Coke is It!
Cocaine is associated with staggering wealth, intrigue, false glamour, blood and misery — before we get to the drug, let's take a look at the plant from which it is made. The attractive-looking coca bush has been grown in South America for at least eight thousand years. There are two varieties of both common and Colombian coca. All four are probably descended from the same ancestor, domesticated independently in several places. Today, it is grown from northwestern Argentina to Colombia, the latter country being the one most often mentioned in the news. In Colombia, entire chiefdoms are based on cocaine, the most popular warlord having been the famous hippo rancher Pablo Escobar.
Erythroxylum novogranatense var. novogranatense. Source: Ilmari Karonen - Enn1.jpg, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7455754
Plain coca bush is a long way from cocaine. Once, to a personal development course I attended, someone brought a bag of leaves from Peru. He simply put it in his suitcase, which was not exactly a prudent and safe way of proceeding, but he got away with it. Some of us sampled coca leaf tea, and the next day we tried leaf chewing. Both were invigorating, but in a more mild and gradual way than coffee, and there was no crash afterwards. It seemed to give a sense of inner warmth and energy while slightly widening your eyes. It didn't feel harmful (unlike, say, a wiener sausage with a tastable heap of additives), and this subjective feeling is confirmed by studies. Coca is said to possess a number of medicinal properties, being particularly good against mountain sickness, which is a real blessing for peasants laboring at an altitude of four thousand metres.
The English term ‘drug’ has several meanings. One is medicine. Another is ‘recreational drug’ or ‘narcotic’. In the case of coca leaves clearly the first meaning applies. Indians have been chewing the leaves for thousands of years, often on a daily basis, and the plant does not appear to have any harmful effects. In Peru, coca tea filters are available in shops. This does not impress European lawmakers who put coca leaves in the same category as cocaine, which is like lumping poppy seeds in with heroin. Religious rituals, medicinal properties, bah! Keep the evil stuff away!
I order to turn these innocent, even benign leaves into the infamous drug, they must be soaked in petrol, sulphuric acid, ammonia or a similarly benevolent substance to extract cocaine hydrochloride (C17H21NO4). The brown coca paste is washed with hydrochloric acid, potassium salt is added and some other finishing chemical touches are performed. The acid is then dumped into the jungle, which does not exactly promote the formation of organic mulch. We're not talking about a few litres; about half a tonne of leaves is needed to obtain one kilogram of white cocaine powder, which they then show on TV, saying, "Here, we've busted the evil smugglers!" Most of the caught smugglers are actually some poor suckers hired as mules with the promise of a few thousand euros, only to have their two kilos be ‘found’ in their double deck suitcases. While the authorities celebrate, hundreds of kilos of the real load quietly make their way onto the plane. Everybody wins; the cocaine baron delivers the product for next to nothing, the customs officer can brag about the catch and pocket his bribe. And the European loser, while doing eight years in a Peruvian slammer, undergoes major character development. Cartels run production, transport, distribution; the whole mega-business with an efficiency that puts multinational companies to shame.
Cocaine that made its way to the first world is known from films showing the lives of the rich. The official name of the substance is benzoyl ecgonine methyl ester, which is quite something. The stardust is also quite something, boasting self-confidence to the sky. If you've ever seen a man on coke, you know what I'm talking about. Some members of the Hungarian ruling class are not entirely teetotallers when it comes to the white powder. We will not publish a picture of them here, but those who have eyes, can see.
Source: Red Granite Pictures, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56629104
Even though I don't have access to the upper crust, I was once offered cocaine. After a lengthy hesitation, scientific curiosity won out and — although not from the ass of a whore on a yacht1 — I snorted the whitish powder. It was very different from what I expected. None of the euphoria I'd seen in the movies. No altered perception. I simply felt that I could sit down at the computer for three hours, focus on a single subject and punch away at the keys, with my mind not wandering away once. It could be tempting for big achievers who also have the dough. Of course, the health implications — let's refrain from elaborating — are less than totally encouraging. Luckily, the price of the stuff makes it prohibitive for masses to get hooked on it in rural gipsy Hungary.
However, there is something worse than cocaine, and that is crack. Hungarian has no word for it which, in this rare case, is quite fortunate. In our parts this hellspawn is only known from the news. 'Plain' cocaine is a kind of salt that needs to be heated with a weak base (usually baking powder) to separate the HCl group to get the free base form. The result is insoluble in water but becomes smokable. The name ‘crack’ is said to derive from the crackling sound made during combustion.
Crack crystals. Source: Commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=70839
Smoking crack is supposed to cause an immediate, strong euphoria. The rush does not take long, lasting only ten minutes or so, after which there is a strong motivation to take another hit. Crack is described as being even more addictive and destructive than cocaine, while being cheap. One of the reasons it fell out of fashion in America is that its users don’t last long. Another is the emergence of even more vicious drugs, such as crystal meth.
Crack made its debut in the 1980s. Some sources say it started in California, others point to Florida. President Reagan responded by revving up the ‘war on drugs’ declared in 1971 by his infamous predecessor, Nixon. According to Nixon, "Drugs are public enemy number one." Presidents seem to have a somewhat limited mindset: Bush Jr. declared a holy ‘war on terror’ within a day of the fall of the Twin Towers. This resulted in a few million victims in Muslim countries, but they do not count. Crack cocaine and related crime had a similar toll on the domestic population, but blacks don't count either. It was the crack epidemic that started to turn parts of a number of major US cities into apocalyptic science fiction scenes. As a result of the Reagan jihad, prison population in the US has multiplied. Since prison is a business in that country, this must have had a positive effect on GDP.
Of course, US warfare was not confined to home soil. In Colombia, just between 1992 and 2000, at least a billion dollars were spent on the war on drugs, and this should be taken literally. We are talking about combat helicopters, bombed-out Indian villages, mass civilian casualties. Interestingly, while the jungles were being sprayed with glyphosate, the area under coca cultivation increased fivefold. Incidentally, in the 1980s, Peru and Bolivia had been the biggest producers, but after the US started shooting there, the smugglers moved to Colombia.
Could this huge warfare be just hocus-pocus? It's a peculiar idea: to keep Wall Street from sniffing, you have to spray the Indians' land with poison. It's a bit like trying to eradicate alcoholism by razing vineyards. Move over, farmer John, here comes the spray helicopter! It can’t be done in the first world, though, as this method is reserved for the global South. While the Netherlands is a major staging post for the international drug trade, Groningen has not been targeted by US gunships.
During a 1994 interview for Harper’s Magazine, President Nixon’s domestic policy chief, John Ehrlichman, said the following: “We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the [Vietnam] war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course, we did.”
We got a bit off coke, didn’t we? Maybe not. Cocaine is only one face of Satan, and if we learned anything from Christianity it’s that the more you fight the devil, the stronger he becomes. The solution lies elsewhere, such as, for example, giving ghetto Blacks (or, closer to home, Gypsies) a worth while purpose in life. And I would go even further: If we really want to solve the real problems in society, we must not only aid the poor, oppressed, nice people, Indians or the descendants of former slaves. We also have to help the wolves of Wall Street. They are human, too, they just have a gaping hole in their soul that they're attempting to patch with nuclear missiles and cocaine.
How can we guide our poor, disoriented specie-mates? This is one of the most important questions today. The wolves will certainly not be able to turn themselves into sheep. That is why we, massagers of souls, pondering intellectuals, dreaming artists, are needed. We don't even have a lousy machine gun, but we do have imagination, emotional sensitivity and a wider overview. If anything can help the pitiful wretches, it’s these qualities.
Referring to a scandal of a Fidesz politician.