Cocaine. There’s More to It Than You Know

by Jake Colton

The Less Known History of Cocaine

  • Ancient Use in South America: Cocaine is derived from the coca plant, which has been cultivated in South America for thousands of years. Indigenous people in the Andes Mountains chewed coca leaves to alleviate hunger, fatigue, and to enhance endurance. This practice was an integral part of their cultural and spiritual rituals.

  • Isolation of Cocaine: The active ingredient in coca leaves, cocaine, was first isolated in 1859 by German chemist Albert Niemann. It was initially praised for its potential therapeutic benefits.
  • Medical Use in the 19th and Early 20th Century: In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, cocaine was used in medicine as a local anesthetic. It was also used to treat a variety of ailments, including depression and morphine addiction. Notably, Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, was an early advocate for the drug, believing it to be a cure for depression and sexual impotence (boy did he get that one backwards!). In fairness to Freud, by the late 1890s, he had distanced himself from his earlier enthusiasm for the substance, as the medical community began to recognize its potential for addiction and other harmful effects.

  • Cocaine in Soft Drinks: Cocaine was famously included in the original formulation of Coca-Cola in the late 19th century. The beverage was marketed as a tonic that could cure a variety of ailments. By 1903, public pressure and regulatory changes led to the removal of cocaine from the formula.

How Does Cocaine Match Up to Other Stimulants such as Adderall?

Comparing cocaine to other stimulants like caffeine, Adderall, alcohol, nicotine, and Wellbutrin reveals both similarities and differences in their effects, uses, and mechanisms of action:

1. Cocaine vs. Adderall

  • Similarities: Adderall and cocaine are both powerful stimulants that increase dopamine in the brain and can enhance focus and energy. Out of the substances being compared, Adderall is the most similar to cocaine. Furthermore, Adderall and methamphetamine (aka Meth) are chemically similar (methamphetamine is essentially a methylated form of amphetamine). 
  • Differences: Adderall (a combination of amphetamine salts) is legally prescribed for ADHD and narcolepsy and has a more prolonged effect on dopamine release. Cocaine’s effects are more intense but shorter-lived and have a higher risk of addiction and adverse health effects.

2. Cocaine vs. Alcohol

  • Similarities: Both substances can alter mood and behavior by boosting dopamine. 
  • Differences: Alcohol’s effects are more varied, sometimes stimulating sociability initially before leading to sedation.

3. Cocaine vs. Caffeine

  • Similarities: Both are central nervous system stimulants, enhancing alertness and energy.
  • Differences: Cocaine is much stronger and acts by blocking the reuptake of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, leading to intense euphoria and addiction potential. Caffeine works by inhibiting adenosine receptors, which is a more moderate form of stimulation.

4. Cocaine vs. Nicotine

  • Similarities: Nicotine and cocaine both stimulate the release of dopamine in the brain, leading to feelings of pleasure.
  • Differences: Nicotine is less potent than cocaine and acts primarily on nicotinic acetylcholine receptors. Cocaine has a broader range of action, affecting multiple neurotransmitter systems and leading to a more intense and immediate high.

5. Cocaine vs. Wellbutrin (Bupropion)

  • Similarities: Wellbutrin can have a mild stimulant effect and is sometimes used in treating cocaine dependence.
  • Differences: Wellbutrin works by inhibiting the reuptake of norepinephrine and dopamine, but its mechanism is less potent and more targeted than cocaine. It’s prescribed for depression and smoking cessation, with a lower potential for abuse.

In summary, while these substances share some common ground as stimulants affecting brain chemistry, they differ significantly in their potency, mechanisms of action, legal status, and addiction potential. 

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