Cocaine (benzoylmethylecgonine)

From Ethnobotany 124, the college course

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Cocaine (benzoylmethylecgonine) is the major alkaloid of derived from of E. novogravatense, the coca plant.
The Coca Plant (E. novogravatense)

Most commonly identified by its shiny evergreen leaves, from which cocaine itself is harvested, "the coca plant is native to the Andes Mountains of South America where the leaves have been chewed for centuries (Plants and Society 352)." The alkaloid itself is
used and traded all over the world both as a highly addictive stimulant drug, as well as for medicinal purposes.

A member of the Erythroxylaceae family and among 250 species of related flowering plants the coca plant has the appearance of a blackthorn bush, growing to a height of 7 to 10 feet at maturity, with straight branches. The leaves are green-tinted, with a thin, opague, oval structure that tapers at the base. The shrub has small flowers arranged in clusters, and are composed of five yellow-white petals, heart-shaped anthers, and a pistil comprised of three carpels. The flowers eventually develop into red berries.

More Pictures

Coca Flowers and Leaves
Leaves and Fruit

Coca Seeds
Coca Fruit

Young Coca Trees


For at least 3500 years, the Incas of the Andes Mountains have chewed the leaves of the coca plant, which was impo
Ancient coca chewer painted on pot made before time of the Incas.
rtant both socially and economically to their culture. They believed the coca plant to have been created by a god, thus viewing it as a sacred object, restricted to ruling classes, soldiers, workers, and runners up until the end of the fifteenth century. They would use the leaves not only out of enjoyment of its effects, but as a form of currency for buying various goods. Explorers from Spain discovered the useful effects of the coca leaf upon arrival in the Andes and enslavement of the Incas. It heavily increased the endurance and productivity of the Incan slaves, and large sections of land were set up soely for coca production. The effects were never experienced back in Europe however, thanks to a loss of the plants' potency on their transport ships.

Cocaine would eventually be isolated in a laboratory in Germany during the late 1850's. It was quickly recognized for its anesthetic and stimulating properties, though the latter was the aspect most concerned themselves with. Sigmund Freud became a powerful advocate for the drug in 1884, publishing papers on his "magical drug", and lauding it as a means to combat morphine addiction. He not only smoked it himself, but recommended it to friends, family, and even his patients, who he prescribed it to.

In the United States the drug was used more for medicinal purposes, and could be found in a wide range of over-the-counter medicines. It was especially popular in drugs that battled colds, asthma, and hay fever due to it's effectiveness in shrinking mucous membranes and draining sinuses, as well as a cure-all for headaches and hysteria. Great American and European figures including Jules Verne, Thomas Edison, and John Philip Sousa all admired it and its stimulating properties.

In 1886 a pharmacist from Atlanta named John Styth Pemberton created a new beverage he described as a sort of "brain tonic." He named it Coca-Cola. However the negative effects of cocaine were quickly uncovered, and the drug itself was removed from the Coca-Cola recipe in 1903, though the drink is of course still extremely popular to this day. The drug was officially recognized as dangerous at the beginning of the twentieth century, and was included under the Harrison Act of 1914, which was the first federal law that regulated the use of various narcotics.

The use of cocaine became a much larger problem later in the 20th century around the 70's and 80's. Because the public no longer recognized the danger of the drug, use of it grew immensely in the 1980's, as well as the number of deaths associated with it, especially to celebrities, which helped people to understand the perils of its use once again.

Use of Cocaine

Three routes of administration are commonly used for cocaine: snorting, injecting, and smoking. Snorting is the proces
Various...instruments for smoking cocaine.
s of inhaling cocaine powder through the nose, where it is absorbed into the bloodstream through the nasal tissues. Injecting is the use of a needle to insert the drug directly into the bloodstream. Smoking involves inhaling cocaine vapor or smoke into the lungs, where absorption into the bloodstream is as rapid as by injection. All three methods of cocaine abuse can lead to addiction and other severe health problems, including increasing the risk of contracting HIV and other infectious diseases.

The intensity and
Crack Cocaine
Crack Cocaine
duration of cocaine's effects--which include increased energy, reduced fatigue, and mental alertness--depend on the route of drug administration. The faster the cocaine is absorbed into the bloodstream and delivered to the brain, the more intense the high. Injecting or smoking cocaine produces a quicker, stronger high than snorting. On the other hand, faster absorption usually means shorter duration of action: the high from snorting cocaine may last 15 to 30 minutes, but the high from smoking may last 5 to 10 minutes. In order to sustain the high, a cocaine abuser has to administer the drug again. For this reason, cocaine is sometimes abused in binges--taken repeatedly within a relatively short period of time, at increasingly higher doses. (NIDA InfoFacts)

Effects of Cocaine

Initial Effects:
  • Short-lived euphoric high
  • Burst of energy and alertness similar to adrenaline rush
  • Elevated mood
  • Feelings of omnipotence or supremacy
  • Irritability
  • Paranoia
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Excited Speech

Physiological Effects:
  • Heart. Cocaine is bad for the heart. Cocaine increases heart rate and blood pressure while constricting the arteries supplying blood to the heart. The result can be a heart attack, even in young people without heart disease. Cocaine can also trigger a deadly abnormal heart rhythm called
    Effects of Cocaine Use
    arrhythmia, killing instantly.
  • Brain. Cocaine can constrict blood vessels in the brain, causing strokes. This can happen even in young people without other risk factors for strokes. Cocaine causes seizures and can lead to bizarre or violent behavior.
  • Lungs and respiratory system. Snorting cocaine damages the nose and sinuses. Regular use can cause nasal perforation. Smoking crack cocaine irritates the lungs and, in some people, causes permanent lung damage.
  • Gastrointestinal tract. Cocaine constricts blood vessels supplying the gut. The resulting oxygen starvation can cause ulcers, or even perforation of the stomach or intestines.
  • Kidneys. Cocaine can cause sudden, overwhelming kidney failure through a process called rhabdomyolysis. In people with high blood pressure, regular cocaine use can accelerate the long-term kidney damage caused by high blood pressure.
  • Sexual function. Although cocaine has a reputation as an aphrodisiac, it actually may make you less able to finish what you start. Chronic cocaine use can impair sexual function in men and women.

Cocaine Production

"Although cocaine production is illgeal, hidden coca plantations supply 400 tons of the drug annually. Coca
plants grow best in the hot, humid highlands of these countries where leaves can be harvested every 35 days. The leaves are put into large vats containing a dilute solution of sulfuric acid to extract the alkaloids, and the mixture is stired several times a day for about 4 days. The liquid is removed and mixed with a variety of chemicals to produce cocaine pase. Although the yield from this extraction is low, the purity is high. the extract is 75% pure cocaine. Clandestine labs refine the base into cocaine hydrochloride, a white powder that is shipped to Mexico and the Bahamas and then to the United States.

the cocaine hydrochloride is cut with various adulterants (additives to reduce the concentration); the street drug generally averages 12% cocaine hydrochloride. In this form, the powder can be snorted and the alkaloid absorbed through the mucous membranes of the nose. Frebasing and crack were modification in the 1980s designed to produce quicker and stronger highs. Freebasing purifies the powder, accomplished in part by boiling it in an ether solution to produce pure cocaine, the freebase.

Crack is a form of freebase perpared by heating a cocaine hydrochloride solution with baking soda. The resulting compound forms solid chunks, which can be broken into tiny "rocks," each costing a mere fraction of the cocaine powder."(Pants and Society 355)

Cocaine can also be used in medical applications, first utilized by
Albert Neimann in the 1850's. It has various anesthetic properties, and as he discovered the drug had a numbing effect on his tongue upon application. Anesthetics like Novocain and Xylocaine are very similar structurally to cocaine. It also has the ability to constrict blood vessels, reducing blood flow, making it a good choice in various surgeries involving the ears, nose, and throat, and was at one point also used in eye surgery.

Cocaine Trade

Map of cocaine routes
Map of cocaine routes

International Cocaine Trafficking Flows (DEA)

Drug Study

Use of Cocaine in Any Form by Students
2008 Monitoring the Future Survey

Past Year
Past Month

Crack Cocaine Use by Students
2008 Monitoring the Future Survey

Past Year
Past Month

National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH)
According to the 2007 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 35.9 million Americans aged 12 and older reported having used cocaine, and 8.6 million reported having used crack. An estimated 2.1 million Americans were current (past-month) users of cocaine; 610,000 were current users of crack. There were an estimated 906,000 new users of cocaine in 2007—most were 18 or older when they first used cocaine. Among young adults aged 18 to 25, the past-year use rate was 6.4 percent, showing no significant difference from the previous year.

Sherlock Holmes

Sir Arthur Co
brunocb-sherlock-holmes-tux-5975.pngnan Doyle's world famous detective character, Sherlock Holmes, was in fact a cocaine user himself! As evidenced in various Sherlock stories, primarily "A Sign of Four" and "A Scandal in Bohemia," Holmes would habitually use addictive drugs like cocaine and morphine, using a special syringe that he would keep on his person in a leather case. Some hypothesize that Holmes would use these drugs as a sort of self-treatment, in order to correct a self-perceived mental disorder. His mind often "rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruce crptogram, or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere, I can dispense then with artificial stimulants (The Sign of Four)."

Later in "The Sign of Four," greater detail is given to the methods of Holmes' cocaine addiction:

"Sherlock Holmes took his bottle from the corner of the mantel-piece and his hypodermic syringe from its neat morocco case. With his long, white, nervous fingers he adjusted the delicate needle, and rolled back his left shirt-cuff. For some little time his eyes rested thoughtfully upon the sinewy forearm and wrist all dotted and scarred with innumerable puncture-marks. Finally he thrust the sharp point home, pressed down the tiny piston, and sank back into the velvet-lined arm-chair with a long sigh of satisfaction (A Sign of Four)."
Watson, Holmes' partner and a doctor himself, comes up with no medical reason to berate Holmes for his habit, a sign of the time that the story was written. Later in his writing, however, as the dangers of cocaine were becoming more apparent, Doyle decided that Holmes would have to kick the habit, and in "The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter" Dr. Watson says,

For years I had gradually weaned him from that drug mania which had threatened once to check his remarkable career. Now I knew that under ordinary conditions he no longer craved for this artificial stimulus, but I was well aware that the fiend was not dead, but sleeping (The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter)."

Works Cited

"Art Ancient - LIFE." LIFE - Your World in Pictures. Web. <>.
"The Chronicles of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - A Seven-Percent Solution." Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - The Chronicles of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Web. <>.
"COCA IN PERU." Laurent Laniel - DrugSTRAT - Drugs&Strategy - Homepage. Web. <>.
"Cocaine Information from" | Prescription Drugs - Information, Interactions & Side Effects. Web. <>.
"Crack and Cocaine - InfoFacts - NIDA." National Institute on Drug Abuse - The Science of Drug Abuse and Addiction. Web. <>.
Dalby, Thomas. "Sherlock Holmes's Cocaine Habit." Sherlock Holmes Baker Street Dozen - Sherlock Holmes in Film, Books, DVD, Audio, Media. Web. <>.
"DEA, Drug Information, Cocaine." PE html PUBLIC "-W3CDTD XHTML 1.0 TransitionalEN" "" Welcome to the United States Department of Justice. Web. <>.
"International Heroin Trafficking Flows." National Criminal Justice Reference Service//. Web. <>.