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Coca Leaves, Cocaine, and Crack

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Cocaine can be traced back thousands of years, but its presence wasn’t widely known in North America until the late 1800’s and once it hit, there was an epidemic (Gootenberg 191-192). Cocaine was found to be highly addictive, forming a strong physiological and psychological dependence due to its direct effect on the brain’s central nervous system, specifically the reward pathway.
Cocaine comes from the leaves of two specific coca plants that are primarily grown in South America. The leaves contain the specific cocaine alkaloid that is needed to make cocaine hydrochloride (Rhodium). Alkaloids are a class of alkaline amines that are found in nature and amines are organic compounds containing a nitrogen atom bonded to one, two or three carbons (Suchocki 368). The process of going from a coca leaf to the cocaine hydrochloride (powdered cocaine) is done by converting the coca leaves to coca paste and the coca paste into cocaine base which is then moved into the hydrochloride stage (Rhodium). Each coca leaf contains roughly 1% of the desired cocaine (Claustre and Bresch-Rieu). The dried leaves are placed in a container and mixed with water, kerosene and an alkaline material such as sodium carbonate (Na2CO3) or sometimes baking soda. The solution made extracts cocaine alkaloids from the leaves (Rhodium). The kerosene, which is water immiscible, and the cocaine alkaloids become separated and the water and leaves are then discarded. The cocaine alkaloids are then extracted from the kerosene by using a sulfuric acid. The result is a putty like substance of cocaine sulfate or coca paste (“Cocaine”). It takes around 250 pounds of dried coca leaves to produce just 2.2 pounds of coca paste and out of the paste there contains 30 to...

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