Looking back at the history’s Victorian era can give a glimpse into the stuffy stately homes we see in TV period dramas. We now associate opium and morphine as a sign of a Victorian’s fall into drug addiction. The development of cocaine in the mid-19th-century created a sensation and led to new developments in the medical sector. Cocaine became so prevalent that Coca-Cola led the burgeoning soda industry by introducing it as an ingredient.
The Arrival of Cocaine
The Victorians were not the first people to use the coca leaf for medical purposes. Nor were they the first to spot its use for recreational reasons. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was at the cutting edge of technology when he described Sherlock Holmes injecting a seven percent cocaine solution. The people of South American cultures had been chewing coca leaves for centuries.
Cocaine’s arrival in the Victorian world came with German chemist, Albert Nieman’s discovery of a white powder produced by the coca plant. Nieman noted the numbness of his tongue after he tasted the white powder. Scientists began to explore the possibilities of cocaine for medical purposes and released several drinks and health tonics containing the wonder drug.
Surgery and Anesthesia
Cocaine arrived in the middle of the Victorian era and was embraced by scientists in Vienna. Following Albert Nieman’s discovery of coca powder, the substance began to be discussed as a replacement for the anesthetic, chloroform. The high mortality rate with chloroform was affecting the development of medicine in the Victorian age.
The Vienesse ophthalmologist, Carl Koller, pioneered the use of cocaine as a numbing agent. Anesthesia rates had become an issue understood by the masses. Patients undergoing cataract surgery were willing to complete surgery without anesthesia. Physicians feared further developments were impossible under these circumstances. Koller’s breakthrough came when he numbed a patient’s eye with a cocaine solution.
The Wonder Drug of the Victorian Era
The impact of cocaine as an anesthetic went global. Editorials in Scottish newspapers praised cocaine as sent from the Lord. The addictive qualities of cocaine were unknown when Koller identified his cocaine solution. the anesthetic properties of cocaine made it a revelation among physicians and patients. High accidental overdose rates limited the growth of cocaine as an anesthetic. Instead, scientists researched other potential uses.
By the late-Victorian era, cocaine had slipped from its position as a winder drug amid concern. The social breakdown driven by cocaine addiction was coming to the fore. The father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud was an early convert to the transformative powers of cocaine. Freud was a cocaine user and wrote a medical paper praising its use in the early days of psychoanalysis. “Uber Coca” was written in 1884 by Freud and was followed by 12 years of addiction for the psychoanalyst.
A Powerful Health Tonic
Freud’s cocaine use is understandable because of his medical interest. French pharmacist Angelo Mariani mixed coca leaves with Bordeaux wine to create the first cocaine-based health tonic around 1860. By 1886, the Coca-Cola company has been founded by John Stith Pemberton in Atlanta, Georgia. The world’s best-selling soft drink began life as a mixture of cocaine and sugar syrup.
Coca-Cola was first sold in the segregated south and was not available to people of color. In 1886, Coca-Cola was not available to anyone outside the white middle and upper classes. The introduction of bottled cola allowed the poor and African-Americans access to cocaine. The removal of cocaine from Coca-Cola was driven by racism in the Deep South in 1903.
The Victorian era came to an end in 1901 with the death of England’s Queen Victoria. Cocaine would outlast the Victorians and stretch into the Georgian years. The U.S. Government introduced the Harrison Narcotics Act outlawing opium and cocaine use in 1914. The driving force behind the legislation was addiction and health problems. Cocaine played an important part in the development of specialist surgical techniques, including eye and cosmetic surgeries.