Aidan O’Donnell in Delancey Place:
“Cocaine is an alkaloid found in the leaves of the coca plant, Erythroxylum coca, which is native to South America. For centuries, the leaves have been chewed by South American people as a mild stimulant and appetite suppressant. Coca was brought back to Europe by the Spanish in the 16th century. Cocaine itself was first isolated by Friedrich Gaedcke in 1855, and an improved purification process was developed by Albert Niemann in 1860. Later, it came to be incorporated into tonic drinks, such as Coca-Cola in 1866, and was available over the counter at Harrods in London until as late as 1916.
“In 1884, a Viennese ophthalmologist called Karl Koller, an associate of Sigmund Freud, noted that drops of cocaine solution introduced into the eye produced local anaesthesia sufficient for the patient to tolerate eye surgery. The following year, William Halsted and Richard Hall in New York experimented with injecting cocaine around peripheral nerves, to cause numbness. As a result of their experiments on themselves, Halsted and Hall became addicted to cocaine.