History of Cocaine Use and Abuse

Cocaine and coca leaves

c. 3000 B.C. Coca chewing is practiced throughout South America. Coca is believed to be a gift from God. 1

1400s Coca plantations are operated by Incas in Peru.

1505 First-hand accounts of coca use made their way back to Europe. Amerigo Vespucci (1505), G Fernandez de Oviedo (1535), and Nicholas Monardes (1565). 2

Early 1500s Incan Coca plantations are taken over by holders of Spanish land grants. Spanish tax laws are revised to allow landowners to make their tax payments in coca leaves. 2

1539 The Bishop of Cuzco tithes coca, taking 110 of the value of each crop in taxes.
Mid 1500s Coca production in Peru expands quickly causing a glut of leaf on the market which in turn precipitated a drop in the price of coca. 2

1574 Monardes’ text on Coca is first translated into other European languages from Spanish; Latin (1574), Italian (1576), English (1577). 2

silver miners

c. 1575 Forced laborers working in the Spanish silver mines were kept well supplied with Coca leaves. Roughly 82% of the Europeans living in Peru were involved in the Coca trade. 2

1662 Abraham Cowley writes a poem titled “A Legend of Coca”. This is the first independent mention of coca in English literature.

1708 Coca is first mentioned in a materia medica, Institutiones Medicae, written by German physician and botanist Herman Boerhaave.

1835 First accurate drawing of Coca appears in popular English press. The illustration by Sir William Hooker, director of the Kew Gardens, was published in Companion to the Botanical Magazine. 2

c. 1850 Coca tinctures used in throat surgery. 2

c. 1855 Cocaine first extracted from Coca leaves. 2

cocaine powder

1862 Merck produces 14 pound of cocaine. 3

1869 Seeds from the commercial variety of Coca arrived at Kew Gardens.

1870 Vin Mariani (Coca wine) is for sale throughout France, containing 6 mg cocaine per ounce of wine. Exported Vin Mariani contained 7.2 mg per ounce to compete with the higher cocaine content of American competitors. 2

1870s Parke,Davis manufactures a fluid extract of coca. 2

1876 - 1885 Race walkers in England chew Coca leaves to improve their performance. 2

1883 Merck produces 34 pound of Cocaine. 3

1884 Cocaine’s use as a local anesthetic in eye surgery is popularized. 2

1884 Freud publishes On Coca in which he recommends the use of cocaine to treat a variety of conditions including morphine addiction. 2

1884 Merck produces 3,179 pounds of Cocaine. 3

1886 Merck produces 158,352 pounds of Cocaine. 3

1886 Coca-Cola is first introduced by John Pemberton, containing cocaine laced syrup and caffeine.

Late 1880s Parke-Davis starts to manufacture refined cocaine. 2

c. 1901 Coca-Cola removed Coca from their formula. 2

c. 1905 Snorting cocaine becomes popular. 2

young man snorting cocaine

1910 First cases of nasal damage from Cocaine snorting are written of in medical literature. 3

1910 First cases of nasal damage from Cocaine snorting are seen in hospitals. 2

1912 U.S. government reports 5,000 Cocaine-related fatalities in one year. 3

1914 Cocaine banned in United States. 4

Early 1930s Japan is the world’s leading cocaine producer (23.3%) followed by the United States (21.3%), Germany (15%), U.K. (9.9%), France (8.3%). 3

c. 1976 Freebase cocaine first developed (probably in California). It would soon be popularized by dealers and glamorized by Hollywood media.

1981 Wholesale cost of 1 kg of cocaine is $55,000. 5

1984 Wholesale cost of 1 kg cocaine is $25,000. 1

Mid 1980’s Freebase cocaine becomes popular.


  • The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Drugs: Cocaine, A New Epidemic, by Chris-Ellyn Johanson.
  • A Brief History of Cocaine, by Steven B. Karch
  • The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Drugs: Cocaine, A New Epidemic,
    by Chris-Ellyn Johanson
  • www.erowid.org

See also: Cocaine Addiction | Cocaine Drug Info | Crack Cocaine | History of Cocaine | Cocaine Today

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