24 May 2012

Cocaine Miracle Cure

For God, Country, and Coca-Cola by Mark Pendergrast, 1999, Excerpts

Chewed by native Peruvians and Bolivians for over 2,000 years, coca leaves acted as a stimulant, an aid to digestion, an aphrodisiac, and a life-extender, giving the mountain-dwelling Andeans remarkable endurance during long treks with little food. The Incas had called it their “Divine Plant,” and it was central to every aspect of the political, religious, and commercial life.

Cocaine had first been isolated in 1855 by the German Gaedeke, but it was Americans who pursued active experimentation. By the early 1880s, doctors and pharmacists were reporting on the use of coca and its principal alkaloid, cocaine, as a possible cure for opium and morphine addictions. The importation of opium to the U.S. had increased dramatically, from almost 146,000 pounds in 1867 to over 500,000 pounds in 1880. Addiction was so common among veterans of the Civil War that it was called the “Army disease.” 

By the mid-1880s, one drug journal accurately described a “veritable cocamania” as a result of the “crusade against the enormously increased use of alcohol and morphine.” It was impossible to open a drug journal without finding numerous articles about new uses for the leaf and its principal alkaloid. In response, manufacturers produced coca tablets, ointments, sprays, hypodermic injections, wines, liqueurs, soft drinks, powders, and even coca-leaf cigarettes and chewing tobacco, was extensively advertised in 1885. Advertisements purporting to offer cures for the habit appeared frequently in Atlanta papers.


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