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Biology 103
2002 Second Paper
On Serendip

Cocaine:scaring the crap out of America for Decades

Diana Fernandez

Cocaine has been present in American drug culture for the past three decades and has seen a rise in popularity in the new millennium. From Grateful Dead songs, to investment bankers, as well as in recent movies such as "Traffic" and "Blow" cocaine has permeated the fabric of American society. So what is it that has made cocaine so popular and sought after? Are the biological measures that the American government taking toward eliminating cocaine, ethically sound?
The indigenous peoples of South America have used cocaine for hundreds of years. Indians chewed coca leaves in order to alleviate feelings of fatigue as well as feelings of hunger. Cocaine derives from the coca plant found in Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia. In the modern world cocaine predominantly takes the form of white powder and is snorted through the nostril where it is absorbed into the mucus membrane. Cocaine is a combination of Coca leaves, sulfuric acid, and HCL. It is then purified with water, ammonium hydroxide, and ether. It's chemical formula is C1 7H2 1NO4(1). Cocaine can also be smoked or injected.
This mixture of chemicals creates a multitude of pleasurable effects, which is why it is so habit forming. These pleasurable effects include, euphoria, garrulousness, increased motor activity, lack of fatigue and hunger, and heightened sexual interest. Cocaine stimulates the nucleus accumbes; where in a large amount of dopamine is released by neurons. Cocaine inhibits dopamine receptors by the accumulation of dopamine in the brain. This accumulation of dopamine is what causes the euphoric feeling that cocaine users describe.
Cocaine also has many adverse effects because of its highly addictive nature. It has been associated with cardiovascular problems, respiratory effects, including chest pain and respiratory failure, strokes, seizure, and gastrointestinal complications. (2).Memories of cocaine use can be a powerful draw for former cocaine users to fall into relapse. This memory association is attributed to the hippocampus, an area of the brain that assists in recalling memories. (3).Although cocaine causes many health consequences,the role that government plays in trying to prevent cocaine from surfacing in the United States far outweighs these affects.
The United States government has been focusing in recent years toward eliminating cocaine at the source, the coca plant. Spraying herbicides over areas of presumed coca growth have had severe implications for residents of Colombia, and other countries bordering the Amazon. In June of 2002, 7,000 hectares of food crops were damaged from arial herbicide, sprayed by the Colombian government in a U.S sponsored sweep of the area. 4,000 people and 178,000 animals were found with major skin, respitory and digestive problems due to the herbicide. (4).
The medical issues that have arisen due to the use of chemicals in the war on cocaine have lead to new research in the elimination of cocaine that could be as detrimental as herbicides. The United States and Colombian governments have decided to test out a fungus called Fusarium that could kill coca plants. Yet introducing a new species of plants in an area that has already been ravaged ecologically could have unfavorable effects on the environment. Biodiversity could plummet as species of plants and animals, unaccustomed to the new fungus could die off as a result of a non-native plant being thrust into the ecosystem. Species of Fusarium oxysporum is known to cause disease and could endanger the well being of the humans residing in these areas. (5). The rainforests of this area are already at risk, and government meddling will only worsen the problem.
Although cocaine is potentially lethal, and has affected the lives of thousands of addicts, those people who use cocaine do so of their own freewill. Those people, who reside in the South American countryside, do not choose to have new species of lethal fungi, or choose to have their food crops destroyed. By trying to create a moral infrastructure in the United States, government funded irradiation projects, have affected the lives of campesinos in Colombia and Bolivia in a direct and harmful way. The war and drugs has gone on for decades, and what does America have to show for it? Cocaine is a reality, yet we have a right to choose. The life of someone in Colombia is not worth less than a Statement America chooses to make.


1)"cocaine" Encyclopedia Britannica

"Research Report Series- Cocaine Abuse and Addiction

3) Netting, J."Memory May Draw Addicts Back to Cocaine"in Encyclopedia Britannica. Vol. 159. Issue 19. Science news Inc; New York. 2001. p.292.

4) "Drugs war's true cost" in Encyclopedia Britannica. Vol. 32. Ecologist. June2000. P10.
5) Vargas, "Biowarfare in Colombia?" NACLA report on the Americas. Vol. 34. Issue 2. Oct 2000. p20.

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