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Information About Coca Leaves

Coca is a densely-leafed plant native to the eastern slopes of the Andes. Erythroxylum coca has been widely cultivated in Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador. It is also been widely cultivated in Columbia, the source of a large percentage of the world's cocaine.

Of the over 200 varieties of coca plant, only three were commonly used for the production of South American cocaine. Colombian coca was used in Colombia. Amazonian coca was used in the Amazon River basin. Huanuco coca was used in Bolivia and Peru.

Typically, coca thrives in warm, moist valleys between 1500 and 6000 meters above sea level. The plant grows to a height of up to eight feet. The leaves are rich in vitamins, protein, calcium, iron and fiber.

The cocaine content of the leaves ranges from 0.1% to 0.9%; like the user, it tends to get higher with altitude. Plants grown at higher altitudes take longer to mature but are more potent than those grown at lower heights.

Some species of the plant can live up to 20 years. Most are ready to produce viable coca leaves within 2 years of sprouting, however some longer living varieties take more time. As the plant ages, the quantity of leaves the plant generates declines.

The leaves must be dried or converted to cocaine soon after harvest, or they will be attacked by mold that will render them worthless as a source of cocaine.

The coca plant's cocaine alkaloid is also a pesticide. Thus evolutionary selection pressure has favored its natural synthesis. Cocaine powerfully inhibits the neuronal reuptake of dopamine; but it is an even more potent inhibitor of the insect-specific neurotransmitter octopamine. Insects that feed on coca overdose on their own octopamine.

Chewing coca counters the symptoms of 'mountain sickness' and oxygen-deprivation. The daily dose of the average coquero is around 200mg, that is a little less than 1/4 gram.

Chewing coca leaves with a dash of powdered lime is a nutritious and energizing way to induce healthy mood without causing an unsustainable high. Unfortunately, it is not very good for one's teeth.

Strictly speaking, the leaves aren't actually chewed. Typically, the dried coca leaf is moistened with saliva. The wad is placed between the gum and cheek and it is gently sucked.

The invigorating juices are swallowed. Lime-rich materials such as burnt seashells or a cereal are used to promote the separation of the leaf's active alkaloid.

Shamans from some traditional Indian tribes still smoke coca leaves for magical purposes. Inhaling the sacred vapors induces a trance-like state.

Coca enables a shaman to cross 'the bridge of smoke', enter the world of spirits, and activate his magical powers. Alas the leaves don't travel well; and this ancient usage is uncommon in the urban industrial West.

Because the US government has (or paid others to) sprayed coca fields in South America with various chemicals to kill coca plants, it is said various new strains have emerged.

Some claim a strain called Boliviana Negra was developed (through selective breeding or genetic lab modification?) to be resistant to the herbicide Roundup (glyphosate). Spraying Boliviana Negra with glyphosate helps it grow faster by eliminating the weeds surrounding it.

In 1996, a patented glyphosate-resistant soybean was marketed by Monsanto, suggesting that it would be possible to genetic modify coca in the same manner. It is not known if Boliviana Negra is a real super-strain of coca that was developed in this manner.


I read in Licit and Illicit Drugs that the people living in the Andes who chewed coca leaves to deal with the thin air had no trouble stopping use once they moved to a more airy clime.

People interested in checking further into this might be interested in a couple of articles about coca leaf chewing:

By Andrew Bell


Cocaine Pharmacokinetics in Humans.
The Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 3 (1981) 353-366.

Therefore, on the basis of this new information that has come as a result of technological development we can conclude with a practical observation.

The size of the quid of coca leaves that can be comfortably accommodated by a person is such that it is unlikely that coca chewing, as practiced for centuries in places like Macchu Piccu, presents the dangers that may result from the modern forms of recreational use.

Particularly interesting about this article is that the report came out of the Division of Research of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

By A. Barnett, R. Hawks, and R. Resnick


The Therapeutic Value of Coca in Contemporary Medicine.
The Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 3 (1981) 367-376.

I have lived among coca-using Indians of the Andes and the Amazon basin in Columbia and Peru and have not seen any signs of physical deterioration attributable to the leaf. I have never seen an instance of coca toxicity. Nor have I observed physiological or psychological dependence on coca.

Even life-long chewers seem able to get the effect they want from the same dose over time; there is no development of tolerance and certainly no withdrawal syndrome upon sudden discontinuance of use.

By A. Weil