The History of Cocaine

Cocaine is commonly seen on various movies and shows, but what is the actual history of the drug? Is it really harmful? Let’s take a look at its history to find out.

Origins and Cultures

Cocaine is found naturally in the leaves of the coca plant. The Incas used the leaves for cultural and religious purposes as well as medicinal purposes.1 The culture might have even used the leaves as a form of food since the plant does contain both vitamins and protein.

When the conquistadors began investigating Inca culture, they discovered that the workers were more effective when using the drug. As a result, the occupying Spanish began cultivating crops of coca leaves, and some people began using it on their own.

Over time, coca leaves began making their way into Europe, but many people found the idea of nibbling on leaves to be a bit déclassé. These posh people began thinking of other ways to take in cocaine, developing teas and other drinks made by boiling and otherwise processing the leaves. However, coca leaves didn’t travel well, and the potent ingredients tended to deteriorate during the trip.

In the 1880s,multiple companies had developed a concentrated version of cocaine known as cocaine hydrochloride, which is the powder form of the drug.2 Suddenly, the drug was easy to take, and it was very powerful.

Cocaine also was touted as an effective medication to use against a morphine addiction. People who were struggling to stop using this powerful opiate were encouraged to use cocaine instead, substituting one addiction for another.

Coca leaves

Intoxicating Beverages

In the 1860s, a French chemist named Angelo Mariani began looking for ways to produce cocaine-laced beverages. After many failed experiments, Mariani placed ground coca leaves in a suspension of Bordeaux wine. This beverage, known as Vin Mariani, would become very popular and would be used by Thomas Edison, Queen Victoria, the Czar of Russia, Pope Saint Pius X, and Pope Leo XIII.3

The effects of cocaine are often accelerated when the drug is combined with alcohol. Researchers suggest that the increased effects caused by the combination might lead to increased consumption of both products and could even lead to an overdose.

Glass of cola

When Prohibition made the production of alcohol-based products difficult, if not impossible, the inventor John Pemberton placed coca leaves in a new sugary drink known as Coca-Cola. When word of the “energizing” effects of this drink became apparent, public pressure began to mount, and as a result, the ingredient was removed from the drink in 1903.

Similarly, as reports of cocaine addiction, and even cocaine-related deaths, began to rise. As a result, legislators took action and moved to ban the drug. The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 required companies to disclose cocaine in their ingredient lists.4 Then, in 1914, the Harrison Act forbade the manufacture and sale of cocaine.1 While it is likely that legislators thought these moves would eliminate drug use within the population, but the drug would return just a few decades later.

Drug of Choice

Cocaine use remained through the 1920s and the 1950s in the background. However, much of this changed during the 1970s and 1980s. Cocaine was the perfect drug for young people who wanted to work hard all day and party all night. Cocaine was still considered to be a drug of the wealthy as it was very expensive to purchase.

In the mid-1980s, a new form of cocaine, known as “crack cocaine,” hit the streets. This drug was more powerful than standard cocaine and was sold at a low price. Use of this drug began to soar as a result, and newscasters and politicians warned of an “epidemic” of cocaine and crack cocaine addiction. The public responded with understandable panic.

In 1986, professional basketball player Len Bias overdosed on cocaine and died.5 This tragedy altered the public’s perception of the drug and, as a result, lawmakers responded with changes in the law regarding cocaine use. Specifically, mandatory sentences were now the norm for anyone who abuses cocaine. Prison populations began to rise, but cocaine use did go down. According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, approximately 5.7 million people used cocaine in 1985.That number dropped to 3.1 million in 1986, and the number of users has not been over 2 million since 1991.6

The Future

It would be easy to declare cocaine addiction obliterated and controlled for good, but the truth might be much more complex. Cocaine is an incredibly addictive drug that causes persistent changes in the brain that can lead to compulsive use. In some parts of the country, the drug is still being sold at low prices. Pairing low cost with big effects is always a recipe for addictions at epidemic levels, and it’s quite possible that the epidemic will recur in the United States.

Preventing Addiction

The best way to prevent a full-scale return to addiction is to ensure that people who are addicted to cocaine get the help they’ll need in order to recover. If fewer people are taking the drug, fewer people will be introduced to the drug from their friends, family members and others they know. The drug won’t seem acceptable or common, and maybe usage will go down as a result.

If you or someone you know is addicted to cocaine, we’d like to help. At Michael’s House, we’ve developed programs that can help people break an addiction to cocaine, and learn how to repair the damage that cocaine abuse has done. Please call us today. Our operators will be happy to outline your options and start the enrollment process.


1Cocaine.” Accessed March 12, 2018.

2History of Cocaine.” Accessed March 12, 2018.

315 Most Bizzare Medical Treatments Ever.” Accessed March 12, 2018.

4Part I: The 1906 Food and Drugs Act and Its Enforcement.” Food and Drug Administration. Accessed March 12, 2018.

5 Chen, Joie. “How A Basketball Player’s Drug Overdose Led To Today’s Mandatory Minimums.” Aljazeera America. November 5, 2015.

6America’s Drug Use Profile.” Office of National Drug Control Policy. Accessed March 12, 2018.