Squibb & Sons Cocaine Hydrochlorate

"The nature of alkaloids was not understood until the early part of the nineteenth century, and the term itself was not coined until 1821. But, needless to say, people were being affected by alkaloids long before this time. Opium (morphine) was smoked, the sacred mushroom (muscarine or psilocybin) eaten, and coca leaves (cocaine) chewed before the birth of Christ. And all of these dope users knew very well that something in their product of choice was doing something to them. But until the rise of science in seventeen-century Europe there is no evidence to suggest that anyone was interested in discovering what it was in these plants that caused such agreeable, and sometimes not so agreeable, sensations. Some plants made you feel good, some killed you, and it was enough to know which was which. A marked change occurred in this simple pragmatic attitude during the seventeen century, when opium was becoming popular in Europe and the new scientific consciousness was developing. Inevitably, these fledging investigators began wondering what it was in opium that affected people as it did. Or, as they put it, what was the active principle of opium?
The answer did not come until 1803 when F.W. Sertürner isolated morphine from opium and, even more importantly, gained the first real insight into the chemical and physiological nature of the alkaloids. Sertürner's feat revolutionized the practice of medicine. Soon, a measured dose of a pure drug could be prescribed and accurate research could be done on the differences between specific doses. The methods he developed sparked a wave of research into the other plant alkaloids. By 1840 nearly all the medically important alkaloids had been isolated: strychnine in 1817; quinine and caffeine in 1820; nicotine in 1828; and atropine in 1833. Cocaine is conspicuously missing from the list. That it was the last of the major plant alkaloids to be isolated can probably best be explained by coca's lack of popularity in Europe.
Who first isolated cocaine, and when, is a matter of dispute. And, since cocaine is probably the least understood and most consistently misrepresented drug in the pharmacopoeia, this absence of clear answers to simple questions seems peculiarly appropriate. Two sources give the honor to one Gaedkin in 1844. Four credit Gaedecke (variously spelled Gaedeke, Gaedche, Gardecke, Gardeke) in 1855. Three say that Albert Niemann did it in 1858, four think it was in 1859, and five hold out for 1860. In my own secondhand view, the 1844 date is probably an error and, given all theways I've seen Gaedecke's name spelled, the Gaedkin of 1844 may very well be the Gaedecke of 1855. At any rate, it seems relatively clear that Gaedecke isolated cocaine prior to Niemann and the Niemann did the work independently in either 1858, 1859, or 1860, perhaps obtaining a purer product. Gaedecke named the new alkaloid erythroxyline, after the botanical name of coca... Niemann called it cocaine.
In any event cocaine (C17H21NO4) was now on the shelf and one might reasonably expect a veritable explosion of cocaine research. After all, the drug had given rise to absolutely contradictory reports for centuries. The positive reports given by the few Europeans who had used coca in South America had been countered by the negative findings of researchers working, in all probability, with inert leaves. But now all doubts could be dispelled. There clearly was an active ingredient in coca. They had it before them, a pile of shining crystals."
- pp. 31- 33, Cocaine: Its History, Uses and Effects by Richard Ashley (1976)

Related Reading:

Squibb & Sons Cocaine Hydrochlorate
ShareThis