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A Brief History of Cocaine
For as long as humans have been around there have been problems with addictions of various kinds. There has also been a fascination with those substances that are found to intensify the good things about the human experience.
Three thousand years before the birth of Christ the coca plant was hailed as a gift from God and chewing the leaves for their inebriating effect was commonplace among the natives that lived in the high mountain ranges of South America. The coca was a stimulant that was particularly well suited to those who lived at these high altitudes where oxygen was scarce.
In the 1500's coca plantations dotted the South American highlands and silver mine workers were fed the stuff to keep them diligently at their work for grueling long hours.
In the 1800's people got wise to the trick of extracting the essential ingredient out of the coca leaves and, in 1862, Merck proudly produced 1/4 pound of cocaine. This was the beginning of a long and controversial relationship with the drug.
You see the world of the 1800s was not for the faint hearted. Drug use and abuse was considered normal and was rampant across all social classes. The attitude towards cocaine, heroin and opium was not what it is today. Many of the rich, famous and beautiful were known to indulge without apology to authorities that had not yet learnt to care.
The first big name to give cocaine the big nod was Herr Sigmund Freud himself, the man who set himself up as the psychoanalyst of a society and its several generations. He recommended it as a safe and useful remedy for things like depression and sexual impotence. The man was an authority, few would dare gainsay him.
In 1886 John Pemberton proudly launched Coca Cola the drink that proved irresistible to the public for some very obvious reasons. It was laced with cocaine. Thomas Edison, the light bulb man and famous silent movie stars like Sarah Bernhart were high profile advocates of the drug. Hollywood in typical style rode the bandwagon with aplomb and promoted narcotics for a heady number of years when they were considered a regular part of the high life, if you'll pardon the pun.
In the early 1900s cocaine, opium and heroin could be found in many of the "cure all" tonics that were administered liberally to people of all ages including children and the elderly.
So what changed all of this? To what do we owe today's serious legal and societal drug taboos? The realization process was a slow one. Cocaine as we know it had been around for over 50 years before the dangers of the drug were fully acknowledged and acted upon.
The term "dope fiend" was developed to describe the crazed behavior of the cocaine addict. Because it is such a powerful stimulant it would keep people awake and lead to a serious loss of appetite. Society was beginning to notice the presence of these haunting, ghoulish victims of the drug. It did not escape attention that some of the revered beauties and talented writers, poets and actors were succumbing to its deadly grip.
As the problem grew so did social awareness. Public pressure forced the inventor of the hugely popular drink, Coca Cola, to remove cocaine permanently from the recipe. The social use of drugs like cocaine was banned and by 1920 the drug was added to the list of narcotics outlawed by the Dangerous Drug Act.
Some argue that this was too little too late. The market had already been established and endorsed by the kinds of icons that are trendsetters for decades too come.
Cocaine is now recognized by the NIDA (National Institute On Drug Abuse) as a powerfully addictive stimulant capable of causing "acute cardiovascular or cerebrovascular emergencies that could result in sudden death".
Cocaine, in the powdered or crystal form, interferes with the re-absorption process of dopamine that is associated with pleasure and movement. The euphoria experienced is caused by the buildup of excess dopamine that causes the continuous stimulation of "receiving" neurons.
Increased usage of the drug creates a tolerance that forces the user to step up the dosage. This tolerance is paralleled by an increasing sensitivity to cocaine's physical effects. This combination is thought to be the cause of deaths occurring after low doses of cocaine.
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