#TBT: A Brief History of Cocaine

by AddictionCenter |

Cocaine: A Historical Perspective

Today, it’s pretty common knowledge that cocaine is a highly addictive substance with some serious health consequences. However, this wasn’t always the case. Back in the day, cocaine was mistakenly viewed as a miracle substance in medicine and was even used to treat childhood ailments, like sore throats and toothaches! The cocaine of today is much more potent and dangerous than the drug of that era. Check out the timeline below to find out more about the history of cocaine and its use.

Timeline of Cocaine Use

3000 BC: The Inca’s chewed coca leaves to increase their heart rate and breathing, counteracting the effects of high altitudes in the Andes.

Coca leavesEarly 1500s: Originally only used for religious and medical purposes by South American natives, the coca plant became a form of currency with the arrival of Spanish conquistadors. Initially banned by the Spaniards, they soon realized the addicted natives were more productive when working in the fields and mines while using the substance. They began paying the natives in coca leaves throughout the day for their labor.

1860: German chemist Albert Niemann discovered how to extract cocaine from coca leaves.

1880s: Cocaine became popular in the medical community and was used in tonics and elixirs until the early 1900s.

 1884: Sigmund Freud, an Austrian neurologist and regular cocaine user, referred to the drug as a “magical substance” and promoted it to his friends and patients as a cure for depression and sexual impotence. He believed there was no lethal dose for humans, but later lost a patient to an overdose.

 1884: Carl Koller, an Austrian ophthalmologist, discovered the anesthetic effects of cocaine, laying the foundation for the era of modern anesthesia.

 1886: John Pemberton used coca leaves in his new beverage, Coca-Cola.

 Early 1900s: The dangers of cocaine became apparent as it grew in popularity.

 1903: Coca-Cola dropped cocaine as an ingredient. 

1912: The US government reported 5,000 cocaine-related deaths in one year.

1922: Cocaine was declared illegal in the US.

 1970s: After decades of relatively low usage, cocaine made a comeback among entertainers, the wealthy and businesspeople. Referred to as the “champagne of drugs,” its stimulating effects and perceived low-to-no risk made it trendy, glamorous and popular.

 Late 1970s: Colombian drug traffickers began smuggling cocaine into the US.

 1982: No longer the drug of choice for only the rich and famous, cocaine reached the masses with 10.4 million users in America.

 1985: Crack, a new form of cocaine, emerged.

 1986: The dangers of cocaine became all too apparent once again. The overdose of University of Maryland basketball star Len Bias shocked the nation.

 1990s: With a well-organized and established network, Colombian drug cartels exported 500-800 tons of Cocaine to the US, Europe and Asia each year. After the large drug cartels were dismantled by law enforcement agencies in the mid-90s, smaller drug trafficking organizations took over the trade.

 2012: An estimated 1.6 million Americans reported using cocaine.

 2015: Cocaine is one of the most commonly treated addictions in America. Learn More.

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