Monday, January 7, 2019

A Brief History Of Cocaine

By Kristy McCaffrey

Indigenous people in Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru have long chewed coca leaves for their mildly stimulating effect. A coca-leaf chewing native could suppress his appetite and work more hours at higher altitudes.

When the Spanish came to South America in search of riches, they focused on the gold and silver deposits in Peru and Bolivia, and soon forced the native population to constantly chew the leaves to make the mining operations more profitable. But until a way could be found to transport the leaves to Europe without them deteriorating, the use of coca leaves was restricted to South America.

In the 1800s, Albert Niemann—a German—was able to isolate the active ingredient, and it was he who named it “cocaine.” In 1860, he noted, “its solutions have an alkaline reaction, a bitter taste, promote the flow of saliva and leave a peculiar numbness, followed by a sense of cold when applied to the tongue.”

On a side note, Niemann died the following year after his experiments in developing mustard gas as a war weapon had caused fatal damage to his lungs.

In 1863, a Corsican chemist named Angela Mariani created a mixture of wine and cocaine that he called Vin Mariani. It was sold as a stomach stimulant, pain reliever, appetite suppressant, and anemia treatment. Each ounce of the product contained 6 mg of cocaine. Later, he released Elixir Mariani, which had three times the amount of cocaine.

Mariani collected testimonials from the likes of H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Thomas Edison, the Queen of Portugal, the King of Spain, Pope Leo XIII, President William McKinley, and many others. In 1885, President Ulysses S. Grant was reported to be sipping Vin Mariani as he wrote his memoirs while dying from throat cancer.

Many copied Mariani’s wine-cocaine mix, including John Pemberton, a pharmacist in the U.S. He sold a blend he called French Coca Wine until the Ku Klux Klan demanded that alcohol be banned from Atlanta. In 1885, Pemberton was forced to remove the alcohol and replaced it with soda water. He called his new drink Coca-Cola, and he upped the cocaine content from 6 mg to 7.2 mg per ounce.

Just after the turn of the century, the dangers of cocaine were becoming more apparent, and in 1906 both Vin Mariani and Coca-Cola were required to remove it from their drinks.


Patti Sherry-Crews said...

I wonder if we weren't a bit premature in removing cocaine from all our drinks so early in the 1900's. LOL! Can you imagine it being in soda pop? Of course it seems obviously wrong to us nowadays, but it is a natural botanical ingredient. I remember when I was in school in UK in 1980's and had a tummy ache and there used to be an over the counter remedy that listed opium as the active ingredient (it worked wonders, btw).Thanks for the fun post!

Andrea Downing said...

Traveling in Peru we drank coca tea--I was not 'high' other than at altitude and it helped immensely. While Macchu Pichu is a measly 8K ft.--2K higher than Jackson where I live part-year--to get there you have to go through Cuzco which is 11K+. We also had oxygen piped into our rooms to be able to sleep, but the coca tea definitely helped. At Lake Titicaca, which is 12.5K, we saw people who had to go on oxygen machines but we just kept drinking that coca tea! :-)

Renaissance Women said...

People sometimes forget how prevelent cocaine was in so many products in the early years. Thank you for a very informative post. Doris

Kristy McCaffrey said...

Good point. Like all things, in small doses cocaine is likely effective for a lot of maladies. And soda pop is such a strange drink with or without the coca leaves. There's no logical reason why it's so good, but it is LOL.

Kristy McCaffrey said...

When we went to Macchu Picchu, there were Coca leaves in all the hotels as well. It really helped my husband with the altitude. Unfortunately, it wasn't quite enough for me, and I had to go to Motrin for my headache and general malaise. One of the ladies we traveled with bought a bag of coca leaves. I worried that she wouldn't get it through airport security, but they let it go.

Kristy McCaffrey said...

The drugs back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries are really mind-boggling to us today.