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Cocaine & "Crack"
History and Other Interesting Facts
Cocaine is an alkaloid found in leaves of the South American shrub Erythroxylon coca. The drug induces a sense of exhilaration in the user primarily by blocking the reuptake of the neurotransmitter dopamine.

In pre-Columbian times, the coca leaf was officially reserved for Inca royalty. The natives used coca for mystical, religious, social, nutritional and medicinal purposes. Returning Spanish conquistadores introduced coca to Europe.

The active ingredient of the coca plant was first isolated in the West by the German chemist Friedrich Gaedcke in 1855; he named it "Erythroxyline". Albert Niemann described an improved purification process for his PhD; he named it "cocaine". Sigmund Freud, an early enthusiast, described cocaine as a magical drug. Robert Louis Stephenson wrote The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde during a six-day cocaine-binge. Intrepid polar adventurer Ernest Shackleton explored Antarctica propelled by cocaine tablets.

Doctors dispensed cocaine as an antidote to morphine addiction. Unfortunately, some of their patients made a habit of combining both.

Cocaine was soon sold over-the-counter. Until 1916, cocaine was widely used in tonics, toothache cures and patent medicines, in coca cigarettes "guaranteed to lift depression", and in chocolate cocaine tablets.

When combined with alcohol, the cocaine alkaloid yields a further potently reinforcing compound, now known to be cocaethylene. Thus cocaine was a popular ingredient in wines.

Coca-cola was introduced in 1886 as "a valuable brain-tonic and cure for all nervous afflictions". Until 1903, a typical serving contained around 60mg of cocaine.

Effects of "Crack" on the Individual & Society
A coca leaf, if chewed, rarely presents the user with any social or medical problems. Indeed coca-chewing may be therapeutic. When the leaves are soaked and mashed, however, cocaine is then extracted as a coca-paste. After the organic solvent used has evaporated, the coca-paste is 60 to 80 per cent pure. It is usually exported in the form of the salt, cocaine hydrochloride. This is the powdered cocaine most common, until recently, in the West. Drug testing for cocaine aims to detect the presence of its major metabolite, the inactive benzoylecgonine. Benzoylecgonine can be detected for up to five days in casual users. In chronic users, urinary detection is possible for as long as three weeks.

Sensation-hungry thrill-seekers have long sought the ultimate "rush". Normally, only intravenous administration could deliver the more potent hit they have been seeking. Yet there are strong cultural prejudices against injecting recreational drugs. So a smokeable form was developed.

Since the hydrochloride salt decomposes at the temperature required to vaporize it, cocaine is converted to crack. Ordinary cocaine hydrochloride is concentrated by heating the drug in a solution of baking soda until the water evaporates.

The initial short-lived euphoria of crack is followed by a "crash". This involves anxiety, depression, irritability, extreme fatigue and possibly paranoia. Physical health may deteriorate. An intense craving for more cocaine develops. In heavy users, compulsive and repetitive patterns of behavior may occur, so may tactile hallucinations of insects crawling underneath the skin.

The social consequences of heavy cocaine use can be equally unpleasant. Addicts are likely to alienate family and friends. They tend to become isolated and suspicious. Most of their money and time is spent thinking about how to get more of the drug. The compulsion may become utterly obsessive. During a "mission", essentially a 3-4 day crack-binge, users may consume up to 50 rocks a day. To obtain more, crack addicts will often lie, cheat, steal and commit crimes of violence. Once-loved partners and children may be callously cast aside. Whole communities can be disrupted by crack-abuse.
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