from about twenty dollars to about five dollars. When each dose became so much cheaper, dealers could sell to rich and poor alike and make more money. A cocaine addiction epidemic was underway.

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