The University of Arizona

History, Pharmacology, and Prevalence
Cocaine Overview:
Origin and History

Pure cocaine is extracted from the leaf of the Erythroxylon coca bush found mostly in South America.[1,2]  The coca leaf, the consumption of which dates back to at least 3000 BC, has long been utilized for its ability to boost energy, relieve fatigue, and lessen hunger.[3]  Historically, chewing the coca leaf was the primary mode of cocaine ingestion.  In 1860, however, Albert Niemann isolated the drug and by the 1880s it was used in eye, nose, and throat surgeries as an anesthetic and to constrict blood vessels and limit bleeding.[3,4]  Coca leaves have also been used in teas and at one time were incorporated in beverages such as Coca Cola™.[3]

As cocaine’s popularity increased in the 1880s and 1890s, reports of addiction emerged, and the potential harm from the drug was soon recognized.  As a result, the Harrison Narcotic Act of 1914 was passed to prohibit the importation of cocaine and coca leaves, with the exception of pharmaceutical uses.  Widespread non-medical use of cocaine may have been delayed for decades by the introduction of pharmaceutical amphetamines in the 1930s.  However, the Controlled Substance Act of 1970 strictly regulated the manufacture of pharmaceutical amphetamines, significantly reducing their availability.  Around that time the use of cocaine began increasing.  This rise was compounded by the synthesis of crack cocaine in the 1980s, helping to bring cocaine to the forefront of illicit drug use.[3,5-7]

Cocaine is considered to be an effective anesthetic and vasoconstricting agent when used as part of a treatment for a patient by a physician.  This stated, its use as a topical anesthetic in ophthalmology has been reduced because of its corneal toxicity.  Nevertheless, cocaine is still being used for medical purposes in the United States, in particular for anesthetizing mucous membranes of the oral, laryngeal, and nasal cavities.[6,8]

Street names for cocaine include basa, base, blow, coke, crack, and toot.



  • (1) NIDA. Cocaine: Abuse and Addiction. Rockville, MD; 2004 Nov. Report No.: 99-4342.
  • (2) Egred M, Davis GK. Cocaine and the heart. Postgraduate Medical Journal 2005 Sep 1;81(959):568-71.
  • (3) Warner EA. Cocaine Abuse. Ann Intern Med 1993 Aug 1;119(3):226-35.
  • (4) Office of National Drug Control Policy. Cocaine. Web 2007 March 22Available from: URL:
  • (5) Van Dyke C, Byck R. Cocaine. Scientific American 1982;246(3):128-41.
  • (6) Rouse B. Trends in cocaine use in the general population. Schober S, Schade C, editors. 1991. Rockville, MD, NIDA.
  • (7) Kramer JC, Fischman VS, Littlefield DC. Amphetamine Abuse: Patterns and effects of high doses taken intravenously. JAMA: Journal of the American Medical Association 1967;201:305-9.
  • (8) American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. Medical Use of Cocaine. Web 2007Available from: URL:


  • ="Cocaine
    Cocaine Toothache Drops
  • ="1981
    1981 Time Magazine
  • ="1983
    1983 Time Magazine