Cocaine production from a leaf?


How does someone come across the ability to use a bunch of chemicals to extract another chemical?
It just seems so wild to see what things they use to remove a substance from a leaf…How tf do people come across these things when its not natural and has to be processed?

In: 6

It started from people noticing that this leaf made you energetic when you chewed it. We also have learned over time that many of the compounds that come from plants are soluble in certain things but not others. So you did different solvent extractions, water based, hydrocarbon based, alcohol based and so on. This was stuff being done centuries ago from people experimenting. Then you would find that what ever it was that made you energetic was in the hydrocarbon extraction or the alcohol extraction. We also learned in chemistry how to take things which were dissolved into a solvent and precipitate it out using other chemicals. It was all experimentation and testing.

In the modern era, we have things like spectrometers, pH meters, specific gravity bulbs, chemistry books n so on to get extract readings and processes. We know how much of Substance A we pulled out of the leaf slurry by measuring and weighing everything at every step. There are a few episodes in Breaking Bad that covered this when Walter was checking mass of final product and noticed it was slightly lower than it should be based on all the mass of the chemicals going in. There was a small mass unaccounted for because it was going into Jessie’s pocket.

Are you asking how we discovered medical chemistry?

In ancient times people already knew that certain plants had medicinal or psychoactive properties simply from generations of trial and error. This root makes headaches go away. This flower makes them worse.

In an effort to increase the effectiveness or mitigate side effects, people experimented with boiling, cooking, drying… all sorts of rudimentary processing steps to concentrate or deactivate certain active ingredients. They didn’t necessarily know exactly what was happening on a chemical level, but they understood that they were concentrating some sort of “essence” of the material.

So it’s no big leap of logic to toss some solvents at a cocoa leaf to t try and extract the stimulant chemical that gets people wired. Eventually you get a perfected process down to isolate pure cocaine and *really* get wired.

Originally, they didn’t. They would just eat the leaf, brew it in tea, smoke it, etc. This would give them _some_ of the benefits of the drug, but obviously not as much as the modern version.

From there, people would experiment with different techniques. Maybe eating it was good, but the tea was _better_, so they would move to making tea. Maybe tea with fresh leaves was good, but tea with dried leaves was _better_, so they would dry the leaves first. Maybe making tea with water was good, but making tea with alcohol was _better_, so they switched.

Over time, and as science improved, so did the techniques used to refine and purify the drugs.

If you haven’t chewed raw coca leaves before, they hand you them in a small plastic baggy on tours in places like Peru and you chew/spit/repeat on high altitude hikes. It slightly tingles your month, not like spice but more like a strong, lukewarm tea(think mild). You get a slight caffeine-like highness. I was told it would take chewing several thousand leaves at once to get close to the cocaine effect. They don’t taste bad, kinda like what you’d expect dry leaves to taste like. They don’t break apart and you spit them like sunflower seeds.

Think about how coffee works. You can eat the beans (according to tradition, an Ethiopian goat herder was said to have discovered the properties of caffeine when he noticed his goats “dancing” after eating coffee cherries) or grind them up and extract the caffeine with a solvent (water). If you evaporate the water you’re left with coffee solids, aka instant coffee.

Replace coffee with malted barley and you can extract the sugars to make a sweet liquor called wort. Replace malted barley with tea and you get, well, tea. People have been using hot water to extract medicinal or flavorful chemicals since ancient times. If water doesn’t extract the right chemicals you can try again with oil, or even alcohol. As new solvents are discovered you can experiment to see what they extract.