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September 24, 2013

The History of Cocaine Use

by Angel Pumila

The History of Cocaine Use


    Dating back to 2500 B.C., cocaine has been used in many forms and for many reasons.  Cocaine can be ingested by chewing the coca leaf, drinking the refined powder dissolved in liquids, injecting the substance directly into the bloodstream, snorting the power form into the nostrils, or smoking it in the freebase form.  The effects of the drug include stimulation of the reward center in the brain, increased paranoia, boosted energy, increased confidence levels, aggression, and a higher level of sexual desire.  Since the drug is metabolized quickly (more than half metabolized in 30-90 minutes), the high lasts for a short period of time.  This leads to a crashing effect causing a bout of depression and yearning for more of the drug toexperience the high again.

In 2500 B.C. the Huaca Prieta settlement in Peru began using the drug by chewing the leaves of the coca shrub to fight hunger, gain energy, and “enhance social occasions” (Ianba & Cohen, 2011).  Later, the Incas began using the drug on a daily basis.  Originally, its use was limited to only the nobility and priests.  Later, “they grew it for personal profit, to generate government taxes, and to enable the subjugated Incas to work for them more efficiently at high altitudes” (Inaba & Cohen, 2011).

In 1859, a graduate student in Germany found a way to separate the stimulate chemicals in the coca shrub to turn cocaine into a powder form.  In this new form, the popularity of the drug became widespread.  Its use included treating depression, gastric disorders, alcohol addiction, as an anesthetic, and for social use.  In some countries powder cocaine was added to wines.  Here in America, Coca-Cola added it to their soda with the claim that it relieves headaches, as well as mental and physical exhaustion.  When social stigma began to shift in 1903, Coca-Cola discontinued using cocaine as an ingredient in their soda.

By 1914, the dangers of cocaine use were well known.  Publicity surrounding the drug referred to users as prostitutes, thieves, and the lowest portion of society.  The Harrison Narcotics Tax Act banned the drug from being sold or distributed by some in the United States.  What was once a drug only used by society’s elite, now was publicly viewed as only for the low class or addicts.  Even though the drug was banned from public distribution, there were companies that were excluded from this law and were still able to continue production.

The current use of cocaine has been up and down in popularity over recent years.  Although chewing the leaves of the coca shrub has gone out of style, users continue to ingest the drug through snorting, smoking, and intravenous use.  Those who use the drug are no longer viewed as society’s elite.  The population of cocaine users are now considered to be addicts and junkies.  In-patient and out-patient treatment programs are available when cocaine addicts wish to stop using the drug.  Methadone is one treatment option available, although success rates are debatable.  “Approximately 40% to 60% of patients receiving methadone maintenance therapy use cocaine, which is associated with risky behaviors, adverse consequences, and poor treatment outcome” (Weinstock, Rash, & Petry, 2010).


Casa Palmera (2009). The History of Cocaine: Name and Origin. Retrieved from

Inaba, D., Cohen, W. (2011) Uppers, Downers, All Arounders; CNS Productions, Inc. Seventh Ed.

Weinstock, Jeremiah; Rash, Carla J.; Petry, Nancy M.; Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, Vol 24(2), Jun, 2010. pp. 282-291.


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