Osvaldo Francisco Ribas Lobos Fernandez Graduated in Social Sciences from the Universidade Estadual Paulista Julio de Mesquita Filho (1987 ) , master's degree in Social Sciences from the Catholic University of São Paulo ( 1993) and a PhD in Social Sciences from the Federal University of Bahia (2007 ) . He was visiting professor and conducted post-doctoral research in urban anthropology at Columbia University in New York City. He was visiting professor at the School of Public Health, University of São Paulo, performing in stage sabbatical stage . He is currently full professor of anthropology in the course of social sciences , education department , the Bahia State University . It has experience in the field of the Anthropology, with an emphasis on medical and urban anthropological theories, researching the following subjects: consumption of illegal drugs , homosexuality, violence , homophobia, schools and training teachers and health professionals


This article presents results of a long fieldwork that included direct observation of four cocaine user groups, application of two series of interviews and detailed tracking of eleven subjects in the Greater São Paulo. The consumers were predominantly characterized as being regular users, includes some casual users, but with a long history of cocaine use by the inhaled route. The survey was conducted in two periods, 1994 and 2006. After 12 years, users were re-interviews conducted and contact re-established with some users, enabling the visualization of different trajectories and career developed over time, indicating different patterns substance use.

As the main methodological strategy, participant observation was adopted, in order to better understand the groups and select the respondents. Depending on the degree of acceptance shown by different subjects, you could have privileged access to information normally hidden and get so a partial view of trade and drug trafficking network. Such observations were crucial to collect data on consumption, social rituals and performances of users, comparing views and information given by key informants in interviews with direct observations collected by the researcher. Thus, the ethnographic research focused on the scenes and patterns of use of various networks of sociability of different territories and lifestyles.

Some users were observed and classified as key informants of the observed users were selected as key informants, giving preference to those who proved willing to maintain a continuous dialogue with the researcher in the field, as well as having a good insertion in different territories and networks of consumers of coca-based products. On being interviewed, they were able to describe their own consumption, other consumer profiles, the sociocultural context, lifestyles, worldviews and social imaginary around consumption.

Our intention was to contextualize different forms of cocaine use, relating them to the lifestyles in the metropolis and the sociability of individuals in the urban middle classes. Therefore, we focus on the description of the ethnographic process, the selection of respondents (key informants), the characterization of the case studies and the changes in the market and experienced by consumers, etc.

The research is concentrated in São Paulo, where they were subject to several scenes of use, or scenarios. These, however varied they were, were characterized by discretion and / or privacy. They included, among them, bars, clubs, classrooms, home parties and villas, located in different areas of the city (Central, West, North and East). The study was the use of cocaine inhaler, trying to understand the culture and consumption rituals developed around the substance and their different usage patterns. More specifically, interested us the informal rules and controls developed by users on self-regulation of consumption.

In this research, our respondents reported periods of cocaine use that  ranged from a minimum of seven to  a maximum of thirty-five years. To analyze and interpret the data collected, we separated the group of users who had developed problems arising from their use of cocaine and other drugs from those who had not developed “problematic” use patterns taking into account the consequences in terms of their impact on the subjects´  physical and mental health, and in terms of possible social consequences (imprisonment, psychiatric hospitalizations and others).The research  focused on the construction of cocaine use styles, and drew on suggestions made by Zinberg (1984) about "compulsive" and "controlled" drug use. Following the ethnographic evidence for the particular meanings attributed to cocaine use in each different lifestyle (Bieleman & BIE, 1992;. DIAS, et al, 1992; Grund, 1993), the label of light users and hard, native terms, currents in time among our middle-class subjects in São Paulo.

We considered to be light users, those who had not developed health problems stemming from cocaine use and who were not engaged in crime. This type of user does not miss work, develops strategies to deal efficiently with everyday life, is involved in networks of social relations, employs a series of rituals and product usage rules, deals with his cocaine differently from the compulsive and / or dysfunctional user and makes a series of efforts to maintain the stability of his use.  We reviewed their drug using careers, focusing our interest on their development of informal controls, their understanding of changes that might occur in their usage patterns and the relationship between use and abuse in certain moments of their lives, trying to unravel the various social processes that contribute to shape their practices and the varied meanings attributed to them. We believe that they are equivalent to the "controlled user" discussed by Zinberg.

We classified as hard or compulsive users those who presented physical or social consequences of their drug use and who have to resort more frequently to expert help than the so-called light users. The hard users do not usually restrict themselves to using inhaled cocaine, and generally admit to the other forms of cocaine use or to the consumption of other substances, like marijuana.