Cocaine is a stimulant drug extracted from the leaves of the Erythroxylon coca Lam, a species of the coca plant, which is cultivated in the Andean region of South America. It can be consumed in powder cocaine form, which is usually snorted or injected. It can also be consumed in crack cocaine form, which is usually smoked, and in paste form, which is also smoked.

Coca leaves

For thousands of years, many indigenous groups in the Andean region have chewed coca leaves to produce a mild, stimulating effect and reduce hunger. This traditional use continues today.

Scientists isolated cocaine from coca leaves in the 1850s and until the early 20th century, this new “wonder drug” could be found in many medicines and popular health tonics, including Coca-Cola. It was legal until 1914 when the US government effectively outlawed it through the Harrison Narcotics Act. 

It is now classified as a Schedule II substance, which means that the federal government has determined that it has potential for misuse and dependence, but that it also has accepted medical use and can be prescribed for restricted use as a local anesthetic.

See the fact sheet for more information and sources.