Weekly Dose: cocaine, the glamour drug of the ’70s, is making a comeback

Cocaine is derived from the leaves of the coca plant, which is native to Central America. For thousands of years, the leaves were used by the local inhabitants such as the Incas, who chewed or made them into a tea, because of the alertness and energy they provided.

German chemist Albert Niemann eventually isolated the active ingredient in 1859 and it was named cocaine. This was the beginning of the drug’s use as a medicinal and recreational substance in Western culture.

Crack cocaine is a solid, rock-like version of the drug which can be smoked. from shutterstock.com

How many people use it

Cocaine is the second most commonly used illicit substance in Australia, after marijuana. Reports of cocaine use in the 12 months to June 2017 more than doubled since 2004 – from 1% to 2.5% (or around 170,000 to 500,000 people).

The number of people who have ever used cocaine has had a similar percentage increase – from 4.7% in 2004 to 9% in 2016. Cocaine use has reached a 15-year high.

History and use over time

Cocaine gained prominence in the 1880s. Sigmund Freud broadly praised its uses, including in overcoming morphine addiction and treating depression.

Viennese ophthalmologist Carl Koller performed the first operation using cocaine as an anaesthetic on a patient with glaucoma, which led to its use as a local anaesthetic.

But, soon after, practitioners began reporting side effects. Cocaine doses were administered at such high concentrations that there were 200 cases of intoxication and 13 deaths (in around seven years) as a result.

At the 1912 Hague International Opium Convention cocaine (and heroin) was added to the drug control treaty as problematic substance. This sparked the introduction of new drug control laws relating to cocaine in various countries.

Cocaine use decreased after this, but later experienced a surge in popularity in the 1970s, peaking in the 1980s. During this time, cocaine was associated with celebrities, high rollers and glamorous parties.

Then a new, crystallised form of cocaine (crack cocaine) was developed. Crack cocaine is processed with ammonia or baking soda, producing a solid “rock” version of the drug which could be smoked.

Not only was crack cocaine more potent, but the effects of the drug (typically after smoking) were felt faster. It was also much cheaper, which allowed it to spread quickly into poorer communities. Its use became recognised as an “epidemic” around 1985, which lasted for ten years.

Originally Published by The Conversation, continue reading here.