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Who invented cocaine and when?

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September 17, 2012 1:02AM

Cocaine was never invented. It was discovered as the major alkaloid present in indigenous Coca leaves, which were used for centuries in South America prior to the arrival of Europeans. Coca's psychoactive benefits were known by the West since the mid-16th-century. But it was not until 1855 when cocaine was largely discovered and crudely isolated by German chemist Friedrich Gaedcke.

A German Ph.D. student Albert Niemann discovered a more adequate way to isolate a purer form of cocaine from Coca leaves in 1860--superior to Gaedcke's prior work. Niemann also dubbed the active alkaloid in Coca "cocaine" for the first time as well. His technique for isolating & extracting cocaine from Coca became the gold standard for its production, used among most chemists. This lasted up until the early 20th century when its use was made illegal in most of the western world. At this point, most of the world's cocaine was relegated to illicit production methods, most of which were crude, dangerous (to the user of the drug, producers of the drug, and the environment), and their methodologies varied.

Finally, in 1898 Richard Willstätter discovered a technique to fully synthesize cocaine without the use of Coca. He also studied and published the structure of the cocaine molecule, which was not previously known in the medical community. However, due to expense, the extraction technique was and still is used.