With the United States in the midst of an opioid epidemic and more states easing restrictions on marijuana, the subject of drug abuse and addiction has received an enormous amount of media attention in recent years. Addiction, however, has been with us for a long time. Even late into the 19th century, the problem of addiction to drugs was not fully realized, particularly in Europe and the United States. Drug use was just accepted as part of everyday life. At that time, there was no mention or evidence of “controlled substances,” as we call these drugs today. Morphine and cocaine were readily available to anyone at any time during those early years.
For centuries, cocaine was grown in South America in the Andes Mountains and used readily by the indigenous population, who found that it improved their tolerance to the effects of the high altitude and cold weather. The drug, called “cuca” in the native tongue, was used in its leaf form and chewed. It must be noted that the concentration of the ingested narcotic was far less as a chewed leaf than in the chemical form that was produced years later in Europe. In the 16th century as Spain took over South America, the various explorers discovered cocaine and began using it for their own purposes and exporting it to Europe.