, +14153719788
Bringing medicine to you

The rich man’s drug

Cocaine is the second most popular illegal recreational drug in the United States (behind cannabis) and the U.S. is the world’s largest consumer of cocaine. Cocaine is commonly used in middle to upper-class communities and is known as a “rich man’s drug”. It is also popular amongst college students, as a party drug. A study throughout the entire United States has reported that around 48 percent of people who graduated from high school in 1979 have used cocaine recreationally during some point in their lifetime, compared to approximately 20 percent of students who graduated between the years of 1980 and 1995. Its users span over different ages, races, and professions. In the 1970s and 1980s, the drug became particularly popular in the disco culture as cocaine usage was very common and popular in many discos such as Studio 54.


For over a thousand years South American indigenous peoples have chewed the leaves of Erythroxylon coca, a plant that contains vital nutrients as well as numerous alkaloids, including cocaine. The coca leaf was, and still is, chewed almost universally by some indigenous communities. The remains of coca leaves have been found with ancient Peruvian mummies, and pottery from the time period depicts humans with bulged cheeks, indicating the presence of something on which they are chewing.[114] There is also evidence that these cultures used a mixture of coca leaves and saliva as an anesthetic for the performance of trepanation.

When the Spanish arrived in South America, most at first ignored aboriginal claims that the leaf gave them strength and energy, and declared the practice of chewing it the work of the Devil.[citation needed] But after discovering that these claims were true, they legalized and taxed the leaf, taking 10% off the value of each crop.[116] In 1569, Spanish botanist Nicolás Monardes described the indigenous peoples’ practice of chewing a mixture of tobacco and coca leaves to induce “great contentment”:

When they wished to make themselves drunk and out of judgment they chewed a mixture of tobacco and coca leaves which make them go as they were out of their wittes.

In 1609, Padre Blas Valera wrote:

Coca protects the body from many ailments, and our doctors use it in powdered form to reduce the swelling of wounds, to strengthen broken bones, to expel cold from the body or prevent it from entering, and to cure rotten wounds or sores that are full of maggots. And if it does so much for outward ailments, will not its singular virtue have even greater effect in the entrails of those who eat it?[118]

Isolation and naming

Although the stimulant and hunger-suppressant properties of coca had been known for many centuries, the isolation of the cocaine alkaloid was not achieved until 1855. Various European scientists had attempted to isolate cocaine, but none had been successful for two reasons: the knowledge of chemistry required was insufficient at the time,[citation needed] and contemporary conditions of sea-shipping from South America could degrade the cocaine in the plant samples available to European chemists.[citation needed]

The cocaine alkaloid was first isolated by the German chemist Friedrich Gaedcke in 1855. Gaedcke named the alkaloid “erythroxyline”, and published a description in the journal Archiv der Pharmazie.[119]

In 1856, Friedrich Wöhler asked Dr. Carl Scherzer, a scientist aboard the Novara (an Austrian frigate sent by Emperor Franz Joseph to circle the globe), to bring him a large amount of coca leaves from South America. In 1859, the ship finished its travels and Wöhler received a trunk full of coca. Wöhler passed on the leaves to Albert Niemann, a PhD student at the University of Göttingen in Germany, who then developed an improved purification process.[120]

Niemann described every step he took to isolate cocaine in his dissertation titled Über eine neue organische Base in den Cocablättern (On a New Organic Base in the Coca Leaves), which was published in 1860—it earned him his PhD and is now in the British Library. He wrote of the alkaloid’s “colourless transparent prisms” and said that “Its solutions have an alkaline reaction, a bitter taste, promote the flow of saliva and leave a peculiar numbness, followed by a sense of cold when applied to the tongue.” Niemann named the alkaloid “cocaine” from “coca” (from Quechua “kuka”) + suffix “ine”.[120][121] Because of its use as a local anesthetic, a suffix “-caine” was later extracted and used to form names of synthetic local anesthetics.

The first synthesis and elucidation of the structure of the cocaine molecule was by Richard Willstätter in 1898.[90] It was the first biomimetic synthesis of an organic structure recorded in academic chemical literature.[122][123] The synthesis started from tropinone, a related natural product and took five steps.


“Cocaine toothache drops”, 1885 advertisement of cocaine for dental pain in children

Advertisement in the January 1896 issue of McClure’s Magazine for Burnett’s Cocaine “for the hair”.

With the discovery of this new alkaloid, Western medicine was quick to exploit the possible uses of this plant.

In 1879, Vassili von Anrep, of the University of Würzburg, devised an experiment to demonstrate the analgesic properties of the newly discovered alkaloid. He prepared two separate jars, one containing a cocaine-salt solution, with the other containing merely salt water. He then submerged a frog’s legs into the two jars, one leg in the treatment and one in the control solution, and proceeded to stimulate the legs in several different ways. The leg that had been immersed in the cocaine solution reacted very differently from the leg that had been immersed in salt water.[124]

Karl Koller (a close associate of Sigmund Freud, who would write about cocaine later) experimented with cocaine for ophthalmic usage. In an infamous experiment in 1884, he experimented upon himself by applying a cocaine solution to his own eye and then pricking it with pins. His findings were presented to the Heidelberg Ophthalmological Society. Also in 1884, Jellinek demonstrated the effects of cocaine as a respiratory system anesthetic. In 1885, William Halsted demonstrated nerve-block anesthesia,[125] and James Leonard Corning demonstrated peridural anesthesia.[126] 1898 saw Heinrich Quincke use cocaine for spinal anesthesia.


Pope Leo XIII purportedly carried a hip flask of the coca-treated Vin Mariani with him, and awarded a Vatican gold medal to Angelo Mariani.

In 1859, an Italian doctorPaolo Mantegazza, returned from Peru, where he had witnessed first-hand the use of coca by the local indigenous peoples. He proceeded to experiment on himself and upon his return to Milan he wrote a paper in which he described the effects. In this paper he declared coca and cocaine (at the time they were assumed to be the same) as being useful medicinally, in the treatment of “a furred tongue in the morning, flatulence, and whitening of the teeth.”

A chemist named Angelo Mariani who read Mantegazza’s paper became immediately intrigued with coca and its economic potential. In 1863, Mariani started marketing a wine called Vin Mariani, which had been treated with coca leaves, to become cocawine. The ethanol in wine acted as a solvent and extracted the cocaine from the coca leaves, altering the drink’s effect. It contained 6 mg cocaine per ounce of wine, but Vin Mariani which was to be exported contained 7.2 mg per ounce, to compete with the higher cocaine content of similar drinks in the United States. A “pinch of coca leaves” was included in John Styth Pemberton‘s original 1886 recipe for Coca-Cola, though the company began using decocainized leaves in 1906 when the Pure Food and Drug Act was passed.

In 1879 cocaine began to be used to treat morphine addiction. Cocaine was introduced into clinical use as a local anesthetic in Germany in 1884, about the same time as Sigmund Freud published his work Über Coca, in which he wrote that cocaine causes:[128]

Exhilaration and lasting euphoria, which in no way differs from the normal euphoria of the healthy person. You perceive an increase of self-control and possess more vitality and capacity for work. In other words, you are simply normal, and it is soon hard to believe you are under the influence of any drug. Long intensive physical work is performed without any fatigue. This result is enjoyed without any of the unpleasant after-effects that follow exhilaration brought about by alcoholic beverages. No craving for the further use of cocaine appears after the first, or even after repeated taking of the drug.

In 1885 the U.S. manufacturer Parke-Davis sold cocaine in various forms, including cigarettes, powder, and even a cocaine mixture that could be injected directly into the user’s veins with the included needle. The company promised that its cocaine products would “supply the place of food, make the coward brave, the silent eloquent and render the sufferer insensitive to pain.”

In this 1904 advice column from the Tacoma Times, “Madame Falloppe” recommended that cold sores be treated with a solution of borax, cocaine, and morphine.

By the late Victorian era, cocaine use had appeared as a vice in literature. For example, it was injected by Arthur Conan Doyle‘s fictional Sherlock Holmes, generally to offset the boredom he felt when he was not working on a case.

In early 20th-century Memphis, Tennessee, cocaine was sold in neighborhood drugstores on Beale Street, costing five or ten cents for a small boxful. Stevedores along the Mississippi River used the drug as a stimulant, and white employers encouraged its use by black laborers.[130]

In 1909, Ernest Shackleton took “Forced March” brand cocaine tablets to Antarctica, as did Captain Scott a year later on his ill-fated journey to the South Pole.[131]

During the mid-1940s, amidst World War II, cocaine was considered for inclusion as an ingredient of a future generation of ‘pep pills’ for the German military, code named D-IX.[132]

In modern popular culture, references to cocaine are common. The drug has a glamorous image associated with the wealthy, famous and powerful, and is said to make users “feel rich and beautiful”.[133][134][135][136] In addition the pace of modern society − such as in finance − gives many the incentive to make use of the drug.[133]

Women purchase cocaine capsules in Berlin, 1924

Modern usage

D.C. Mayor Marion Barry captured on a surveillance camera smoking crack cocaine during a sting operation by the FBI and D.C. Police.

In many countries, cocaine is a popular recreational drug. In the United States, the development of “crack” cocaine introduced the substance to a generally poorer inner-city market. Use of the powder form has stayed relatively constant, experiencing a new height of use during the late 1990s and early 2000s in the U.S., and has become much more popular in the last few years in the UK.[citation needed][when?]

Cocaine use is prevalent across all socioeconomic strata, including age, demographics, economic, social, political, religious, and livelihood.[citation needed]

The estimated U.S. cocaine market exceeded US$70 billion in street value for the year 2005, exceeding revenues by corporations such as Starbucks.[137][138] There is a tremendous demand for cocaine in the U.S. market, particularly among those who are making incomes affording luxury spending, such as single adults and professionals with discretionary income. Cocaine’s status as a club drug shows its immense popularity among the “party crowd”.[citation needed]

In 1995 the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) announced in a press release the publication of the results of the largest global study on cocaine use ever undertaken. However, a decision by an American representative in the World Health Assembly banned the publication of the study, because it seemed to make a case for the positive uses of cocaine. An excerpt of the report strongly conflicted with accepted paradigms, for example “that occasional cocaine use does not typically lead to severe or even minor physical or social problems.” In the sixth meeting of the B committee, the US representative threatened that “If World Health Organization activities relating to drugs failed to reinforce proven drug control approaches, funds for the relevant programs should be curtailed”. This led to the decision to discontinue publication. A part of the study was recuperated and published in 2010, including profiles of cocaine use in 20 countries, but are unavailable as of 2015.[139]

In October 2010 it was reported that the use of cocaine in Australia has doubled since monitoring began in 2003.[140]

A problem with illegal cocaine use, especially in the higher volumes used to combat fatigue (rather than increase euphoria) by long-term users, is the risk of ill effects or damage caused by the compounds used in adulteration. Cutting or “stepping on” the drug is commonplace, using compounds which simulate ingestion effects, such as Novocain (procaine) producing temporary anesthaesia, as many users believe a strong numbing effect is the result of strong and/or pure cocaine, ephedrine or similar stimulants that are to produce an increased heart rate. The normal adulterants for profit are inactive sugars, usually mannitol, creatine or glucose, so introducing active adulterants gives the illusion of purity and to ‘stretch’ or make it so a dealer can sell more product than without the adulterants.[citation needed] The adulterant of sugars allows the dealer to sell the product for a higher price because of the illusion of purity and allows sale of more of the product at that higher price, enabling dealers to significantly increase revenue with little additional cost for the adulterants. A 2007 study by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction showed that the purity levels for street purchased cocaine was often under 5% and on average under 50% pure.[141]

Society and culture

Legal status

The production, distribution, and sale of cocaine products is restricted (and illegal in most contexts) in most countries as regulated by the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and the United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. In the United States the manufacture, importation, possession, and distribution of cocaine are additionally regulated by the 1970 Controlled Substances Act.

Some countries, such as Peru and Bolivia, permit the cultivation of coca leaf for traditional consumption by the local indigenous population, but nevertheless, prohibit the production, sale, and consumption of cocaine.[142] The provisions as to how much a coca farmer can yield annually is protected by laws such as the Bolivian Cato accord.[143] In addition, some parts of Europe, the United States, and Australia allow processed cocaine for medicinal uses only.


Cocaine is a Schedule 8 prohibited substance in Australia under the Poisons Standard (July 2016).[144] A schedule 8 substance is a controlled Drug – Substances which should be available for use but require restriction of manufacture, supply, distribution, possession and use to reduce abuse, misuse and physical or psychological dependence.[144]

In Western Australia under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1981 4.0g of cocaine is the amount of prohibited drugs determining a court of trial, 2.0g is the amount of cocaine required for the presumption of intention to sell or supply and 28.0g is the amount of cocaine required for purposes of drug trafficking.[145]

United States

Drug overdoses killed more than 70,200 Americans in 2017, with cocaine overdoses making up 13,942 of those deaths.[47]

The US federal government instituted a national labeling requirement for cocaine and cocaine-containing products through the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906.[146] The next important federal regulation was the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914. While this act is often seen as the start of prohibition, the act itself was not actually a prohibition on cocaine, but instead set up a regulatory and licensing regime.[147] The Harrison Act did not recognize addiction as a treatable condition and therefore the therapeutic use of cocaine, heroin or morphine to such individuals was outlawed – leading a 1915 editorial in the journal American Medicine to remark that the addict “is denied the medical care he urgently needs, open, above-board sources from which he formerly obtained his drug supply are closed to him, and he is driven to the underworld where he can get his drug, but of course, surreptitiously and in violation of the law.”[148] The Harrison Act left manufacturers of cocaine untouched so long as they met certain purity and labeling standards.[149] Despite that cocaine was typically illegal to sell and legal outlets were rarer, the quantities of legal cocaine produced declined very little.[149] Legal cocaine quantities did not decrease until the Jones–Miller Act of 1922 put serious restrictions on cocaine manufactures.[149]


United States CBP police inspect a seized shipment of cocaine

The U.S. Coast Guard in Miami offloading confiscated cocaine

In 2004, according to the United Nations, 589 tonnes of cocaine were seized globally by law enforcement authorities. Colombia seized 188 t, the United States 166 t, Europe 79 t, Peru 14 t, Bolivia 9 t, and the rest of the world 133 t.[150]


Because of the drug’s potential for addiction and overdose, cocaine is generally treated as a “hard drug“, with severe penalties for possession and trafficking. Demand remains high, and consequently, black market cocaine is quite expensive. Unprocessed cocaine, such as coca leaves, are occasionally purchased and sold, but this is exceedingly rare as it is much easier and more profitable to conceal and smuggle it in powdered form. The scale of the market is immense: 770 tonnes times $100 per gram retail = up to $77 billion.[citation needed]


Colombia is as of 2019 the world’s largest cocaine producer, with production more than tripling since 2013.[151][152] Three-quarters of the world’s annual yield of cocaine has been produced in Colombia, both from cocaine base imported from Peru (primarily the Huallaga Valley) and Bolivia, and from locally grown coca. There was a 28% increase from the amount of potentially harvestable coca plants which were grown in Colombia in 1998. This, combined with crop reductions in Bolivia and Peru, made Colombia the nation with the largest area of coca under cultivation after the mid-1990s. Coca grown for traditional purposes by indigenous communities, a use which is still present and is permitted by Colombian laws, only makes up a small fragment of total coca production, most of which is used for the illegal drug trade.[citation needed]

An interview with a coca farmer published in 2003 described a mode of production by acid-base extraction that has changed little since 1905. Roughly 625 pounds (283 kg) of leaves were harvested per hectare, six times per year. The leaves were dried for half a day, then chopped into small pieces with a string trimmer and sprinkled with a small amount of powdered cement (replacing sodium carbonate from former times). Several hundred pounds of this mixture were soaked in 50 US gallons (190 L) of gasoline for a day, then the gasoline was removed and the leaves were pressed for remaining liquid, after which they could be discarded. Then battery acid (weak sulfuric acid) was used, one bucket per 55 lb (25 kg) of leaves, to create a phase separation in which the cocaine free base in the gasoline was acidified and extracted into a few buckets of “murky-looking smelly liquid”. Once powdered caustic soda was added to this, the cocaine precipitated and could be removed by filtration through a cloth. The resulting material, when dried, was termed pasta and sold by the farmer. The 3750 pound yearly harvest of leaves from a hectare produced 6 lb (2.5 kg) of pasta, approximately 40–60% cocaine. Repeated recrystallization from solvents, producing pasta lavada and eventually crystalline cocaine were performed at specialized laboratories after the sale.[153]

Attempts to eradicate coca fields through the use of defoliants have devastated part of the farming economy in some coca growing regions of Colombia, and strains appear to have been developed that are more resistant or immune to their use. Whether these strains are natural mutations or the product of human tampering is unclear. These strains have also shown to be more potent than those previously grown, increasing profits for the drug cartels responsible for the exporting of cocaine. Although production fell temporarily, coca crops rebounded in numerous smaller fields in Colombia, rather than the larger plantations.[citation needed]

The cultivation of coca has become an attractive economic decision for many growers due to the combination of several factors, including the lack of other employment alternatives, the lower profitability of alternative crops in official crop substitution programs, the eradication-related damages to non-drug farms, the spread of new strains of the coca plant due to persistent worldwide demand.[citation needed]

Estimated Andean region coca cultivation and potential pure cocaine production[154]
2000 2001 2002 2003 2004
Net cultivation km2 (sq mi) 1,875 (724) 2,218 (856) 2,007.5 (775.1) 1,663 (642) 1,662 (642)
Potential pure cocaine production (tonnes) 770 925 830 680 645

The latest estimate provided by the U.S. authorities on the annual production of cocaine in Colombia refers to 290 metric tons. As of the end of 2011, the seizure operations of Colombian cocaine carried out in different countries have totaled 351.8 metric tons of cocaine, i.e. 121.3% of Colombia’s annual production according to the U.S. Department of State’s estimates. [155][156]


Synthetic cocaine would be highly desirable to the illegal drug industry as it would eliminate the high visibility and low reliability of offshore sources and international smuggling, replacing them with clandestine domestic laboratories, as are common for illicit methamphetamine. However, natural cocaine remains the lowest cost and highest quality supply of cocaine. Actual full synthesis of cocaine is rarely done. Formation of inactive stereoisomers (cocaine has 4 chiral centres – 1R, 2R, 3S, and 5S, 2 of them dependent, hence a total potential of 8 possible stereoisomers) plus synthetic by-products limits the yield and purity.[citation needed] Names like “synthetic cocaine” and “new cocaine” have been misapplied to phencyclidine (PCP) and various designer drugs.[citation needed]

Trafficking and distribution

Cocaine smuggled in a charango, 2008

Organized criminal gangs operating on a large scale dominate the cocaine trade. Most cocaine is grown and processed in South America, particularly in Colombia, Bolivia, Peru, and smuggled into the United States and Europe, the United States being the world’s largest consumer of cocaine,[112] where it is sold at huge markups; usually in the US at $80–120 for 1 gram, and $250–300 for 3.5 grams (1/8 of an ounce, or an “eight ball”).[157]

Caribbean and Mexican routes

As of 2005, cocaine shipments from South America transported through Mexico or Central America were generally moved over land or by air to staging sites in northern Mexico. The cocaine is then broken down into smaller loads for smuggling across the U.S.–Mexico border. The primary cocaine importation points in the United States have been in Arizona, southern California, southern Florida, and Texas. Typically, land vehicles are driven across the U.S.–Mexico border. Sixty-five percent of cocaine enters the United States through Mexico, and the vast majority of the rest enters through Florida.[158][page needed] As of 2015, the Sinaloa Cartel is the most active drug cartel involved in smuggling illicit drugs like cocaine into the United States and trafficking them throughout the United States.[159]

Cocaine traffickers from Colombia and Mexico have established a labyrinth of smuggling routes throughout the Caribbean, the Bahama Island chain, and South Florida. They often hire traffickers from Mexico or the Dominican Republic to transport the drug using a variety of smuggling techniques to U.S. markets. These include airdrops of 500 to 700 kg (1,100 to 1,500 lb) in the Bahama Islands or off the coast of Puerto Rico, mid-ocean boat-to-boat transfers of 500 to 2,000 kg (1,100 to 4,400 lb), and the commercial shipment of tonnes of cocaine through the port of Miami.[citation needed]

Chilean route

Another route of cocaine traffic goes through Chile, which is primarily used for cocaine produced in Bolivia since the nearest seaports lie in northern Chile. Arid Bolivia–Chile border is easily crossed by 4×4 vehicles that then head to the seaports of Iquique and Antofagasta. While the price of cocaine is higher in Chile than in Peru and Bolivia, the final destination is usually Europe, especially Spain where drug dealing networks exist among South American immigrants.[citation needed]


Cocaine is also carried in small, concealed, kilogram quantities across the border by couriers known as “mules” (or “mulas”), who cross a border either legally, for example, through a port or airport, or illegally elsewhere. The drugs may be strapped to the waist or legs or hidden in bags, or hidden in the body. If the mule gets through without being caught, the gangs will reap most of the profits. If he or she is caught, however, gangs will sever all links and the mule will usually stand trial for trafficking alone.[citation needed]

Bulk cargo ships are also used to smuggle cocaine to staging sites in the western Caribbean–Gulf of Mexico area. These vessels are typically 150–250-foot (50–80 m) coastal freighters that carry an average cocaine load of approximately 2.5 tonnes. Commercial fishing vessels are also used for smuggling operations. In areas with a high volume of recreational traffic, smugglers use the same types of vessels, such as go-fast boats, as those used by the local populations.[citation needed]

Sophisticated drug subs are the latest tool drug runners are using to bring cocaine north from Colombia, it was reported on 20 March 2008. Although the vessels were once viewed as a quirky sideshow in the drug war, they are becoming faster, more seaworthy, and capable of carrying bigger loads of drugs than earlier models, according to those charged with catching them.[160]

Sales to consumers

Cocaine adulterated with fruit flavoring

Cocaine is readily available in all major countries’ metropolitan areas. According to the Summer 1998 Pulse Check, published by the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, cocaine use had stabilized across the country, with a few increases reported in San DiegoBridgeport, Miami, and Boston. In the West, cocaine usage was lower, which was thought to be due to a switch to methamphetamine among some users; methamphetamine is cheaper, three and a half times more powerful, and lasts 12–24 times longer with each dose.[161][162] Nevertheless, the number of cocaine users remain high, with a large concentration among urban youth.

In addition to the amounts previously mentioned, cocaine can be sold in “bill sizes”: As of 2007 for example, $10 might purchase a “dime bag”, a very small amount (0.1–0.15 g) of cocaine. Twenty dollars might purchase 0.15–0.3 g. However, in lower Texas, it is sold cheaper due to it being easier to receive: a dime for $10 is 0.4 g, a 20 is 0.8–1.0 g and an 8-ball (3.5 g) is sold for $60 to $80, depending on the quality and dealer.[citation needed] These amounts and prices are very popular among young people because they are inexpensive and easily concealed on one’s body. Quality and price can vary dramatically depending on supply and demand, and on geographic region.[163]

In 2008, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction reports that the typical retail price of cocaine varied between €50 and €75 per gram in most European countries, although Cyprus, Romania, Sweden and Turkey reported much higher values.[164]


World annual cocaine consumption, as of 2000, stood at around 600 tonnes, with the United States consuming around 300 t, 50% of the total, Europe about 150 t, 25% of the total, and the rest of the world the remaining 150 t or 25%.[165] It is estimated that 1.5 million people in the United States used cocaine in 2010 down from 2.4 million in 2006.[12] Conversely, cocaine use appears to be increasing in Europe with the highest prevalences in Spain, the United KingdomItaly, and Ireland.[12]

The 2010 UN World Drug Report concluded that “it appears that the North American cocaine market has declined in value from US$47 billion in 1998 to US$38 billion in 2008. Between 2006 and 2008, the value of the market remained basically stable”.[166]