The coca plant is indigenous to the mountainous regions of the Andes and Native Americans are known to have chewed the coca leaves to rid themselves of fatigue. They even brewed it into a tea. It was an integral part of their culture and burning coca plants also found a place in their medicinal and religious practices.
With the realization of the stimulant effects that coca leaves possessed, Albert Niemann, a German chemist, extracted cocaine hydrochloride from the plant in the mid 1800s. The 1880s saw the drug being used as an anesthetic in eye, throat and nose surgeries. Discovery of its psychoactive properties soon made it available for treatment of depression, anxiety and for treating morphine addiction. The late 1800s saw the commercial refinement and manufacture of cocaine increase. This caused coca plantations to spring up in a number of places such as Indonesia.
Early 1900s witnessed the withdrawal of cocaine which was a constituent of many tonics due to its addictive properties. Cocaine abuse heightened and in 1920 cocaine was banned as an illegal substance. This encouraged illegal importation and cocaine popularity surged up and down till the 1960s
Crack cocaine, a white crystalline form of cocaine, was developed during the 1970s. These years saw huge quantities of cocaine shipped into the United States. This caused the price of the drug to fall considerably. The illicit drug dealers then turned to freebasing the drug. Freebasing involved smoking the rock form of the cocaine drug along with ether and a flame source. The process was dangerous and many a drug smoker was known to have died or burned while doing this.
To create a safer method to smoke a pure form of the drug, the illicit dealers removed several of the additive chemicals that were involved in the freebasing. A new process that involved only water in the reprocessing of cocaine was evolved. Crack cocaine was the result. There are many versions of the origin of the term 'crack'. One version has it that freebase cocaine when volatilized and smoked, made a crackling or popping sound.
Crack cocaine is a relatively new drug in the scene compared to opium and heroin. Crack cocaine is a solid form of the drug that could be smoked. The chunks were broken into smaller pieces and sold at about $10 to $20 in small glass vials or plastic containers. It turned to be a highly profitable activity for the drug dealers. It is the most popular form of cocaine that is available today.
Crack cocaine usage exploded all over the country in the early 1980s and more so in low-income neighborhoods. Users achieved a quicker and a more powerful high (in as little as ten seconds) and the drug was cheap making it popular with the financially challenged addicts. Many addicts turned to crime to support the drug habit. Women turned to prostitution and newborns had the drug already in their system.
The 'crack epidemic' between the years 1984 and 1990 saw the drug spread across America. In the mid 1980s, crack cocaine replaced heroin as the most widely used illicit drug in the United States. There were an estimated 5.8 million crack users in the United States by 1985. The drug was freely used throughout the continent in these years. There was an increase in the number of people who used the drug on a daily basis by 19% in 1985. Crack was considered to a very important factor in contributing to the social ills in the Latino and African American communities in the United States between 1980 and 2000.
The United Kingdom experienced an epidemic of a similar kind in the year 2002. There was an increased number of drug raids and many more crack cocaine addicts on record who sought help. In Europe, the majority of crack cocaine users are from Hamburg, London and Paris. Usage of crack cocaine has been cited as a problem in certain overseas French territories and a few communities in Netherlands.
Crack cocaine is currently classified as a Schedule II drug under the Controlled Substances Act. However, there is a disparity for the sentence that may be slapped on an individual if found trafficking powder cocaine or crack cocaine. Whereas trafficking 500 g of powdered cocaine would fetch a five-year minimum sentence, the same sentence could be slapped for merely possessing 5 g of crack cocaine.