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Day 2 of Our 31 Day Series of How Medicine Got it Wrong

How Cocaine Became Medically Popular

Cocaine is a powerful stimulant derived from the leaves of the coca plant, which is native to South America. Indigenous people in the region have been chewing coca leaves for thousands of years for their stimulating and medicinal properties. In the mid-19th century, European scientists isolated cocaine from coca leaves and began to study its effects.

One of the first medical uses of cocaine was as a local anesthetic. In 1884, an Austrian ophthalmologist named Carl Koller discovered that cocaine could be used to numb the eye before surgery. Koller's discovery revolutionized ophthalmology and opened up new possibilities for painless surgical procedures.

The medical use of cocaine soon spread to other areas of medicine, and it was used as a local anesthetic for dental work, as well as for treating a variety of other ailments, including headaches, asthma, and even addiction to alcohol and opium.

However, the addictive properties of cocaine were not fully understood at the time, and the drug began to be used recreationally. By the early 20th century, cocaine abuse had become a serious public health problem, and its medical use was heavily restricted.

As for how cocaine ended up in Coca-Cola, the story goes back to the early days of the soda industry. In the late 19th century, Coca-Cola was marketed as a medicinal drink that could cure a variety of ailments, including headaches, fatigue, and depression. The drink's inventor, John Pemberton, originally included cocaine as one of the ingredients, along with caffeine and other stimulants.

In 1903, as concerns about the addictive properties of cocaine grew, Coca-Cola began to phase out the use of coca leaves in its recipe. Today, Coca-Cola uses a de-cocainized extract of coca leaves, which does not contain the active ingredient cocaine.


  1. The History of Cocaine by PBS

  2. Carl Koller and the Early Use of Cocaine as a Local Anesthetic” by James E. Cross

  3. "The Rise and Fall of Cocaine in the US" by Sarah Pruitt for

  4. "How Coca-Cola Obtains Its Coca Leaves" by Stephanie Pappas for Live Science

  5. Image: “7 of the Most Outrageous Medical Treatments in History”

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