The rise in popularity of Cocaine or (benzoylmethylecgonine) is most often associated with the disco era of the late 1970’s and 80’s when the glamour of disco clubs such as New York’s Studio 54 influenced popular culture far and wide. It’s almost instant euphoric effect made it the must have drug, not just with addicts, but also with the occasional or recreational user. However, its popularity goes back a lot further than that. Documented history traces its first use back to the ancient Inca tribes that lived in the Andes Mountains. Of course they weren’t taking it to enable them to dance all night under shiny disco balls. As with the majority of drugs on the streets today, cocaine was initially used for medicinal purposes.
Tribes people chewed the raw ingredient of cocaine, the coca leaf, to extract the stimulant inside that increased their heart rates and breathing. In turn the increased oxygen levels in their system from their rapid breathing counteracted the effects of living in high altitudes where the air is very thin and low in oxygen. It is still legal for locals to sell small amounts of coca leaves at markets for chewing and making tea today, and plays an integral role in their social interaction and religious ceremonies.
With the giant leaps being made in the world of science it wasn’t long until the potential of the coca leaf was realized. By the mid 1800’s cocaine was being produced from the coca leaves and by the end of the century its rise in popularity within the medical community had flourished. It was the infamous psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud that most notably publicized and endorsed the use of cocaine for medicinal purposes. He wrote an article titled “Uber Coca” which outlined its benefits for many ailments including depression and impotence in men. He in fact, declared it to be a “magical” substance and was a devoted user of the drug. He also prescribed it to many of his close friends.
Freud concluded that no lethal dose could be administered to humans and so confident was the world of its miraculous benefits on its users, it was added to tonics and elixirs which were widely used at the time. Indeed the ever popular Coca-Cola does not get its name by coincidence. In 1886 John Pemberton, Coca-Colas founder and producer, added coca leaves to this new and exciting soft drink. Not surprisingly people were enthralled by the physical effects the drink had on them and with the help of clever marketing through coupons promoting free samples of the beverage, its popularity surpassed even Mr. Pemberton’s expectations. Subsequently, later in 1903, in light of the evidence that cocaine caused grave ill health, the company was forced to remove the drug from the soft drink. Through its popularity and use by stars in the silent film industry and other high profile people like inventor Thomas Edison and actress Sarah Bernhardt, the pro-cocaine messages influenced millions of people all over the globe and the use of cocaine increased rapidly.
Of course it soon became evident that Cocaine was not the “magical” substance it was once thought to be. Hospitals and medical journals reported cases of ill health such as nasal damage, psychological distress and hallucinations in patients who regularly used the drug. The drug was finally banned by the United States Government in 1922 after the continuously rising number of deaths of people using the drug.
However, banning the drug did not stop its continued use. By the 1970s, cocaine’s popularity grew once more as the must have drug for members of the entertainment industry and wealthy entrepreneurs. Its high energy kick was perfect for a long night of partying and entertaining. Despite the well documented damage cocaine use causes physically, mentally, emotionally and socially, it still remains a popular choice for drug users today.
Not only does cocaine use affect the user and their family, it also has far reaching and devastating consequences on the people and environment where the drug is produced. This is not something we automatically associate with the production and trafficking of cocaine. Cocaine production has many other consequences in addition to those that we are familiar with.
The raw form of cocaine is cocaine paste. In the production of this paste, chemicals such as kerosene, sulphuric acid, bleach, acetone and quicklime are used in large quantities. This raw material is produced in makeshift laboratories in the middle of jungles by impoverished people trying to make a living to survive. Once the paste has been produced the chemicals are no longer required and are discarded by being released into the rivers of Colombia, Peru and Bolivia, where the drug is most extensively produced. It is estimated that 15 million liters of toxic fluids are flushed into the rivers of the Amazon alone every year as a direct result of cocaine production.
But the environmental damage doesn’t stop there. The cultivation of coca is estimated to be 10 times greater than the legal limit and is believed to be the most widely grown crop in the Peruvian Amazon. Of course with such vast illegal growing of this crop huge deforestation is inevitable. It is estimated that several hundred thousand hectares of land has been cleared of forest for coca growing alone. Along with the subsequent soil erosion, flooding and destruction of natural habitat, the impact this has on the eco system is devastating and in many cases irreversible.
Once the drug reaches the consumer, its drastic negative effects on society manifest themselves further in families and communities costing billions in law enforcement, social and health services and lost revenue. Isn’t it mind blowing to think that the packet of white powder that may be sitting in front of you right now could have such a negative impact on every precious resource known to man. However, it does and the results are evident for all of us to see. The sad reality is that until the demand for drugs ceases the devastation will continue.