There are around 250 species of plants in the Erythroxylum (Erythroxylon) genus. At least 17 produce cocaine. Only a few of these 17 species are commonly used for the production of South American cocaine because they produce a larger yield than the others.
Coca can be harvested several (usually 4-6) times a year. Traditionally, chewing the sacred leaf promotes contact with the spirit world. Chewing or smoking coca leaves invigorates the user, allowing the user to absorb the plant's magical powers and protect body and spirit alike.
In its native habitat, the coca plant is resistant to drought and disease. It doesn't need irrigation. The introduction of coca to England was pioneered early in the nineteenth century by the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew. But the plant has yet to find a place in orthodox western horticulture.
Cocaine could only be taken in leaf form until about 1860. The natural source gives a low dose of cocaine with effects similar to drinking strong coffee. People who chew coca leaves do not often have a serious addiction problem because there is so little cocaine in each leaf.
However, in 1858-1860 cocaine was isolated from the plant material by chemist Albert Niemann at the University of Gottingen in Germany. Shortly after this form of purification was discovered, people began to inhale it (snort) and to inject it.
Coca leaves are stripped from the plant and crushed, chopped, and/or pounded and mixed with a solution of alcohol, gasoline, kerosene, or some other solvent that will separate the cocaine from the leaves.
The resulting liquid contains unpurified cocaine alkaloids and may additionally contain waxy material from the leaves. This waxy material can be removed by heating and then cooling the mixture, a process that solidifies the unwanted wax.
The next step is to isolate the cocaine alkaloids from the liquid. This is done with acid and basic mixtures. The alkaloids that are removed in this process are then treated with kerosene.
The kerosene is removed and gas crystals of crude cocaine are left at the bottom of the tank. Typically, the crystals are dissolved in methyl alcohol. They are then recrystallized and dissolved in sulfuric acid, which results in cocaine that is about 60% pure.
It should be noted that cocaine at this point is basically freebase cocaine, very similar to crack. In fact, when a person freebases cocaine, or makes crack, they are reversing what is done in the next process.
What is done next is converting freebase cocaine to a salt called cocaine hydrochloride (regular cocaine). The reasons for converting it to a salt are:
1) If the cocaine was left in this form for long it would lose its potency.
2) To make it water soluble (it does not dissolve well in water unless converted to cocaine hydrochloride). The drug (in hydrochloride form) can be used for injecting or snorting into the bloodstream.
Blood is about 50 percent water, any drug which is injected into the human body must be dissolvable in water. If it is not, it will float around in the body in a non dissolved clump. Such clumps are likely to cause strokes or cardiac arrest (heart attack).
Because of factors like these cocaine is further treated with oxidizing agents to produce a water-soluble form of the drug. This is usually done by further washing, oxidation and separation procedures that involve potassium permanganate, benzole, and sodium carbonate. The result is an odorless, white crystalline powder. It has a bitter, numbing taste.
Freebase and crack cocaine are derived from cocaine hydrochloride that has been chemically treated with ammonia and ether (freebase) or baking soda (crack) to free the potent base material from the salt.
Freebase was originally produced by a dangerous four or five step process in which the hydrochloride salt was heated with water and a volatile liquid such as ether.
Base cocaine in the form of crack is safer to produce than freebase made with ether. Crack and freebase cocaine are not soluble in water, so they can't be injected or sniffed.
Instead, crack and freebase cocaine are usually smoked from pipes, burnt on a piece of tin foil, or mixed with tobacco or marijuana and smoked like a cigarette or joint.
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