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An advertisement from 1885 with pictures of children offering an instantaneous cure for toothache or dental pain by using cocaine.

Cocaine extracted from the coca leaf was once used as a local anesthetic. Cocaine was extracted by isolating the active ingredient of the coca leaf, Erythroxylum coca, and sold in the form of tonics, drops, and other concoctions as an over the counter medicine in the 1800s and continued to be sold until the early 20th century.

In 1884, Carol Koller, an Australian ophthalmologist, and a surgeon at the Vienna General Hospital discovered the anesthetic properties of cocaine. He found that a few drops of cocaine solution, when put on a patient’s cornea, acted as a topical anesthetic.

It significantly reduced the pain and made surgery much easier and less risky. He was later nicknamed Coca Koller.

The newly discovered properties of cocaine spread across the country and soon cocaine was used in eye and sinus surgeries. The anesthetic properties of cocaine were well exploited and used as a treatment for toothaches, depression, alcoholism, and impotence.

Dentists saw its potential and used it for painless extractions. Rubbing cocaine on the gums was a popular remedy for swollen and painful gums.  It was very addictive and had several side effects and withdrawal effects causing insomnia, delirium, eating problems, depression, hallucinations, and dependence.

It caused more problems than it was used to cure and sometimes caused all the problems it claimed to cure!

Available without any doctor’s prescription it was sold everywhere. It was also once the key ingredient in the Coca-Cola soft drink.

Addiction to cocaine was on the rise and by 1902 there were an estimated 200,000 cocaine addicts in the United States. By 1907, U.S. coca leaf imports increased and were three times their 1900 levels. Scenes of drug use were commonly depicted in early Hollywood silent films.

It was finally banned in the USA in 1920 under the dangerous drugs act.

Veena Srivastava is a News Contributor for QuackTrack, an Advertising and PR professional,  Storyteller, and Life Skills Facilitator & Trainer.


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