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Medicinal Uses of Coca

Updated on April 13, 2011


Coca (Erythroxylum coca or coca Erythroxylon) is a plant of the family Erythroxylaceae native to tropical regions of central and north-western South America is a shrub or small tree of 2-3 meters in height, with leaves alternating deep green. The small white flowers produce a reddish drupe containing a single seed.


The coca plant is a shrub that remains in production even up to age 50.


Previously classified within the order of Linales, with the most recent phylogenetic classification is considered part of the order of the Malpighiaceae.


From the leaves of the coca plant cocaine is derived, a narcotic drug.

Traditional Use


The use of coca leaves by chewing, is certainly very ancient and dates back to a couple of millennia before Christ. Being a tropical plant its use was not, nor is it today, as is often believed, confined only to the Andean people who obviously had to obtain it by trading with the peoples of the tropics. The coca leaves were therefore not a good consumer. Proof of this is that in Inca times, and then for a couple of centuries before the Spanish conquest, in a time of consolidation territorial unity which gave almost the western sector of the South American coca leaves remained almost exclusive use of the Inca theocracy.


The growth of production and consumption of coca leaves was the work of the Spaniards during the early decades of the conquest. The use of coca leaves found a good ally to improve production in the mines of Potosi semischiavista that were given to indigenous slaves to give them greater strength and reduce hunger and thirst and were often given as charged. During the sixteenth century the production of coca leaves will grow from 100 tons to more than 1,000, almost all absorbed by the silver mines of Potosí and surroundings, Bolivia.

Pharmacological Aspects

The pharmacological active ingredient of coca is the alkaloid cocaine, which is found in fresh leaves in a minimum amount of about 0.3 to 1.5% by an average of 0.8%. In addition to cocaine, coca leaves are present in the other alkaloids. If chewed, coca acts as a mild stimulant that can alleviate hunger, thirst, pain and fatigue.

The absorption of cocaine from coca leaves is much less rapid and efficient extraction of the purified forms of cocaine, and does not cause euphoria or other psychoactive effects associated with the use or homonym drugs. Some support the idea that cocaine does not react as the active ingredient when you chew a coca leaf or when they drink a brew, but some studies show that a small but measurable amount of cocaine in the blood after consumption of herbal teas based on coca. Not documented dependence on consumption of coca leaves in their natural state, nor found any other deleterious effects.


The main world producers of coca leaves are Colombia, Peru and Bolivia.


The extension of the crops is very variable according to the schedules of the respective governments and the action of the alternative development crops, with incentives offered by various countries, and usually channeled by the United Nations for the redevelopment of the cultivation of coca in legal products. As a guide, are grown in Colombia just over 100 000 hectares, around 50 000 in Peru and Bolivia 30 000.


Crops in Colombia, after years of increase, are, according to official information, also stabilized by the extensive use of the military and the controversial use of powerful air Spray herbicide (glyphosate). Aerial spraying has also caused protests from the government of Ecuador, both for the negative environmental effects of Amazonian forests and for those populations, and the cultivation of legal queste.In Peru and especially Bolivia, cultivation, after some years of reduction or stabilization, are reincrementando quickly return to the indigenous and original use of this plant. Colombia is still the number one producer of cocaine despite the lower growing and more proibizione.i.


Despite the truly amazing, cocaine is chemically extract through a complex process and using large quantities of leaves, the coca leaf itself is considered a drug by the United Nations and its legal and traditional use is limited only to certain countries or regions ( throughout Bolivia, the whole Peru, northern Argentina, some Colombian regions, such as the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, where it is only used by indigenous peoples Arhuaco, Aymara, Kogi and Wiwa)


It should be noted that the traditional use of "acullico", that of chewing coca leaves, or for the manufacture of materials or other local produce, go for around 10% of the total production of coca leaves which surplus is not no secret, is then used for the manufacture of dough and, later, cocaine pura.Nella original recipe for Coca-Cola coca leaves were used. In several new drinks coca leaf is once again used as the Red Bull Cola and Agwa De Bolivia a new liqueur sold freely in the U.S. and Holland.


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    • fucsia profile image

      fucsia 7 years ago

      Unfortunately cocaine is used to aim different from those therapeutic but it is a useful plant, a gift of our nature that humans have transformed in a profitable and unhealthy business.

      Thanks for sharing your interesting research.