A censored 1995 WHO report announced its conclusions on the biggest global study on cocaine ever conducted.
It’s findings concluded that, contrary to official guidelines, moderate cocaine use is not psychologically or physiologically dangerous.
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The study was never published and has therefore not been reported in the media until Wikileaks got hold of a copy recently.
The research studied 19 developed and developing countries and overwhelmingly found that alcohol and tobacco use was far more dangerous than cocaine use, and that official guidelines given to the public perpetuated myths rather than dispel them when it came to educating the public on the drug.
A summary of its findings are as follows:
- It is not possible to describe an “average cocaine user”. An enormous variety was found in
the types of people who use cocaine, the amount of drug used, the frequency of use, the
duration and intensity of use, the reasons for using and any associated problems they
- However, three general patterns of use were found across the participating countries:
1. The snorting of cocaine hydrochloride (by far the most popular use of coca products
2. The smoking of coca paste and crack, and the injection of cocaine ‘ hydrochloride, are
minority behaviours, and tend to be found among the socially marginalised.
3. The traditional use of coca leaves among some indigenous populations in Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru,
northern Chile and Argentina as well as some groups in Brazil and Colombia.
- Generally cocaine users consume a range of other drugs as well. There appears to be very little
“pure” cocaine use. Overall, fewer people in participating countries have used cocaine than have used
alcohol, tobacco or cannabis. Also, in most countries, cocaine is not the drug associated with the
- Health problem; from the use of legal substances, particularly alcohol and tobacco, are greater than
health problems from cocaine use.
- Few experts describe cocaine as invariably harmful to health. Cocaine-related problems are widely
perceived to be more common and more severe for intensive, high-dosage users and very rare and
much less severe for occasional, low-dosage users.
- A majority of health consequences may not be directly attributed to cocaine use. Cocaine often
contributes to or exacerbates the conditions reported, rather than causing them.
- There are widespread myths bet few scientific studies of the relationship between cocaine and
sexual behaviour. One finding was that sexual problems seem to occur among high-dosage regular
- A range of mental health problems are associated with cocaine use, though they are mainly limited
to high-dosage users.
- There is a complex relationship between cocaine use and crime, particularly theft and violence.
- Use of coca leaves appears to have no negative health effects and has positive therapeutic, sacred
and social functions for indigenous Andean populations.
- Responses to cocaine-related health problems are poorly coordinated, inconsistent, often culturally
inappropriate and generally ineffective.
- Education, treatment and rehabilitation programmes should be increased to counterbalance the
current over-reliance on law enforcement measures. They should not necessarily concentrate
exclusively on cocaine, bet should be integrated into a mix of strategies to deal effectively with a
range of drugs.
- In many settings, educational and prevention programmes generally do not dispel myths bet
sensationalize, perpetuate stereotyping and misinformation.
- Most treatment services are poorly coordinated, often being culturally inappropriate and ineffective
in achieving rehabilitation. Those most likely to be denied access when seeking treatment are the poor
and heavily dependent.
- In most settings, people who have enough money to pay for cocaine – and who are familiar with a
supplier – are able to obtain the drug despite its illegality.
- In many settings, cocaine users complained about the level of corruption among law enforcement
officials and alleged abuses of human rights. Users made it clear that such abuses and exploitation
would generally not be effective in changing their drug use behaviour.
- Coca paste use may be increasing in Andean countries and crack, use appears to be increasing in
Nigeria and Brazil.
- Cocaine injection rates appear to be relatively stable and at low levels relative to the injection of
- Most countries believe there needs to be more assessment of the adverse effects of current drug
policies and strategies.
- Some countries have shifted the focus of their drug policy to a broad range of goals in which
abstinence is appropriate for non-users and some users of coca products, while other users are
encouraged to use the drug as safely as possible.
‘COCAINE PROJECT’ – WHO REPORT
Reference to the study can be found in the UNICRI (United Nations Interregional Institute of Crime Investigation) library, where it is still marked as “RESTRICTED”
The Director of the PSA, Hans Emblad, sent a copy of the Briefing Kit to the United Nations Drugs Control Programme (UNDCP), where it caused a sensation. Two months later, on 9 May 1995 in Commission B of the forty-eighth General Health Assembly, the destiny of these years of labour was determined by the intervention of the representative of the United States of America, Mr Boyer. He expressed his government’s concern with the results of this study: “which seem to make a case for the positive uses of cocaine, claiming that use of the coca leaf did not lead to noticeable damage to mental or physical health, that the positive health effects of coca leaf chewing might be transferable from traditional settings to other countries and cultures and that coca production provides financial benefits to peasants”.
The representative said that his government considered suspending funds to WHO research if “activities related to drugs failed to reinforce proven drug control approaches.” In reply, the representative of the Director General defended the study claiming it was “an important and objective analyses done by the experts”, which “represented the views of the experts, and did not represent the stated policy position of the WHO, and WHO’s continuing policy, which was to uphold the scheduling under the convention.” It was not the intention to publish the study in its current form, the representative explained as it might lead to “misunderstanding.” The debate concluded with agreement on a peer review by “genuine experts.”
“The United States Government considered that, if WHO activities relating to drugs failed to reinforce proven drug control approaches, funds for the relevant programmes should be curtailed. In view of the gravity of the matter, he asked the Director-General for an assurance that WHO would dissociate itself from the conclusions of the study and that, in substance abuse activities, an approach would not be adopted that could be used to justify the continued production of coca.”
Peer review is a fundamental part of every scientific study, including those of the WHO. The timeline set for the peer review procedure was programmed in the terms of reference as to be concluded by 30 September 1997. In fact, from March 1995, names of potential researchers were listed and, in accordance with procedure, sent to the US National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) in charge of selecting the candidates. Over the course of almost two years, an intensive fax exchange took place whereby the PSA proposed names and NIDA answered by refusing each and every one of them.
There has been no formal end to this ‘Cocaine Initiative’. The majority of the participating scientists never heard what was done with their work.
The document was obtained by the unaligned think tank, the Transnational Institute.