In 1884, Dr. Sigmund Freud began experimenting with the active ingredients of a leaf that he believed could cure depression, fatique and morphine addiction. The plant was Erythroxylon coca; the ingredient, cocaine.

In the first of a series of papers "Uber Coca" (On Coke), the Viennese physician cited cocaine as an anesthetic and aphrodisiac that reduced hunger and stimulated muscular activity.

By 1886, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had Sherlock Holmes on it in "A Scandal In Bohemia." Two years later, a prime suspect emerged in Robert Louis Stevenson's "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde."

Today, nearly a hundred years later, coke refreshes about 15 million regular users in the United States, with consumption in Washington ranked fifth behind San Francisco, New York, Miami and Denver.

But cocaine remains laden with myths that make it dangerous politically and adulterants that make it dangerous physiologically. While many campaigns have been waged against cocaine, few have attempted to dispel the myths, which black marketeers trade on to make millions from a relatively small amount of coca.

Here is some of what the research shows:

Americans rarely get the "real thing." As a result, the Scientific American reported last year, " 'Recreational' users who take the drug under controlled conditions often cannot distinguish it from other drugs or even from a placebo sugar pill . Yet huge profits have made cocaine a major international commodity."

(In Bolivia, a 2.5-acre crop of coca can be worth around $5,000, compared to $500 for the same amount of coffee. By the time an ounce of refined cocaine powder arrives in Washington, it is worth $2,000--and ready to be diluted again and sold on the street for $100 a gram.)

When public opinion turned against cocaine in the early l900s, it was because of claims of miraculous tonics such as "Vin Tonique Mariani ala Coca Du Perou," which was supposed to "nourish, fortify and prevent malaria."

On the flip side, there were sensational tales about "Negro cocamaniacs," who, says Edgar Adams, a noted drug researcher with the National Institute on Drug Abuse, "were thought to be imbued with superhuman accuracy with a gun . . . and immune to shock and resistant to the knock-down effects of fatal wounds."

The importation of cocaine into the United States was banned absolutely by federal law in 1922.

The scientific textbook, "Economic Botany," describes the plant E. Coca, from which the connoisseur Bolivian flake is derived, as standing three feet high with creamy white flowers and clawed appendages that unite to form a crown. The oval leaves are picked when stiff and break easily from the stalk.

A small dose (Freud said .05-.10 grams in a 1 percent solution) results in increased respiration, high blood pressure, exhilaration and euphoria. The symptoms subside gradually over 24 hours, or less if strenuous activity is involved.

Andean Indians routinely chew the leaves for endurance and, except for stained teeth, show no adverse effects. Americans snort, inject and smoke it, and some of them get dizzy, hallucinate or go blind.

The toxic effects of cocaine as distributed in the United States vary with the amount used and the susceptibility of the user. But the symptoms are unmistakable and have not changed since Freud's day. Asphyxiation, paralysis and respiratory failure are the results reported by the Drug Abuse Warning Network, which indicates that Washington ranks fifth nationally in cocaine-related hospital emergency room admissions.

In addition, there are two other symptoms that contradict the drug's initial euphoric effects: impotence and "attacks of mania," or severe paranoia.

Freud, in one of his final papers, "Remarks on Craving for and Fear of Cocaine," backed off his earlier assertion that cocaine was harmless. True, Freud had used cocaine to cure the morphine addiction of Ernst von Fleischl-Marxow, a Myths Inflate Reputation of A Lowly Leaf By COURTLAND MILLOY

In 1884, Dr. Sigmund Freud began experimenting with the active ingredients of a leaf that he believed could cure depression, fatique and morphine addiction. The plant was Erythroxylon coca; the ingredient, cocaine.

In the first of a series of papers "Uber Coca" (On Coke), the Viennese physician cited cocaine as an anesthetic and aphrodisiac that reduced hunger and stimulated muscular activity.

By 1886, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had Sherlock Holmes on it in "A Scandal In Bohemia." Two years later, a prime suspect emerged in Robert Louis Stevenson's "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde."

Today, nearly a hundred years later, coke refreshes about 15 million regular users in the United States, with consumption in Washington ranked fifth behind San Francisco, New York, Miami and Denver.

But cocaine remains laden with myths that make it dangerous politically and adulterants that make it dangerous physiologically. While many campaigns have been waged against cocaine, few have attempted to dispel the myths, which black marketeers trade on to make millions from a relatively small amount of coca.

Here is some of what the research shows:

Americans rarely get the "real thing." As a result, the Scientific American reported last year, " 'Recreational' users who take the drug under controlled conditions often cannot distinguish it from other drugs or even from a placebo sugar pill . Yet huge profits have made cocaine a major international commodity."

(In Bolivia, a 2.5-acre crop of coca can be worth around $5,000, compared to $500 for the same amount of coffee. By the time an ounce of refined cocaine powder arrives in Washington, it is worth $2,000--and ready to be diluted again and sold on the street for $100 a gram.)

When public opinion turned against cocaine in the early l900s, it was because of claims of miraculous tonics such as "Vin Tonique Mariani ala Coca Du Perou," which was supposed to "nourish, fortify and prevent malaria."

On the flip side, there were sensational tales about "Negro cocamaniacs," who, says Edgar Adams, a noted drug researcher with the National Institute on Drug Abuse, "were thought to be imbued with superhuman accuracy with a gun . . . and immune to shock and resistant to the knock-down effects of fatal wounds."

The importation of cocaine into the United States was banned absolutely by federal law in 1922.

The scientific textbook, "Economic Botany," describes the plant E. Coca, from which the connoisseur Bolivian flake is derived, as standing three feet high with creamy white flowers and clawed appendages that unite to form a crown. The oval leaves are picked when stiff and break easily from the stalk.

A small dose (Freud said .05-.10 grams in a 1 percent solution) results in increased respiration, high blood pressure, exhilaration and euphoria. The symptoms subside gradually over 24 hours, or less if strenuous activity is involved.

Andean Indians routinely chew the leaves for endurance and, except for stained teeth, show no adverse effects. Americans snort, inject and smoke it, and some of them get dizzy, hallucinate or go blind.

The toxic effects of cocaine as distributed in the United States vary with the amount used and the susceptibility of the user. But the symptoms are unmistakable and have not changed since Freud's day. Asphyxiation, paralysis and respiratory failure are the results reported by the Drug Abuse Warning Network, which indicates that Washington ranks fifth nationally in cocaine-related hospital emergency room admissions.

In addition, there are two other symptoms that contradict the drug's initial euphoric effects: impotence and "attacks of mania," or severe paranoia.

Freud, in one of his final papers, "Remarks on Craving for and Fear of Cocaine," backed off his earlier assertion that cocaine was harmless. True, Freud had used cocaine to cure the morphine addiction of Ernst von Fleischl-Marxow, a friend and patient. But the cure left Fleischl with a bad case of the "crawling cocaine bugs." friend and patient. But the cure left Fleischl with a bad case of the "crawling cocaine bugs."