A social media post claiming falsely that cocaine can cure COVID-19, better known as the coronavirus, has been shared thousands of times on Twitter in recent weeks.
Thankfully, the majority of those sharing it seemed to treat it as a joke.
First shared by Twitter user Bizzle Osikoya, who is based in Nigeria, on February 3, the post has since been shared over 2,700 times on Twitter, with reactions ranging from humor to disbelief.
— Bizzle Osikoya (@bizzleosikoya) February 3, 2020
While it is uncertain if anybody has used cocaine to try and prevent coronavirus, the rumor spread like wildfire and authorities have responded.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has posted on its website, denying that cocaine can protect against the coronavirus. “Cocaine is a stimulating and addictive drug. Its consumption causes serious side effects and is detrimental to people’s health,” it wrote.
The global health body has also denied numerous other false rumors about the disease, including that it can be transmitted through mosquito bites, can be treated by spraying chlorine on one’s body, by wearing sesame oil, or by washing one’s hands with the urine of children.
And although this fake news originated in Nigeria, it has been seized upon by Latin American media outlets, such as Argentina’s Telam, Mexico’s La Vanguardia and Brazil’s UOL, which have all devoted articles to debunking the rumor.
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Even if cocaine did somehow kill the coronavirus, it would not be a huge help in Latin America, where only three confirmed cases had been confirmed by February 28. The first is a Brazilian man living in São Paulo who had recently traveled to Italy, the second is a Mexican citizen in Mexico City who had also recently been in Italy, and the third is a 41-year-old Mexican citizen in the Pacific state of Sinaloa.
Should any Brazilian Twitter users have believed the fake news post, some could probably afford to indulge their gullibility since one gram of poor quality cocaine base costs around $5 on average, Deutsche Welle reported, quoting figures from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
In Mexico, the price can climb a little higher. A 2017 investigation by Radio Formula in Mexico City found one gram of cocaine being sold at 350 pesos (around $18) and one gram of crack costing 250 pesos (around $12.50).
But this is far from the first time cocaine has been used medicinally. After the cocaine alkaloid was first discovered in 1855 by German chemist Friedrich Gaedcke, it became highly popular in Victorian Britain. It was alleged to help with everything from flatulence and whitening of the teeth to dandruff. It was even marketed as cough drops for children.
Today, it is still used in some forms as an anesthetic to numb the mouth and lining of the throat.