Cocaine and American Culture

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Cocaine: The Molding of American Culture, 1860- 1914

Cocaine had slowly risen into American Popular Culture, starting with an appeal to the elite class and ending with the Harrison Act of 1914. Employers encouraged the use of the coca leaf among their workers to increase productivity and decrease fatigue. Early physicians would prescribe cocaine to treat everything from morphine addiction to the common cold. Cocaine became a common ingredient in consumer goods. Marketers raved about the amazing effects of cocaine in their advertisements. Early historical figures, including Thomas Edison and Pope Leo XIII, endorsed French coca wine. It was difficult to escape the grasp of cocaine’s spreading popularity.

The plant from which cocaine is extracted has been cultivated in South America for thousands of years, and a large part of the population of Bolivia and Peru, smaller numbers in Colombia, and a few people in Argentina and Brazil now chew its leaf every day (Grinspoon and Bakalar 9). One student of the coca leaf has gone so far as to write of the Peruvian Indians, "Never in the life of a people has a drug had such importance." (Grinspoon and Bakalar 9). Many have noted if it wasn’t for the coca leaf, Peru would cease to exist.

It is difficult to pinpoint exactly where coca first grew wild or was used as a drug. Documented early use has sprung up among various regions and many civilizations at different times. It has been suggested that the chewing of coca originated in central Amazon or with the Aymara Indians of Bolivia. The word coca is believed to be of Aymara origin and it simply means plant or tree (Grinspoon and Bakalar 9-10). There is also some research that may suggest coca use originated in Northeast Africa. In 1992, ...

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Cocaine had fallen dormant from the sight of popular culture. It would be many decades, before cocaine would reach a national status and public awareness, as it did during this time. Cocaine had a tremendous role in the foundation of America and the culture of this era.

Works Cited

Primary Source:

Edited by Steven R. Belenko. Drugs and Drug Policy in America. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc., 2000.

Secondary Sources:

Grinspoon, Lester and James B. Bakalar. Cocaine: A Drug and its Social Evolution. New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1976.

Hooked: Illegal Drugs and How They Got That Way. Arts and Entertainment Network. 200 min. New York, New York. A&E: History Channel, 2000.

Spillane, Joseph F. Cocaine: From Medical Marvel to Modern Menace in the United States, 1884-1920. Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000.

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