Cocaine: 5 Things Men Should Know

Actor and comedian Robin Williams said cocaine was God's way of telling that you had too much money. The most recent collisions between coke and celebrity -- Paris Hilton's guilty plea, Lindsay Lohan's dirty drug test, Bruno Mars' bathroom stall bust -- are reminders of Williams' words: in order to have a cocaine problem, you need to have money to buy it.

Despite this, Americans of all income levels love their cocaine. One in seven has at least tried it, and the government estimates that about 1.6 million are clinically addicted to it.

The idea of cocaine as an addictive substance is shockingly recent. What seems like common knowledge today was nonsense a few decades ago. In 1974, Dr. Peter G. Bourne, future special assistant to President Jimmy Carter on health issues, wrote that cocaine was "probably the most benign of illicit drugs currently in widespread use," that it was "acutely pleasurable" and "not physically addicting." It would take pharmacologists another decade to recognize it as addictive.

With that in mind, we offer up five things men should know about cocaine.

1- Alcohol and cocaine form the deadliest two-drug combination

The first thing men should know about cocaine is that it doesn't go so well with a drink.

The zooming, pie-high euphoria of a cocaine rush tends to render all of your ideas good ones, and that often includes alcohol consumption. A few beers, goes the logic, might take the edge off a throbbing cocaine buzz. But this kind of multidrug use is a gamble, especially when it involves cocaine and alcohol, because the liver doesn't process the two in a separate, orderly fashion. Instead, it combines them into a superdrug called cocaethylene that makes your coke high even higher.

By itself, cocaine use is life-threatening: According to the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), in 2005, about one of every three trips to U.S. emergency rooms for drug abuse involved cocaine. Cocaethylene, meanwhile, is linked with sudden death. The user doesn't even make it to the ER.

2- One of Forbes' most powerful people heads up a cocaine cartel

He might have the worst nickname in the history of drug lords, but Joaquin Guzman Loera, aka "Shorty," head of Mexico's Sinaloa cartel, is no slouch. Currently a fugitive with a big price on his head, in terms of staggering wealth, phenomenal power and willingness to violence, El Chapo is this generation’s Pablo Escobar, except -- unbelievably -- El Chapo's body count is likely much higher. The war waged between his Sinaloa cartel and rival cartels in Mexico -- a war featuring sadistic mercenary armies on all sides -- has claimed some 28,000 lives.

Nevertheless, in 2009, Forbes placed El Chapo on two lists: The World's Most Powerful People (#41), and The World's Billionaires (#937, although his estimated net worth is defaulted at $1 billion).  

3- Your doctor can still write you a prescription for cocaine

Another thing men should know about cocaine is that their doctor can get it, and unlike street coke laden with cut, his is pure as the driven snow.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency categorizes cocaine (along with coca leaves, a cocaine metabolite called benzoylecgonine and a cocaine precursor) as a Schedule II controlled substance, reserved for the most tightly controlled substances that are considered to have some medicinal value. Legally then, any licensed physician can prescribe or administer cocaine, which is sometimes used as a topical local anesthetic. Despite being legal, it would be one very rare prescription, and nearly impossible to fill, as your local pharmacy does not stock an eight ball of pure government coke in the unlikely event that a script has been written.

4- At least 50% of U.S. currency does test positive for cocaine

You heard this before and you thought it was an urban myth. Nope, it's true: a good percentage of U.S. paper currency is contaminated with cocaine. But this shouldn't be taken to mean that all that currency passed through the hands and noses of Colombian and Mexican drug lords and every middleman dealer and addict in between. Rather, according to Snopes, the average amount of coke on any one bill is 16 micrograms, or 16 one-millionths of a gram, not even enough to get a flea high. And one dirty bill can contaminate thousands more just by being sent through a bank cash-counting machine.

5- A pope endorsed cocaine-infused wine

The last thing men should know about cocaine is that it once powered a pontificate.

When Gioacchino Pecci became Pope Leo XIII in 1878, he was already 68 years old and in poor health. The pontificate of his predecessor, Pius IX, lasted a record 31 years; the College of Cardinals elected the frail Pecci to be a transition pope at best. Instead, Leo XIII's pontificate stretched a quarter-century until his death in 1902 at age 93, thanks, in some small part perhaps, to cocaine.

Leo XIII was a fan of Vin Mariani, a French tonic wine infused with cocaine. So enamored was he of the stuff that he actually endorsed it in an 1899 newspaper ad, featuring his smiling picture and a quote. Vin Mariani was of course just one of thousands of cocaine-charged products of the day, a legacy of snake oils claiming to treat every ailment under the sun. Interestingly, this particular wine inspired Atlanta entrepreneur and morphine addict John Pemberton to make his own, which of course we all know today as Coca-Cola.

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