5 Facts about Cocaine

Cocaine is a common recreational drug, but many people are unaware of its long and sometimes shocking history.

Although most people know cocaine is an illegal substance that is incredibly addictive and destructive, there are many facts about cocaine likely to surprise you. Here are five interesting facts about cocaine, as stated by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.

Cocaine’s Use in the Medical Community

Cocaine was invented in its purified form in 1860 by a German chemist, but doctors did not learn of its ability to relieve pain until the 1880s. In 1884, Austrian ophthalmologist Carl Koller used cocaine to anesthetize a patient’s eye. Dr. Koller found cocaine acted as a powerful anesthetic as vasoconstrictor, which drastically reduced bleeding during surgical procedures.

Several Famous Addicts

Before cocaine, anesthesia was quite limited. Doctors were thrilled to discover a new substance that could control pain. Unfortunately, they used cocaine without fully understanding its effect on the body. Between the 1880s and the early part of the 20th Century, doctors prescribed cocaine for a broad range of diseases and physical discomfort. This relieved pain, but it also created a huge number of drug addicts, including scientists, physicians, and even U.S. presidents. Noteworthy cocaine addicts include Thomas Edison, Sigmund Freud, Robert Louis Stevenson, and President William McKinley.

Coca-Cola Contained Cocaine Until 1903

You may have heard that cocaine was once an ingredient in Coca-Cola. It is true that the popular soft drink originally included trace amounts of cocaine, as well as wine. American physician Dr. John Pemberton started selling Pemberton’s French Wine Coca in 1884, only to replace the wine with sugar syrup in 1886. The cocaine remained until 1903.

Spanish Conquistadors Used Cocaine as Money

Although the people of the Andean and Incan civilizations did not ingest purified cocaine – since the extraction process necessary to produce purified cocaine was not invented until 1860 – they consumed small amounts of cocaine by chewing coca leaves. When the Conquistadors sailed to the New World in the 1500s, they observed how the native people prized the leaves. As a result, the Spanish used coca leaves as a form of currency in what would become South America.

Cocaine Was Legal Until 1914

Cocaine was widely used as pharmaceutical from the 1880s through the early 1900s. Once people realized it was highly addictive, however, there was a massive effort to restrict its use. The Harrison Narcotics Act made cocaine illegal in 1914. Doctors continued to use cocaine up until modern times, but it has been largely replaced by other anesthetics. Cocaine hydrochloride is still sometimes used as a topical anesthetic.