In the book by Nicolás Monardes entitled “Medicinal History of the things that are brought from our West Indies that serve in Medicine …” published in Seville in 1565, the coca bush (denomination in Quechua) to which the Swedish Linnaeus assigned is mentioned for the first time the Latin denomination Erythroxylum coca (18th century). Etymologically, Erythroxylum refers to the reddish appearance (erythro) of its bark (xylon).
The cocalero is a shrub that grows spontaneously in tropical and subtropical regions on the eastern Andean slopes of several South American countries. Even though the cocalero (Erythroxylon coca) is the main source of cocaine, there are other producing species: Erythroxylon novogranatense, acclimated to the drier regions of Colombia, as well as along the South American Caribbean coast; and Erythroxylon truxillense (from “Trujillo”), cultivated on the Peruvian coast, and in the valleys bathed by the Marañón River, a tributary of the Amazon, in northeastern Peru. Erythroxylon truxillense leaves are collected for legal export to Stephan Chemical Company in New Yersey, USA. There, cocaine is extracted for pharmaceutical purposes. The residue (leaves devoid of cocaine) are used as a flavoring in the production of the famous drink, Coca Cola®. As of 1903, Coca Cola® stopped containing cocaine in its composition.
What other effects does cocaine have on health?
- Restriction of blood vessels
- Pupil dilation
- Increased body temperature and blood pressure
- Fast or irregular heartbeat
- Tremors and muscle spasms
The Beginning of The Cocaine
The Incas chewed coca leaves together with ashes, very rich in calcium carbonate that facilitates the leaching of cocaine. Later for the chewing of the coca leaves lime was used instead of ashes.
The cocalero leaves deteriorated easily during long sea voyages, unlike other leaves and seeds, such as tobacco or coffee. Perhaps for this reason, the chewing of cocalero leaves was not generalized outside the geographical area where this shrub grows, either naturally or by acclimatization.
In Bolivia, it is grown on terraces in a wide range of altitude, from 300 or 400 meters to altitudes close to 2,000, only in family plantations and in relatively impoverished soils due to high rainfall. The farmers carry out up to 4 annual collections. The bushes that grow spontaneously reach up to 5 meters in height, while the cultivated ones do not usually exceed one and a half meters. The cultivation of the cocalero is very old, probably dating back to pre-Inca times. The main countries where coca growers are grown and cultivated are Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Chile.
All parts of the coca bush contain alkaloids, although their highest concentration is found in the leaves. In the Inca culture, the chewing of coca leaves was reserved for the ruling class and the priests who chewed it continuously, the sporadic use being considered sacrilegious.
It was the Spanish conquerors who, in the «Second Council of Lima» (1569), liberalized both the cultivation of the coca grower and the chewing of its leaves, probably out of interest, since chewing eliminates hunger and fatigue, and the Indians could work in more extreme conditions and higher altitudes. The chewing of the coca leaf quickly became very popular, as William Prescott refers in his “History of the Conquest of Peru”, a text published in 1847.
The Prussian chemist Friedrich Gaedcke isolated an active principle from the plant in 1855. It was an oily substance from a distilled residue of the coca leaf extract.
Finally, in 1859, Albert Niemann, at the University of Göttingen (Lower Saxony) characterized the substance, the active principle of coca leaves, cocaine. It had a strong bitterness and made the tongue numb. [The suffix “ina” applies to all substances obtained from natural sources, generally of plant origin]. Even when the synthesis of cocaine in the laboratory was achieved in the 1920s, it is still cheaper to extract it from the leaves of the cocalero.
In the year 1880, Vassili von Anrep, a Russian nobleman and physician, at the time at the University of Würzburg (Bavaria) injected himself subcutaneously with cocaine, observing the subsequent “insensitivity to pins” (sic).
Very soon the anesthetic property of cocaine was observed; as well as its obvious ability to stimulate brain function. And this is how it became popular among American doctors as a possible treatment to counteract the very serious addiction to morphine (a depressant of brain activity or narcotic) that had reached an almost epidemic dimension due to its use among soldiers during the Civil War. (1861-1865). [Remember that heroin was synthesized in order to cure addiction to morphine, a big problem among morphine-addicted veterans of the war, who were classified as heroes, hence their name].
A young Sigmond Freud, at the time an intern in the neurology section of a Viennese hospital, was being trained under the supervision of Vassili von Anrep, mentioned above. In that environment the effects of cocaine were commendable. Freud soon began using cocaine for its stimulating action on the nervous system, but also to treat morphine addicts. It is claimed that he himself used it with some assiduity. His studies on cocaine were reflected in a work published under the title The Cocaine Papers.
For the two decades that followed its isolation in its pure form, cocaine was considered a stimulant similar to caffeine. [Remember that the seeds of the coffee tree, native to the high plateaus of the south of the Arabian peninsula, were brought to America by the Spanish].
In the last years of the 19th century, Parisian society became fond of consuming “Vin Mariani”, a preparation of fermented coca leaves that had been formulated by Alberto Marini in 1863. The Pontiff Leo XIII (see image of the time) granted its approval as a tonic for the body and mind. The popularity of this wine substitute transcended Europe, reaching the United States where it had a very favorable acceptance among doctors. A short time later, “Mariani Lozenges” and a “Mariani tea” were marketed.
Carl Koller, an ophthalmologist and a personal friend of Sigmond Freud, decided to test the local anesthetic actions of cocaine. At that time the only anesthetics available were ether and chloroform; and both frequently resulted in vomiting and restlessness in the anesthetized patient that compromised the immobility of the patient, so necessary during ophthalmic surgery. The use of other substances, such as chloral hydrate (the famous Mikey Finn), sodium bromide and even morphine, as inducers or enhancers of anesthetics had not been shown to be effective. As has been written in previous paragraphs, the observation of the local anesthetic action of cocaine started from the field of psychiatry. Some patients to whom Sigmond Freud administered cocaine as a stimulant reported numbness of the mouth (The Cocain Papers).
Carl Koller’s findings were presented at an Ophthalmology symposium in Heidelberg in September 1884. Within a few weeks cocaine began to be widely used as a local anesthetic in ophthalmology, both in Europe and the United States, being considered for many years the elective anesthetic in eye surgery. It also has the particularity of being the only local anesthetic with vasoconstrictor action; and the decrease in blood flow in the surgical area was then considered an advantage for the surgeon. Today it is known that the reduction of blood flow in the surgical area, even though it facilitates the surgeon’s work, damages the ocular organs. For this reason it has been discontinued.
Although cocaine produces a pleasant state in some people, the supposed “ecstasy” reported by some users has been overrated. In fact, an addict is unable to distinguish an intranasal dose of cocaine from the same dose of the local anesthetic lidocaine. In other experiments, conducted for ethical reasons only in addicted people, participants were unable to distinguish the effects of an intravenous dose of cocaine from another of amphetamine. This indistinction disappeared with successive doses.
The deregulation of cocaine use led to its abuse and a veritable addiction epidemic in many countries in Europe.
Inca legends attributed to the plant a divine origin. It could not be any other way, because the continuous chewing of its leaves, mixed with lime, a not easy process, abolishes the sensation of hunger and thirst, due to the anesthetic action on the gastric mucosa.
Cocaine is an anesthetic of the mucous membranes, desensitizing them to aggressions, an action to which the vasoconstriction it produces contributes. But at the same time it is a powerful stimulant of the nervous system; at least at the beginning. With its continued use it causes a serious depression of mental functions. At high doses, a sequence is observed that begins with agitation, continues with convulsions, and finally depresses the respiratory center. However, deaths from overdoses are truly rare.
Even though pharmacologically it is a stimulant of the nervous system, from a legal point of view it falls within narcotics (derivatives of morphine that are powerful depressants of brain functions).
Why Cocaine is popular?
Cocaine can be injected, taken by mouth, or, more often, snorted (“snorted”). When you smoke. the so-called “free base” is often used. In some environments, more or less marginal, especially in large North American and South American cities, a more impure (consequently cheaper) form of the «free base» called «cocaine paste» or «coca paste» has become fashionable. ».
Another version is crack, an onomatopoeic term that refers to the crepitation when powdered cocaine is heated during its preparation for intravenous injection.
With due caution, we must differentiate cocainism from “cocaine addiction.” Cocainism defines the continuous chewing of coca leaves in indigenous populations that live and work at high altitudes, in a generally very poor environment, being able to consume several kilograms a year, and in which the chewing of coca leaves becomes a source of vitamins and mineral elements. On the contrary, “addiction to cocaine”, more precisely cocaine hydrochloride (together with its innumerable impurities) in the search for a stimulant of mental function, can lead to a self-destructive process, both personally (behavioral deterioration) and social (disintegration of belonging). However, the scientific aspects should not be mixed with political decisions that, in the clandestine trade of this and other dangerous substances, must be global and finalists. While the discrepancy is a substantial part of scientific progress, in the political sphere, decisions must be deterministic.
Who Made The Cocaine?
It was an oily substance from a distilled residue of coca leaf extract. Finally, in 1859, Albert Niemann, at the University of Göttingen (Lower Saxony) characterized the substance, the active principle of coca leaves, cocaine.
How does cocaine use lead to addiction?
As with other drugs, repeated cocaine use can cause long-term changes in the reward circuitry and other systems in the brain, which can lead to addiction. The reward circuit over time adapts to the extra dopamine generated by the drug and gradually becomes less sensitive to its presence. The result is that people consume higher doses and more frequently to feel the same euphoria that they initially felt and to relieve withdrawal symptoms.
What Cocaine Is?
Cocaine is a stimulant and addictive drug made from the leaves of the coca plant, native to South America. While doctors may use it for legitimate medicinal purposes – such as local anesthesia in some surgical operations, for example – recreational use of cocaine is illegal. Cocaine sold on the street looks like a fine white crystallized powder. Street vendors often mix it with substances like cornstarch, talcum powder or flour to increase their profits. They can also mix it with other drugs such as amphetamine (a stimulant) or with synthetic opioids, including fentanyl. Adding synthetic opioids to cocaine is particularly risky when the person using the drug is unaware that it contains other dangerous substances. The increasing number of deaths from cocaine overdoses could be due to this alteration of the drug.
What effect does cocaine have on the brain?
Cocaine increases the levels of dopamine (a natural chemical messenger or neurotransmitter) in brain circuits that are involved in controlling movement and reward.
Normally, dopamine is recycled back into the neuron from which it left, thus canceling the signal between the neurons. However, cocaine prevents the recycling of dopamine, which causes the accumulation of large amounts of the neurotransmitter in the space between two neurons, thus disrupting normal communication between them. This flood of dopamine in the brain’s reward circuit powerfully reinforces drug-use behavior: Over time, the reward circuit adapts to the excess dopamine generated by cocaine and becomes less sensitive to the neurotransmitter. The result is that people take higher doses and more frequently to try to feel the same euphoria and relieve withdrawal symptoms.
Short-term effects of using cocaine
The short-term effects of cocaine use include:
- Extreme energy and happiness
- Mental alert
- hypersensitivity to light, sound, and touch
- Paranoia (extreme and unwarranted distrust of others)
Some people find that cocaine helps them perform simple physical and mental tasks more quickly, while in others the effect is the opposite. Large amounts of cocaine can lead to violent, bizarre and unpredictable behavior.
The effects of cocaine appear almost immediately and last between a few minutes and an hour. The intensity and duration of the effects depend on the method of consumption. Cocaine that is injected or smoked produces a more intense and rapid euphoria than that produced by the inhaled drug, although it lasts less time; The euphoria caused by snorting cocaine can last between 15 and 30 minutes, while the euphoria generated by smoking the drug can last between 5 and 10 minutes.
Long-term effects of using cocaine
Algunos de los efectos a largo plazo de la cocaína dependen del método de consumo e incluyen los siguientes:
- if is cocaine inhaled: loss of smell, nosebleeds, frequent runny nose and swallowing problems
- if you smoke the cocaine: cough, asthma, shortness of breath, and increased risk of diseases such as pneumonia
- if ingested the cocaine by mouth: marked deterioration of the intestine due to reduced blood flow
- if injected with a needle: increased risk of contracting HIV, hepatitis C and other diseases that are transmitted through the blood; skin or soft tissue infections; cicatrices; colapso de las venas.