cocaine Cocaine is a drug that comes from the coca plant. Some regard it as the most pleasurable of all recreational drugs. In some experiments, laboratory animals able to self-administer it end up taking the drug to exclusion of almost everything else: food, drink and sex. [Source: Peter White, National Geographic, January 1989 [╠].
Unlike opiates which stimulate dopamine-producing receptors, cocaine works by blocking the receptor molecules of neurons used to reabsorb dopamine and inhibiting the chemicals and enzymes that try to stem its flow. This means that the dopamine remains in the bloodstream to bring pleasure.
Chewing leaves from the coca plant produces buzz-producing alkaloids that are absorbed only in minute amounts during digestion. Snorting cocaine shoots super concentrated forms of the alkaloids directly into the bloodstream. Injecting it gets large doses into the bloodstream and the brain even more quickly. One dose of cocaine releases two to ten times the amount of dopamine produced by a natural stimulus such as favorite meal or song.
Cocaine molecule Cocaine sells for around $75 to $125 a gram. Most users snort (inhale) the drug with their nose. According one study a large percentage of the $20 bills in circulation in the 1980s and 1990s had traces of cocaine on them. After cocaine users snort, smoke or inject the drug they describe a "rush" that one addict told Newsweek feels "out of control" as if "in a dragster" or "being dangled 10 feet off the ground by a giant hand." The rush is followed by a high, euphoria and surge of energy. MRIs shows that at this stage the cocaine is very active in pleasure centers of the brain such as the sublenticular extended amygdala and nucleus accumbens.
Cocaine blocks nerve sensations, causing numbness and constricts blood vessels and thus is useful as local anesthesia and means of controlling bleeding. Each year surgeons in the United States perform over 200,000 operations involving the nose using cocaine, which shuts down the mass of capillaries in the nose. Nurses sometimes swab a little bit on wound needing stitches to stop the bleeding.╠
Websites and Resources: U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) justice.gov/dea/concern ; Vaults of Erowid erowid.org ; United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) unodc.org ; Wikipedia article on illegal drug trade Wikipedia ; Frank’s A-to-Z on Drugs talktofrank.com ; Streetdrugs.org streetdrugs.org ; Council of Foreign Relations Forgotten Drug War article cfr.org/drugs/forgotten-drug-war ; Illegal Drugs, country by country listing, CIA cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook
coca plant Books: Buzzed by Cynthia Kuhn Ph.D. Scott Swartzwelder, Ph.D., Wilkie Wilson Ph.D. of the Duke University Medical Center (Norton, 2003); Consuming Habits: Drugs in Anthropology and History by Goodman, Sharratt and Lovejoy; Drug War Heresies: Learning from Other Vices, Times and Places by Robert MacCoun and Peter Reuter (Cambridge University Press).
Book: Illegal Drugs, Economy and Society in the Andes by Francisco Thoumi (2003, Johns Hopkins University Press) is fascinating study of the Andean drug industry by an independent researcher with a Ph.D, in economic from the University of Minnesota.
The coca plant is a shrub with one to three inch leaves, which contain the drug cocaine. The plants are usually about chest high although they grow to a height of eight feet. The leaves can be stripped off about eight times year. There a 260 plants in the coca family that contain cocaine, but only four of them have usable amounts of the drug.
Coca leaves contain one half of one percent of the active ingredient in cocaine. In valleys in Peru coca is grown legally and sold to ENACO, the Peruvian government coca monopoly. Small amounts of coca leaves are sold legally to drug manufacturers and Coca-Cola, who still uses a coca extract to flavor its cola. Most restaurant is Bolivia and Peru serve coca tea. It is recommended for tourist arriving by plane to help them adjust to the altitude.╠
Products made with powdered coca leaves include tea, flour, energy pills, energy bars, crackers, cookies, toothpaste, skin creams , toffee and soft drinks. A 1975 Harvard study cited the leaf’s protein, fiber and calcium content. Coca it turns out contains many nutrients: calcium, phosphorus, vitamins A and B2.
History of Coca
Incan god associated with coca People have been chewing coca leaves in the Andean highlands for millennia. The oldest concrete evidence of coca leave use is a 3500-year-old statue in a museum in Ecuador with a figure with a "characteristic chewers bulge in his left check." The Incas used the drug as did the Moche, and both cultures glorified it in their artwork.╠
Before the arrival of Europeans, people of the Andes made ritual offerings using the hoja sagrada (“sacred leaf’) .There is an altar in the temple of Mother Earth at Macchu Pichu where coca used to be ceremonially burned in a ceramic dish.
Indians have traditionally chewed coca to feel warm in the cold, to get an energy boost and to dampen their hungers. Wads of coca leaves are still placed on the forehead to relieve headaches and coca tea is consumed to relieve the symptoms of altitude sickness. Leaves have also traditionally been given to babies to make them stop crying.
After the Spanish failed to repress coca chewing among the Andean highlanders in the 16th century they turned to selling the leaf and made a fortune. On coca, a 16th century Spanish doctor wrote "the use of these little Bawles done take the hunger and thirst away from them." The Spanish gave coca to conscripted Indians working in the mines and plantations.
History of Cocaine
Cocaine for kids Cocaine was isolated in an impure form in 1844. In 1862 a German chemist brought some coca leaves home from a scientific expedition in Peru and isolated a nitrogen-based alkaloid from them—C17H21NO4—and called it Cocaïn . Other drugs in the same family include novocaine, procaine, and benzocaine.╠
Cocaine first hit the market in 1880 when it was tried as cure for opium addiction and alcoholism. Doctors were impressed by its successes. Patented medicines with cocaine were prescribes for hay fever, sinus trouble and as a general tonic.
In 1883 a supply of cocaine from the Merck pharmaceutical company was issued to the Bavarian army. Dr. Theodor Aschenbrandt wrote about the drugs ability to help soldier endure fatigue: it produces "lasting euphoria, which in no way differs from normal euphoria of the healthy person...You perceive an increase in self control and possess more vitality and capacity for work...In other words, you are simply more normal, and it is soon hard to believe that you are under the influence of any drug."
Sears Roebuck and Co. sold cocaine wine and cocaine kits complete with powder and syringe. In 1885 Park-Davis promised that its cocaine products could “supply the place of food, make the coward brave, the silent eloquent and free victims of alcohol and opium habits from the bondage.” The slogan for Cocaine Tooth Drops was "instantaneous Cure!" But doctors were also alarmed by its dangers. A Washington Post headline in 1887 read: "The Cocaine Habit. There have been only a few victims, but these are incurable."╠
Cocaine, Coca Cola and Famous People
Cocaine was an original ingredient in Coca-Cola but was taken out in 1903. The drink still contains coca leaves minus the cocaine. Coca leaves from Bolivia and Peru are processed at a New Jersey plant. The cocaine is extracted for medicinal use and from what's left come a flavoring agent is produced that is added to Coca-Cola syrup, the source of a drink consumed by hundreds of millions of people.╠
Old Coca-cola ads promised the drink would "ease the tired brain, soothe the rattled nerves and restore wasted energy to both Mind and Body." The drink was promoted as "exhilarating, invigorating...containing the Tonic properties of the wonderful COCA PLANT." A satisfied customer once wrote "Coca-Cola makes flow of thought more easy and reasoning power more vigorous."╠
Coca Cola Ad from 1900, when it contained cocaine
Sigmund Freud read about cocaine in a medical journal from Detroit and heard reports about soldiers exhausted after a day of marching taking the drug and marching "smartly" once again. Freud took the drug himself and found it "wonderfully stimulating...good against asthma and stomach disorders.” When he gave cocaine to a patient addicted to morphine the man became a psychotic, ranting about snakes crawling on his skin.╠
In Sir Conan Doyle's story The Sign of Four, the detective Sherlock Holmes explains why he injects cocaine: "I suppose that its influence is physically a bad one. I find it, however, so transcendingly stimulating and clarifying to the mind that its secondary action is a matter of small moment." Holmes obsession with Professor Moriarty some say was Doyle's portrayal of cocaine-induced paranoia.╠
Errol Flynn said he put cocaine on his penis and also claimed he had 13,000 lovers. As her career was going down the tubes the actress Tallulah Bankhead said, “Cocaine isn’t habit forming. I should know—I’ve been using it for years.”
Bolivian miner chewing coca The word for consuming coca leaves in Spanish is coquear —to coca. To take coca you stick a big wad of leaves between your cheek and gum, as if you were chewing tobacco, and throw in a little bit of lime. The lime can come in the form of a black stone or a white powder and it is what draws out the minute amounts of the alkaloid cocaine from the leaves.
You don't actually chew the leaves, you just let them sit there, and the cocaine is absorbed through the stomach and the mouth's mucous membranes.╠
A coca chewer told Marden, "It gives me strength to work, and I don't feel cold, hungry, or sleepy. besides, it tastes good." . Chewed with bits of alkaline llipta , solidifies ash of quinua stalks. Marden said, "my tongue felt twice its size. My heart faster...But the most curious effect appeared when I rinsed my mouth: the cold water felt burning hot." [Source: Luis Marden, National Geographic, February 1971]
Andean Indians and Coca
Peruvian Wine of Coca Indians up and down the Andes chew coca almost all day, every day. Big bagfuls of coca leaves are sold almost everywhere in the highlands. Some Indians like to chew coca with small amounts of ash. Powdered lime from the ashes of roasted snail shells is sucked in through a stick. Many Andean Indians carry a gourd with crushed sea shell and periodically dip a stick in it and then in their mouths.
Upper class Peruvians look down on the mestizo coca chewers as peasants. One upper class man who hires peasants as laborers told National Geographic : "They believe it makes them strong. I think that's nonsense, but if you don't give them coca they keep yawning, turn melancholy, and want to go home. They'd rather have coca than food."╠
Men on road building crews, who spend their day breaking rocks with 25-pound sledgehammers, get a handful of leaves and a shot of sugarcane liquor when they start work in the morning. They'll get four more allotments during the day. A supervisor told National Geographic they won't take the job unless coca and liquor are given. Laborers doing other menial jobs work under the same terms. The only thing the workers bring is their own supply of lime.╠
Andean people chew coca at weddings and funerals and before young men go of to do their military service. One anthropologist told National Geographic, "For the people of the Andes it is essential to come together and chew coca before praying, because if you do not, God will not hear you.”
Coca growers sometimes perform a rite in which they pick three leaves from one plant, hold them in the direction of a sacred mountain and blows on the leaves while chanting the name of the mountain spirit.
Peter White wrote in National Geographic: different kinds of leaves have different purposes: "to put into the foundation of a new house; for help in matters of health, business of love. For magic white or black, good or bad." Folk herbalists pick them out and place leaves in groups of three for special cures. Many Indians believe that coca posses magical powers.
cocaine lines In the United States, cocaine use peaked in the late 1970s and early 1980s and has been declining since then. Since the end of crack epidemic of the late 1980s cocaine use has dropped significantly. Between 1985 and 1999, cocaine use in the U.S. fell by 70 percent, with cocaine prices in Europe and North America falling to half what they were in the 1980s.
Worldwide, abuse of the drug rose through the 1990s and 2000s in many places, including Europe. In the early 2000s it was estimated that cocaine was used by 13.4 million people worldwide, with around 3.5 million users in Europe. According to the United Nations annual report on drugs, issued in June 2009, global use of cocaine fell in 2008. In 2009, the Economist magazine reckoned that the production of cocaine was roughly the same as it was a decade earlier.
In the 1980s the price of coca dropped so low that highly addictive coca paste becomes affordable to the local populations in South America. In Peru, disheveled and hollow-faced paste smokers, called mosacs , robbed old ladies and shoplifted like United States crack addicts to pay for their habit. The problem was so bad that some parents checked their addicted children into hospitals to have part of their brain removed in an attempt to stop their addiction. ╠
crack cocaine Crack is a concentrated type of cocaine that comes in the form of “rocks” or “stones” and is usually smoked in a pipe. The high that users experience is short, intense and very pleasurable. The drug is highly addictive and users intensely want another hit almost immediately after they had the last one.
One user told the told the Independent, “It’s like a religious rapture when you first take it. But after the experience diminishes, you seem to spend an eternity trying to connect with it again.”
Crack generally sells for more than twice what cocaine sells for but is sold in smaller more affordable quantities. Hits that sell for about $10 will give users an intense rush
Cocaine and Health
Acute deaths caused solely by cocaine use are very rare. In the Netherlands there are about 100 deaths a year from heroin but only one or two from cocaine.
cocaine brain In a study by a team led by Prof. David Nutt of Britain’s Bristol University published in the British medical journal Lancet heroin and cocaine ranked as the most dangerous drugs followed by barbiturates and street methadone.
The cocaine high is often followed by intense depression. Long term crack users often are anxious, paranoid and have a tendency to fly into aggressive rages. Brain scans of cocaine addicts show reduced activity in the frontal cortex, an area of the brain involved in behavior, decision-making and self control.
Chronic cocaine use is said to harm neurons in the brain associated with pleasure. Some theories suggest the body uses up all the body's supply of dopamine so that pleasure is impossible.. This may explain why cocaine addicts have a high rate of depression. An Italian study suggests that chronic use may cause DNA mutation.
A Harvard study indicates that frequent cocaine use slowly causes blood vessels to become inflamed and clotting to begin, increasing the risk of a heart attack or stroke. Cocaine also causes the body to produce blood-thickening agents normally activated after an injury to halt blood loss.
Cocaine and Crack Addiction
Heroin, cocaine, amphetamines, alcohol and nicotine are regarded as the five drugs hardest to give up. Studies have found that women are more likely to become addicted to cocaine than men.
About 20 percent of cocaine users are dependent on the drug, compared to more than 80 percent for nicotine. The recovery rate for cocaine addicts is 90 percent, compared to 40 to 50 percent for heroin.
Crack cocaine that people smoke is significantly more addictive than powered cocaine that people snort. After trying crack a few times, users often have a difficult time giving it up but they don't become physically ill when withdrawing like heroin addicts do. When crack addicts under an MRI are shown a picture of people dealing and smoking crack their anterior cingulate, part of the brain associated with moods and leaning, lights up dramatically. Non addicts show no such brain activity.
Crack addicts are constantly desperate for money to purchase the drug and will do almost anything to get it—crime, prostitution, stealing from one’s parents . The Independent described one man who committed seven burglaries in one night and pissed away the earnings at a crack house between each one.
Treatments for Cocaine Addiction
The main treatments for cocaine addiction are counseling, therapy and counseling. At the Healing Visions Institute of Addiction Recovery in St. Kitts addicts are given a hallucinogen called ibogaine. Patients only take it once. The drug is made from the bark of the Tabernanthe iboga , a powerful hallucinogenic being found in the rain forests of Gabon and used in initiation rituals of the Bwiti people. It produces a powerful 36-hour trip filled with living dreams and jolting self- realization experiences.
Scientists have been able to develop an equivalent of methadone, naltrexone or buprenorphine for cocaine (See Heroin Addiction). This is because cocaine works by blocking the receptor of neurons used to reabsorb dopamine and it is difficult to develop a blocker for a blocker. Scientists at Yale have invented a drug neutralizes the cocaine molecule whenever it enters the bloodstream.
Vigabatrin, a drug that stimulates the production of Gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, a neurotransmitter that has an inhibitory effect on neurons, is used to treat cocaine addicts. In one study, 30 percent of the cocaine addicts that took it were able to stay off the drug, compared to just 5 percent in a control group. What was perhaps most remarkable about the treatment was that it was effective with people written off as hopeless addicts.
Researchers are trying to develop a vaccine that would prevent drug users from getting high. An experimental cocaine vaccine has been made of cocaine molecules attached to cholera-causing bacteria, which causes the immune system to respond by creating cocaine antibodies. If cocaine enters the body antibodies will bond to it preventing it from passing to the brain and triggering a buzz. Such a vaccine is already being studied under its first wave of large-scale clinical human trials.
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons; DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration)
Text Sources: Buzzed, the Straight Facts About the Most Used and Abused Drugs from Alcohol to Ecstasy by Cynthia Kuhn, Ph.D., Scott Swartzwelder Ph.D., Wilkie Wilson Ph.D., Duke University Medical Center (W.W. Norton, New York, 2003); National Geographic, Time, Newsweek, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Wikipedia, The Independent, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2009 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated March 2011