Cocaine is derived from the coca leaf and has been chewed in it's original form by indigenous people for thousands of years. Even before cocaine in it's sulfate form was isolated, the leaf's effects were well known and documented. The indigenous people who chewed the coca leaf exhibited extra energy and awareness, yet modern documentation indicates that prolonged coca leaf chewing can have similar effects as cocaine in it's purest form.
Competing only with alcohol and marijuana use, cocaine is one of the most popular substances abused in the western world. In addition, cocaine use is also surrounded by an aura of fame and wealth, augmenting its popularity as the drug of the upwardly mobile. Though, this image of the cocaine user may have peaked in the “yuppie” and “me” generations of the 1980’s and 90’s, this aura has accompanied the drug for most of its historical relationship with the west.From Pope Leo XIII,who purportedly carried a hip flask of Vin Mariani, the 1860 popular cocaine laced wine, with him wherever he went, to Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional super-detective, who regularly injected himself with cocaine. Doyle’s character lauded the drug to his assistant Dr. Watson, declaring cocaine to be, “so transcendentally stimulating and clarifying to the mind that its secondary action is a matter of small moment.” And everyone is familiar with the popular drink, Coca Cola, which included a “pinch” of coca leaves in it’s original recipe until 1906 (after 1906, the company used decocainized leaves), when the Pure Food and Drug Act was passed in Congress. Even the famous story, “The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” is known to have been written by Robert Louis Stephenson while he was on a six-day cocaine binge.Only briefly, during the “moral panic,” of the early twentieth century, was the drug’s abuse regulated to the “bohemians, gamblers, high- and low-class prostitutes, night porters, bell boys, burglars, racketeers, pimps, and casual laborers,” according to the 1903 Journal of American Pharmacy. Though, while it’s abuse was derided, it remained popular as a stimulant and cure-all for the “enlightened” population. Even as late as 1938, the Larousse Gastronomique was published carrying a recipe for “cocaine pudding”.Cocaine’s popularity soared again in the seventies and eighties disco culture, with popular culture portraying it as the drug of the rich and famous, the yuppie and the college student. Cocaine was portrayed favorably, or at least exciting, in many movies, such as “St. Elmo’s Fire,” where its casual use is portrayed as normal as alcohol consumption. Cocaine shared the spotlight in the music industry as well, with such popular hits as Eric Clapton’s song, Cocaine,” and “Cocaine Decisions,” by Frank Zappa.As mentioned, in the early part of the twentieth century, society was beginning to recognize the addictive and destructive nature of cocaine. While the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 was introduced to required labeling of all cocaine products, it wasn’t made illegal until the 1914 Harrison Narcotics Act, which banned all nonprescription use of cocaine products. This Act also improperly labeled cocaine a narcotic, of which the misclassification has continued throughout popular culture (Cocaine is a stimulant).Although technically outlawing all distribution and use of cocaine, it was still legal for registered companies and individuals. Cocaine did not become a controlled substance until 1970 when the United States listed it in the Controlled Substance Act. Until that point, enforcement was low and its use was relatively open and rarely prosecuted in the United States. Yet, even this classification did not deter its use and the eighties saw a dramatic rise in its use by American teenagers.Around the same time, a new development, the introduction of “crack cocaine,” into society, made it more accessible to lower income neighborhoods, causing its popularity to sour in the later prt of the twentieth century. “Crack” is a concentrated cooked, “free-base,” highly addictive and highly potent form of the cocaine drug. The name derives from the cracking sound of evaporating water as the cocaine solution is cooked.Currently, world consumption of cocaine is approximately 600 metric tons annually, with the United States consumption proximately half of the total, and Europe 25% of world’s consumption. In 2005, the U.S. market alone exceeded $70 billion in revenues, exceeding most major U.S. corporations. Today, cocaine’s street value is approximately $50 to $75 a gram (called a “fitty rock), and $125 for 3.5 grams (an 1/8 ounce called an “eight ball”).Cocaine use is a major world industry, whose popularity has only increased over the years, despite the increased awareness of its addictive nature and dangerous effects. Even with the introduction of so-called designer drugs, cocaine remains the second most popular drug in America (after marijuana). It rarely, if ever, used for medicinal purposes today, as safer drugs have replaced its indicated use. Yet, in spite of it all, cocaine, its use and abuse, will have to be contended with for many years to come.