Cocaine: Therapeutic use

Last modified: Thursday, 25. December 2008 - 10:03 am

The medicinal and ceremonial uses of cocaine via coca leaves can be traced back over 4,000 years to pre-Columbian times. It continues to be used legally and is part of the daily culture of South American Indians. Coca leaves are chewed to combat fatigue and to ward off hunger. They are also used to alleviate problems of the larynx, digestive system, metabolism of carbohydrates, vertigo, altitude sickness, and for psychological ills.

After 1860, cocaine was being processed into powder and shipped to the United States and Europe. As described, in the 1880s, people could buy 99.9% pure powder cocaine at the grocery store and in mail-order catalogs, and could drink cocaine-laced “health” drinks. It was a common nonprescription remedy for hay fever, children’s toothaches, asthma, mountain sickness, seasickness, vomiting during pregnancy, and cramps. Snorting also became popular and some people began injecting cocaine. One company, Parke-Davis, not only sold cocaine — it offered needle and syringe kits.

As use proliferated, the toxic effects of cocaine became apparent. People were getting addicted. In 1914, the Harrison Narcotic Act banned cocaine in the United States. Only use as a local anesthetic was legally retained. It is still used today in nasal, mouth, and throat surgery. Anesthetic solutions contain 1-4% cocaine.

A need was seen for a synthetic and less toxic anesthetic. In 1905, Procaine was synthesized and became the prototype for synthesized anesthetics for the next 50 years. In 1948, Lidocaine was developed and is now the most commonly used local anesthetic. Other synthesized local anesthetics include bupivacaine and tetracaine.

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