What do Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison have in common apart from the fact that they are singing legends? They all died at the age of 27 due to possible cocaine and heroin related overdose.
Cocaine during the 1800’s was hailed as a wonder drug, capable of curing diseases and relieving people suffering from morphine addictions. Yes it was advertised as the saviour that would make surgery easier and also work as an active painkiller. In fact, the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud was of the opinion that this wonder drug was better than morphine. It is reported that he himself was addicted to the white powder and took it initially in small doses to fight commonplace ailments such as indigestion and also for depression. Freud had famously confessed his addiction and had also announced that he had overcome it.
Freud was not the only person bedazzled by the miraculous properties of what we now know as a potential killer. Pioneering surgeon William Halsted began using cocaine for operative procedures as an alternative to chloroform and also started injecting himself with it. In due time, he became addicted to ‘the stuff’ and couldn’t perform surgeries. Cocaine may have not halted his progress as a visionary in surgery but it did wreck him mentally. He reportedly spent 7 months in his townhouse after failing to perform a surgery, high on cocaine. Cocaine was discovered in South America and is derived from the leaves of the coca tree. Natives had been chewing the leaves for centuries. However, what the discovery made available to America and the rest of the world was a rich concentrated powder that is hundred times more powerful than the leaves.
Although people were falling like a pack of cards into addiction due to constant use of cocaine, this white powder was being advertised as the one stop solution to all health related problems such as tuberculosis, dyspepsia, asthma and even lethargy. It was mass produced and mixed in everyday items such as margarine and soft drinks. Shrew businessmen took to adding cocaine into wines and creating signature drinks with nearly 200 mg of the lethal drug in a bottle! Not even coca cola was spared. It contained cocaine and only in 1903, did coca cola become ‘clean’. Slowly authorities took cognizance of the fact that continued cocaine abuse leads to addiction and cases of overdose. Its availability was banned except for medical purposes. Thus cocaine evolved from being everyone’s favourite to the excitement that is found in dark dingy by lanes; supplied by addicts.
Thereafter, there has been a steady decline in the acceptance of cocaine by the popular imagination. It is banned and possession of cocaine leads to jail sentence. However, it has become the hot favourite of the rich and the elite, who pursue it, court it and in some unfortunate cases, lay their lives for it.
Cocaine has been the bane of many famous people and many have constantly blamed cocaine addiction for their destruction. However, it continues to be pursued like the Golden Fleece as it continues to elude those without money and is the evil manna for those who can afford its upkeep!
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