Although cocaine is thought of as a modern drug, use of the South American coca plant (Erythroxylon coca) as a stimulant dates back to the Incas of Peru, and it was during the 19th Century that the major discoveries were made concerning the drug. Albert Niemann first synthesized pure cocaine in 1860, and Karl Koller, an ophthalmologist, discovered its local anaesthetic effect in 1884, which led to its medicinal use, mainly in ear, nose and throat surgery, where it still has a place1. Cocaine was added to drinks, being a constituent of the popular Vin Mariani and also of Coca Cola until it was realized this might not be a good thing. Cocaine was strongly endorsed by Sigmund Freud2 and used by many others over the years for its stimulant and euphoriant effects; Arthur Conan Doyle even had Sherlock Holmes taking a 7% solution of cocaine hydrochloride in The Sign of Four. Nevertheless, cocaine retained a reputation as a relatively safe, non-addictive agent until the early 1980s3.

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