Thursday, September 9

Cocaine 1.0 - Super Cocaine to Vin Mariani

Super Cocaine

This article should cause great uneasiness around the world

New super strain of coca plant stuns anti-drug officials
Drug traffickers have created a new strain of coca plant that yields up to four times more cocaine than existing plants and promises to revolutionise Colombia’s drugs industry.

The new variety of coca, the raw material for cocaine, was found in an anti-drug operation on the Caribbean coast, on the mountainsides of the Sierra Nevada, long known as a drug-growing region.

Samples of the plant were sent for laboratory analysis and experts then pronounced drugs traffickers had developed a new breed.

"This is a very tall plant," said Colonel Diego Leon Caicedo of the anti-narcotics police. "It has a lot more leaves and a lighter colour than other varieties."

A toxicologist, Camilo Uribe, who studied the coca, said: "The quality and percentage of hydrochloride from each leaf is much better, between 97 and 98 per cent. A normal plant does not get more than 25 per cent, meaning that more drugs and of a higher purity can be extracted."

Experts estimate that the drugs traffickers spent £60 million to develop the new plant, using strains from Peru and crossbreeding them with potent Colombian varieties, as well as engaging in genetic engineering.

The resulting plant has also been bred to resist the gliphosate chemicals developed in the US that are sprayed on drugs crops across Colombia.

While traditional coca plants are dark green and grow to some 5ft, the new strain grows to more than 12ft.

"What we found were not bushes but trees," Col Caicedo said.

Such an investment by drugs traffickers is small compared to the earnings from what is the most lucrative business on earth. Traffickers can produce a kilogram of cocaine for less than £1,500. That kilogram will sell in Miami for £14,000, in London for £34,000 and in Tokyo would bring £50,000.

The discovery threatens to undermine the successes the US-funded crop eradication programme has enjoyed.

Over the last two years, thanks to an unprecedented aerial eradication campaign, Colombian authorities have sprayed hundreds of thousands of hectares of drug crops, reducing narcotics cultivation by more than a third.

Two years ago Colombia produced an estimated 800 tonnes of cocaine a year. That figure is believed to have dropped below 600 tonnes.

On Monday, Mexican authorities signalled a major blow for the drugs-smuggling gangs when they announced the arrest of the man thought to be a leader of a crime organisation responsible for nearly half the cocaine and marijuana entering the United States.

The US had offered a $2 million (£1.1 million) reward for Gilberto Higuera Guerrero’s capture.

However, such success could be immediately wiped out if the potent new coca strain spreads across Colombia.

In the southern province of Putumayo, once the coca capital of Colombia, drug farmers have changed the way they sow crops in the face of repeated aerial fumigations.

"We know the spray planes need a target area of three hectares," said Sebastian Umaya, standing in the middle of a tiny field of coca. "Now we just have smaller fields, but with more intensive farming of the coca bushes."

Should the new strain be introduced, these smaller fields could yield up to four times more drugs and be immune to aerial eradication, meaning anti-narcotic police would have to eradicate them manually, an impossible task in the southern jungle provinces controlled by Marxist rebels.

The introduction of the new coca strain could undermine the efforts of the Oxford-educated president Alvaro Uribe to win the 40-year civil conflict.

By destroying drugs crops, the president was hoping to weaken the warring factions, both Marxist guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries, who between them earn more than £500 million a year from drugs.

The US, the primary destination for Colombian drugs, finances the war effort with £400 million a year and has hailed reduction in drug crops as evidence that its war on drugs is finally bearing fruit.
Using cross breeding to 'improve' cocaine plants is not surprising - after all most varieties of roses came to us the same way. The genetic engineering bit is real news here as well as the repurcussions that the new plants will have from Colombia right up the spine of the Americas to a neighborhood near you.

Indeed, these new plants may herald the deadly 'internationalization' of cocaine production and use to Asia, Africa and beyond. But first a brief history ...

The History of Cocaine starts in the Americas

According to
Cocaine is an alkaloid found in leaves of the South American shrub Erythroxylon coca. It is a powerfully reinforcing psychostimulant. The drug induces a sense of exhilaration in the user primarily by blocking the reuptake of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the midbrain.

In pre-Columbian times, the coca leaf was officially reserved for Inca royalty. The natives used coca for mystical, religious, social, nutritional and medicinal purposes. Coqueros exploited its stimulant properties to ward off fatigue and hunger, enhance endurance, and to promote a benign sense of well-being. Coca was initially banned by the Spanish.

In 1551 the Bishop of Cuzco outlawed coca use on pain of death because it was "an evil agent of the Devil". The noted 16th century orthodox Catholic artist Don Diego De Robles declared that "coca is a plant that the devil invented for the total destruction of the natives." But the invaders discovered that without the Incan "gift of the gods", the natives could barely work the fields - or mine gold. So it came to be cultivated even by the Catholic Church. Coca leaves were distributed three or four times a day to the workers during brief rest-breaks.
Over to Europe
Returning Spanish conquistadores introduced coca to Europe. Even Shakespeare may have smoked it - and inhaled.
CNN reported on this possiblity in "Drugs clue to Shakespeare's genius" in 2001. Apparently this is based on "fragments of clay pipes dating back to the 17th century near the garden of England's greatest playwright which have shown traces of cocaine." This type of story makes for a fine headline on slow news days but is quite silly in terms of its standards of proof.

Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City is built atop the ruins of the tenement slums romanticized in the 1950s musical and later movie "West Side Story". Should anthropologists of the 23rd century then conclude that swichblade knives and zip guns were a vital element of 20th century opera? Any way let us get back to the cocaine story
The coca plant is perishable and travels poorly. Yet coca was touted as "an elixir of life". In 1814, an editorial in Gentleman's Magazine urged researchers to begin experimentation so that coca could be used as "a substitute for food so that people could live a month, now and then, without eating..."

The active ingredient of the coca plant was first isolated in the West by the German chemist Friedrich Gaedcke in 1855; he named it "Erythroxyline". Albert Niemann described an improved purification process for his PhD; he named it "cocaine". Sigmund Freud, an early enthusiast, described cocaine as a magical drug. Freud wrote a song of praise in its honour; and he practised extensive self-experimentation.

To Sherlock Holmes, cocaine was "so transcendentally stimulating and clarifying to the mind that its secondary action is a matter of small moment". Robert Louis Stephenson wrote The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde during a six-day cocaine-binge. Intrepid polar adventurer Ernest Shackleton explored Antarctica propelled by tablets of Forced March.

Doctors dispensed cocaine as an antidote to morphine addiction. Unfortunately, some of their patients made a habit of combining both.

Cocaine was soon sold over-the-counter. Until 1916, one could buy it at Harrods: a kit labelled "A Welcome Present for Friends at the Front" contained cocaine, morphine, syringes and spare needles. Cocaine was widely used in tonics, toothache cures and patent medicines; in coca cigarettes "guaranteed to lift depression"; and in chocolate cocaine tablets. One fast-selling product, Ryno's Hay Fever and Catarrh Remedy ("for when the nose is stuffed up, red and sore") consisted of 99.9 per cent pure cocaine. Prospective buyers were advised - in the words of pharmaceutical firm Parke-Davis - that cocaine "could make the coward brave, the silent eloquent, and render the sufferer insensitive to pain".

When combined with alcohol, the cocaine alkaloid yields a further potently reinforcing compound, now known to be cocaethylene. Thus cocaine was a popular ingredient in wines, notably Vin Mariani. Coca wine received endorsement from prime-ministers, royalty and even the Pope. Architect Frédérick-Auguste Bartholdi remarked that if only he had used Vin Mariani earlier in his life, then he would have engineered the Statue of Liberty a few hundred meters higher.
Cocaine certainly established itself in Europe but made its presence felt far more strongly in the U.S. Perhaps this was because of cost or simply because of the ease of supply within the Americas where Cocaine 2.0 continues.

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