Native populations of South America have been familiar for centuries with the invigorating effects of chewed coca leaves, however, it was only in the mid-1800s that chemists began to take an interest in isolating pure cocaine, the substance responsible for its psychotropic effects, and later determining its structure. Its use as the first local anaesthetic revolutinised dentistry, and knowledge of its structure led to the synthesis of yet safer and more effective agents such as Novocaine. There was no stigma associated with cocaine's use in tonic wines and for personal consumption until the early years of the 20th century, but press-led campaigns eventually led to its classification as a Class 1 Dangerous Drug. This talk, as the title suggests, covers its chemical, medical and social history and concludes with a brief consideration of the harm it does to society, contrasting this 'harm' with the damage done by the consumption of other chemical agents such as alcohol, tobacco, LSD and other drugs.
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Professor Alan Dronsfield, University of Derby