Using Cocaine as Local Anesthetic Was Risky Due to Addiction

When cocaine was used as a local anesthetic it was a medical breakthrough. Once a medical breakthrough, today cocaine is no longer the preferred anesthetic as it once was. What made it get replaced by lidocaine?

Cocaine’s use has two effects on humans. Those who chew the leaves of coca plant, it will numb the mouth and stomach. Thus it got noticed for its anesthetic property of numbing mouth and stomach as that is where it gets applied when chewed and taken in. It also stimulates the human to feel alert and hunger-less. This created two markets for cocaine.

Cocaine (Photo credit: The Master Shake Signal)

In the nineteenth century cocaine was used as the first anesthetic because at the time eye surgery was very difficult as patients eyes move constantly. Unlike a general anesthetic, cocaine is local anesthetic which means it will numb/paralyze only local areas of body where it is applied. A German eye surgeon named Carl Koller has employed cocaine for eye surgery after first experimenting it on himself. Likewise an American doctor William Halsted too experimented and used it as local anesthetic for small surgeries. However he got addicted to cocaine for its stimulating effects. It was difficult for Halsted to overcome this addiction. Well, we anyway know it is difficult for anyone now.

Once cocaine was noticed for its abuse (potential for addiction and difficult to get relief from addiction), new synthetic drugs were generated which are similar in chemical form to cocaine. That’s why they are still named with “aine” such as lidocaine and novocaine.

Today cocaine is still used as anesthetic though not as much. It is used only for nose and throat surgeries but its main abuse today is for recreation in United States. U.S. has most number of consumers of cocaine. But United Kingdom has the most number of people looking for cocaine addiction treatment. Are you one?


  • Dr. Naomi Craft, The little book of medical breakthroughs, 2008
  • Topical Anesthetics, Cocaine;
  • Local Anesthesia:No Longer Cocaine!;

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  1. Thanks for this interesting read.

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