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Cocaine

History, Introduction To The West, Coca-cola, Early Drug Laws, After The 1960s

Cocaine is a colorless or white narcotic crystalline alkaloid derived from the leaves of the South American coca plant—Erythroxylum coca. Aside from its use as a local anesthetic, which has largely been supplanted by safer drugs, its medical applications failed to live up to the hopes of physicians and chemists of the late nineteenth century. They administered cocaine to themselves and others in the hope that it would be a cure-all wonder drug. After about two decades of wide use in prescription and patented medicine, the harmful effects of cocaine became manifest, and its use as a drug in medical practice was eventually banned.

It subsequently became an illegal drug used for its mood-altering effects, which include euphoria and bursts of short-lived physical energy. The "high" produced by cocaine lasts for a short time. The "crash" that follows leaves the user in need of another "fix" to get back to the former high. But each encounter produces diminished highs, so that increasing doses are required to recapture the initial experience. The physical and social consequences of cocaine addiction are devastating both to the individual and society. It leads to impoverishment and the destruction of the individual's health. When young people begin to use cocaine, communities begin to feel the effects of increased crime, violence, and social decay.

In the late 1970s cocaine was "snorted," or sniffed through the nose, in its crystalline form, then known as "snow." Because of its high cost, the number of users was limited. In order to get a faster and stronger high, cocaine was also taken by injection with a hypodermic needle. By the 1980s a cheaper version of pure cocaine made its appearance on the illegal market in the form of "crack," which is smoked, primarily in the "crack houses" where it is produced. In the form of crack, cocaine has reached a larger population, making it one of the chief drug problems of the present.


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