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The Chemistry of Cocaine


Brahmadeo Dewprashad
Department of Science
Borough of Manhattan Community College / City University of New York


This case study on the chemistry of cocaine is in the form of a classroom discussion between a professor and her students about cocaine, its addictive properties, a search for an addiction treatment, and the chemistry involved in the synthesis of cocaine in its various forms. The case can be used to teach nucleophilic addition reactions, nucleophilic acyl substitution, and cocaine metabolism. In addition, it provides students with experience in locating, reading, and analyzing a research paper.  The case was designed for the second course in a two-course sequence in undergraduate organic chemistry, but it could be adapted for medicinal chemistry classes.

  • Chemistry of aldehydes and ketones: nucleophilic addition reactions (NAR).
  • Chemistry of carboxylic acids and derivatives: nucleophilic acyl substitution (NAS).
  • Application of NAR and NAS in multistep synthesis of biologically active compounds.
  • Metabolism of cocaine.
  • Comparison of physical properties of an amine and its salt.
Keywords: Cocaine synthesis; nucleophilic acyl substitution; carbonyl chemistry; cocaine metabolism; substance use; addiction; crack cocaine; freebase; nucleophilic addition reactions; multistep synthesis, organic reaction mechanism
Topical Area: N/A
Educational Level: Undergraduate lower division
Formats: PDF
Type/Method: Discussion, Journal Article
Language: English
Subject Headings: Organic Chemistry   Chemistry (General)   Biochemistry  
Date Posted: 03/12/10
Date Modified: N/A
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

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