Cocaine: History Between the Lines

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Cocaine History
Cocaine: History Between the Lines

I often stumble upon history websites that give History (formerly known as The History Channel) a lot of grief: forums reminiscing on old days when History showed historically relevant shows, moreover, how History has become a network that consist only of reality television. While I can appreciate shows such as Ax Men and Pawn Stars, they have their place–and History isn’t it. That being said, I try to watch the History specials in hopes that there is relevant and historical material to present. The most recent History work that I watched was Cocaine: History Between the Lines.

As far as documentary specials go, this one was exceptional. It did not follow the typical documentary style–it was edgier!

Understanding Cocaine

Cocaine: History Between the Lines starts in El Paso, Texas, just at the border between this American city and Juarez, Mexico. Speaking volumes on more than history, the documentary covers the socioeconomic state of Mexico, Colombia, and Peru; it shows the daily violence and the tens of thousands killed due to cocaine trafficking; and it shows how each level participates in the cultivation, production, and distribution of cocaine. In an attempt to put politics aside–which there is plenty of in this two-hour special–it appears as if the documentary solely blames America for the continued success of violent Mexican cartels and all of the social, cultural, and political consequences that comes with it.

Cocaine dealersPossibly the most interesting part of this documentary was the interview process. Yes, they interviewed cocaine users, however, the most impressive interviews were those done with criminals, both retired criminals and those still in the game. These masked men (both the one above and to the right…along with many others) gave an in-depth description of how cocaine is processed, transported, cut, and dealt. When I say “in-depth,” I mean in-depth. For example: I am now informed on the three major ways to enjoy cocaine. I even know the recipe for creating crack cocaine.

The history of the History’s Cocaine: History Between the Lines is too short in my opinion. In defense of History, it isn’t because of their lack of trying. There just isn’t much history to cocaine–certainly not enough to fill a two-hour special on. The core of cocaine history starts in the late 1800s.

Don’t Mix Drugs and Alcohol

Two of the most popular uses of cocaine during the late 1800s and early 1900s was in medicine and beverages.

Hurt tooth? Try some “cocaine toothache drops!”

Cocaine Toothache Drops
Cocaine Toothache Drops

Sigmund Freud has a period of his life that is collectively known as the “cocaine years.” It was during these years that he pursued many medical uses for cocaine. He believed that cocaine could be used to cure both mental and physical ailments. He used it for depression, flatulence, and as an anesthetic. It turned out that it was not a good replacement for morphine and Freud’s legacy was somewhat tarnished due to his involvement in cocaine. Possibly the most damning to his reputation was in his published work Über Coca, where he defended cocaine as a way to combat morphine addiction:

Exhilaration and lasting euphoria, which in no way differs from the normal euphoria of the healthy person. You perceive an increase of self-control and possess more vitality and capacity for work. In other words, you are simply normal, and it is soon hard to believe you are under the influence of any drug. Long intensive physical work is performed without any fatigue. This result is enjoyed without any of the unpleasant after-effects that follow exhilaration brought about by alcohol. Absolutely no craving for the further use of cocaine appears after the first, or even after repeated taking of the drug.

Everyone knows (or should know) that the original Coca-Cola recipe called for five ounces of coca leaves per gallon of syrup. This comes down to an estimated nine milligrams of cocaine per glass. Due to legislation, Coca-Cola stopped putting cocaine into their product in 1903. Another ingenious beverage that used cocaine in its recipe was Vin Mariani.

Mariani Wine Pope Leo XIII
Mariani Wine Poster Endorsed by Pope Leo XIII

This French wine, first created in 1863, was popular in all major world markets. Presidents, celebrities and royalty all enjoyed this cocaine-laced wine–Queen Victoria, President Ulysses S. Grant, and inventor Thomas Edison, just to name a few. Moreover, religious leaders of the world loved Vin Mariani; both Pope Leo XIII and Pope Saint Pius X were fans. In fact, Pope Leo XIII awarded the wine a Vatican gold medal and also appeared on a poster endorsing it.

Cocaine Legislation

There was an alarming upward trend of cocaine consumption in the late 1800s; alarming enough that citizens and lawmakers became concerned with its escalating growth. It was in 1900 that states started to consider anti-cocaine bills. The first state to do so was Georgia, in 1902; Georgia passed a law banning all forms of cocaine sale. While the federal government did pass the Food and Drug Act of 1906, requiring that cocaine-containing products provide said cocaine information on their labels, it did not attempt to fully regulate cocaine until 1914, with the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914. The Harrison Narcotics Tax Act established strict production and distribution standards. Another act passed by federal lawmakers was the Narcotic Drugs Import and Export Act. This act, passed in 1922, was passed to create the Federal Narcotics Control Board (FNCB). The FNCB’s job was to oversee the import and export primarily of drugs like coca. Additionally, it banned all recreational consumption of cocaine and ensured that it was being used for medical purposes only.

It would not be until 1971 when the federal government began their full-scale war on drugs. In a speech made by President Richard Nixon, he declared that drug abuse was “Public Enemy #1.”

It was during this speech that President Nixon created the Drug Enforcement Agency. The war on drugs has now spanned across five decades and there is no end in sight. With America’s continued consumption of recreational drugs, the cartels will continue to net $30 billion a year–further fueling the cartel’s in combating America’s war on drugs.

If you liked this, make sure you check out the article on the History of Marijuana.

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"To know the truth of history is to realize its ultimate myth and its inevitable ambiguity." I love all history; however, my favorite areas are World War II, Civil Rights Movement, and U.S. Constitutional history.

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