The history of Cocaine
The cocaine alkaloid was first isolated from coca leaves in 1859 by Albert Niemann. Even though its commercial potential was debatable doctors of the time embraced it. You could get cocaine drops for toothaches or cocaine throat lozenges. It was even used it as an anesthetic by dentists and surgeons.
Sigmund Freud, the famous psychoanalyst used cocaine and promoted as a cure for depression and sexual impotence. He also became super addicted to it and it took him 12 years to break his habit.
Cocaine can be found in all sorts of elixirs and tonics in the late 1800s and early 1900s, but there was one beverage that stood out above the rest. The author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Jules Verne drank it, Pope Leo XIII, carried it in a flask. Even the US presidents Grant and McKinley were fans.
It was said to give you energy strength, vitality and wings. Actually, what we’re talking about here is Vin Mariani.
What has Vinn Mariani you may be asking? Well, it’s a combination of cocaine and wine. It’s literally cocaine mixed with wine cuz, who has time to drink wine and snort cocaine, and that’s just too much work, you like cocaine, you like wine, but doing both at the same time is hard.
It was invented in 1863 by a Parisian chemist named Angelo Mariani and it’s basically, six milligrams of cocaine per fluid ounce of red Bordeaux Wine. They recommended drinking three glasses of this a day. Basically drinking a glass with every Meal. But before you guys start thinking, these guys were completely crazy, just just know they only recommended half that amount for children.
Vin Mariani was so popular, it spawned a whole slew of copycat mixtures, including one by an Atlanta pharmacist named John Stith Pemberton.
He was trying to find an alternative to the morphine and heroin based concoctions that were out there, which were totally a thing and super popular at the time. But he found one that combined the extracts of the coca leaves in the Kola nut.
He called that “Pemberton’s French Wine Coca” and claimed it was even better than Mariani. Even saying that quote:
it was a most wonderful, invigorator of sexual organs
But Pemberton ran into a problem with his wannabes Spanish Fly in 1886, when Atlanta passed a prohibition against alcohol making his drink illegal. Not because of its cocaine, because of its alcohol. Because of this, he replaced the wine with sugar syrup and he renamed his concoction Coca-Cola.
This drink became so popular, it spurred several others, including Cafe-Coca, Wiseola and my favorite Celery-Cola.
So how much cocaine was actually in coca-cola?
Well, it’s kind of impossible to say in the early days, but by 1902 it was down to like 1/4 hundredths of a grain of cocaine per fluid ounce of Cola syrup. I mean, you know it’s not like sound like a lot of cocaine, but even that was becoming problematic, because cocaine addiction was quickly becoming an issue in the United States.
This kind of mirrors our current day opium crisis because they put cocaine in everything. Basically overprescribed it and then lo-and-behold, people got hooked on. By 1912, the U.S. recorded approximately 5,000 cocaine-related deaths.
The drug became related with a loss of morality in the culture and lawmakers started pushing for it to be outlawed. Which they did with the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914. Which basically regulated and taxed any extracts from coca leaves or opium plants and essentially put an End to cocaine being in coca-cola. But like a lot of things that happen in that time in American history, they made some room for a little bit of old-timey racism.
African Americans and laborers in general were associated with cocaine because their employers would give them cocaine to make them more productive on the job. So so this went way back, but when coca-cola was bottled in 1899, that was the first time that African Americans could really drink i.
Up to that point, it was only sold in pharmacies and most of those were segregated. So of course, once it was available, they rushed out and bought it, which of course, only played into that Association That was already there between African Americans and cocaine. This narrative began to form that there was this explosion of drug use among African Americans to the point that in 1910 a US State Department, official Dr. Hamilton Wright, said quote:
The use of cocaine by the Negroes Of the south is one of the most elusive and troublesome questions which confront the enforcement of the law.
They were a little more racist back then, but do the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act and the Jones Miller Act of 1920 the cocaine use kind of fell off to the wayside, kind of became an underground thing for a while.
Then, well, the 80s happened. The economy was rising, people wanted to party and cocaine started flowing into the country from all over the world. The price of cocaine dropped by as much as 80 percent. So the suppliers had to get creative and find new and cheaper ways of selling cocaine. What they landed on was crack. Which is basically cocaine mixed with baking soda and water. It was sold for as much as like $5 for a crack Rock in 1985, and it became really popular in lower-income communities.
Popular is a weird word to use there. Actually it was a scourge. It decimated poorer urban neighborhoods. But the government’s response to this has been highly controversial ever since then it only compounded the problems in those neighborhoods. They passed a law called the Anti-drug Abuse Act of 1986 and amongst a lot of other stuff that was in this bill.
One of them was that it differentiated the sentences between cocaine and cocaine based drugs. Lighter sentences for regular cocaine, heavier sentences for crack. In other words, if you got caught with a little baggie of cocaine, your sentence would be a lot lighter than somebody who was caught with a couple of rocks of crack. Even though the amount of cocaine in a crack is far lighter than that in regular cocaine, because It’s mixed with other stuff. In this flood of the prison system with low-income and minority prisoners, so yeah, controversial.
But there is some good news. The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 was passed, a sort of ameliorate these differences, and now, if you get caught with crack, your sentence is only 18 times worse than regular cocaine.
With methamphetamines and the opioid crisis getting all the headlines you don’t really hear as much about cocaine anymore. But it is still the second most popular drug in the United States, although that popularity is waning according to the RAM population spending On cocaine in the United States has dropped from 58 billion in 2006 to 24 billion in 2016, but maybe that’s because we’re drinking so much caffeine.
We don’t really need it anymore: 80% of adults in the Western World consume caffeine and one form or another from coffee to tea, to the endless brands of energy drinks, also known as Kyle juice. And people are vaping so much nicotine, they’re starting to die from it. So maybe just turns out that one way or another people are just going to want a little bit of a boost. But as they say, the dosage makes the poison, so does it make sense to decriminalize cocaine and small amounts? I mean the number of people that died when cocaine was in coca-cola was far less than what happened in the 80s during the crack epidemic.
Some countries like Colombia, Mexico and Peru have decriminalized small amounts of cocaine and haven’t seen any real, substantial problems from it. In fact, Portugal decriminalized all drugs in 2001 and saw a huge decrease in drug overdoses as well as HIV infections and drug-related crime.
For something like that to happen in the U.S. though, it would take a massive shift in public opinion. A 2016 poll showed that 76% of Americans opposed decriminalizing cocaine. But who would have thought 20 years ago that marijuana would be legal in half the states in the United States. So, who knows…