The ancient Incas considered the plant from which it was taken to be divine. An early twentieth century German user exclaimed: "God is a substance!" And a contemporary American user said of its effect: "You feel like Adam, and God is blowing life into your nostrils." The divine drug so ardently revered is cocaine, one of nature's most powerful stimulants. Used and venerated by the Andean Indians for 3,000 years, cocaine has acquired hundreds of thousands of modern devotees in North America and Europe in the last few years. It has fostered a billion-dollar industry in the black market of illicit drugs.
Cocaine is often called the "marijuana of the rich" or the "champagne of drugs." This is because the well-to-do are often the only ones who can afford to buy it illegally at the champagne prices of $1,000 to $2,000 an ounce. (Hospitals and pharmacies can buy the drug legally as an anesthetic for $31.50 an ounce — which gives an idea of the possible profits on the black market) To be able to distribute the drug gratis among friends at social occasions is thought to be a sure sign of success; the chic way to flaunt one's affluence is to proffer the coke for inhaling (a "snort") through a tightly rolled $100 bill. The drug so desired among today's decadent rich is derived from the leaves of the coca bush, grown principally in the uplands of Bolivia and Peru. For centuries the Indians of the Andean regions in South America have chewed the leaf for the stimulant and appetite depressant effects that facilitate heavy labor and long treks. Some writers compare the consumption of cocaine in this form to the Western habit of drinking coffee (which contains the stimulant drug caffeine) to stay alert. The amount of drug found in both products is small (1.6 to 2.5 percent caffeine in Latin American coffee;.65 to 1.25 percent cocaine in coca). Because of such low levels of concentration, chewing the coca leaf is not considered a "dangerous drug abuse" by many drug experts, although both the Bolivian and Peruvian governments have tried to cut consumption in their countries — with little success.
Freud and the Cocaine Papers
Cocaine became a problem drug after it was isolated and concentrated from the leaf, a feat accomplished in 1865 by the German physician Albert Niemann. In 1884 Sigmund Freud read about the use of cocaine to increase the stamina of some Bavarian soldiers during training maneuvers. He promptly procured a supply of the drug for experiments on patients and himself. There followed a flurry of papers on his use of cocaine to treat morphine dependence, depression and fatigue. Freud termed these reports a "Song of Praise" — so high was his initial opinion of the drug. But his rapturous relationship with the drug soon soured. True, cocaine didn't build significant tolerance. (That is, it, didn't require escalating doses with regular usage to achieve the same high as did morphine) And it didn't lead to excruciating withdrawal symptoms (as did morphine). But Freud, and other contemporaries working with the drug, observed that a strong psychic dependence often developed in many users. The drug's high only lasted 15 to 20 minutes, after which the user sank back into a depressed state — a state which now seemed worse when contrasted to the fleeting drug — induced high. This strongly motivated him to repeat the dose frequently to restore the euphoria. Repeated doses eventually led to toxic psychosis-hallucinations, paranoia, etc. Prolonged snorting also resulted in deterioration of the mucous membranes and septum. Freud published his last defense of the drug in July 1887 and shortly thereafter discontinued use of the drug personally and professionally. Though he never developed a dependence for cocaine, it is said he had to undergo three operations to repair the damage to his nose.
"The Real Thing"
The research into cocaine by Freud and others contributed to a small boom in the pseudo-medical and non medicinal use of the drug at the close of the nineteenth century. Makers of patent medicines quickly jumped on the bandwagon and concocted scores of potions containing the drug. Cocaine was the "real thing" in Coca-Cola until 1903. A wine containing coca extract, called "Vin Mariana," was heartily drunk and endorsed by such notables as Pope Leo XIII, President William McKinley, Anatole France and Thomas Edison. "On a per capita basis, cocaine used in America in, the mid-1890s was considerably greater than it is today because it was found in the cola drink, was the first remedy for hay fever and seemed like one of the miracle drugs," says Dr. David F. Musto, associate professor of psychiatry and history at Yale. But cocaine was rapidly acquiring a bad name, and in 1922 the U.S. Congress prohibited most importation of coca leaves and cocaine, thus driving it underground. The act also destroyed legitimate medical research on the drug. Consequently, a deficiency of knowledge about the drug exists to this day. "The medical and scientific community have appallingly little information [today] about the effects of cocaine," lament Lester Grinspoon and James B. Bakalar, coauthors of a new book on the drug, Cocaine: A Drug and Its Social Evolution. "The clinical literature is sparse, and mostly more than 50 years old." Though cocaine was rediscovered during the hippie rebellion of the 60s, it has been only in the past couple of years that a really heavy trade in the drug has developed. Federal agents seized only 16.4 pounds in 1964. That grew to 96.8 in 1968, 407 in 1971 and 1,232 in 1975. But they have been intercepting only a minute fraction of the illegal drug coming into the United States.
Comparing Cancer to Pneumonia
True to form for today's decadent culture, what started out as a drug induced thrill has become, in some circles, a crusade for personal freedom. The inevitable call has gone out to decriminalize cocaine. Proponents argue that "it's safer than alcohol and heroin"; "cocaine is as harmless as coffee"; "we allow and promote the use of other psychoactive agents (such as caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, tranquilizers, etc), so why not coke?" And so forth. Many of the slogans and arguments made on cocaine's behalf are misleading and irresponsible. To compare the relative merits or demerits of various psychoactive drugs is to obscure the central fact that no drug is perfectly safe. All drugs have undesirable side effects. It's true that cocaine doesn't have some of the dramatic side effects of such drugs as, say, heroin or amphetamines. But cocaine presents hazards to mind and body in its own right. To compare it with heroin is, in the words of one drug enforcement official, "like comparing cancer to pneumonia." To further exacerbate the debate, opponents of cocaine are often blinded by certain misconceptions or just plain ignorance — and issue misleading and irresponsible statements of their own. They seem to forget that each culture sanctions the use of certain psychoactive drugs. Those who decry the corrosion of the national fiber through psychoactive drugs often use several — usually alcohol, tobacco and coffee — themselves! The current rage for cocaine must be placed in the context of the drug revolution of the past decade. And that revolution in turn must be placed in the context of the recreational use of psychoactive drugs by almost every culture down through history. The issues are complex and there are no easy answers for countries that are wrestling with the problem of which mind-altering drugs should be sanctioned and which should be taboo. For an overall look at today's drug problem, write for your free copy of our booklet The Dilemma of Drugs.