Cocaine: A Drug and Its Social Evolution

Cocaine: A Drug and Its Social Evolution

Cocaine: A Drug and Its Social Evolution

Cocaine: A Drug and Its Social Evolution

Excerpt

The stimulant and euphoriant extracted from the leaves of the coca plant is becoming one of the most prized, if not most often used, of pleasure-giving drugs. Reports of the arrest of drug smugglers more and more often mention cocaine as their cargo. It is being sniffed or injected more and more openly and frequently by those who can afford it as well as those who have to beg, borrow, steal, or deal to obtain it. Movies and popular songs have celebrated it or condemned it or done both at once. Articles in national magazines have described its pleasures and warned about its dangers, producing the usual combination of attitudes toward newly popular drugs in which interest predominates over fear. Cocaine has begun to reach the college campuses, where, notoriously, the merely fashionable is admitted into the company of the Zeitgeist.

In spite of the growing interest in the drug and its long history in both South America and the United States, ignorance and misapprehensions about it are substantial on both the popular and the scientific levels. Some people confuse the coca leaf with the cacao bean and assume vaguely that cocaine is related to chocolate; others confuse the coca plant with the coconut. A more serious misconception identifies cocaine with opiates; this confusion has been enshrined in laws that are only now first being challenged in the courts. There are also those who still believe that cocaine is a variant of heroin or similar to heroin in its effects, although in actuality the characteristic pleasures and dangers of cocaine and those of morphine or heroin are quite different. On the scientific level information is also surprisingly limited, and very little of it is recent. The most extensive work on the botany, ethnography, and medicinal uses of the coca . . .

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