The coca bush grows in nature more than 5 meters high. It has oval-shaped leaves which taper at the extremities, with small flowers sitting in clusters on the stem, and a characteristic red bark. It is dependent on the climate of tropical mountainous regions.
Coca has been grown in the Andes for at least 3000 years. The coca-plant can be described without exaggeration as one of the most important foundations of the ancient American Andean advanced civilization. The communication in the empire of the Incas, for example, was based on a system of runners that transported the messages at that time much faster than the modern postal service of Peru can do today. Without coca, this performance would not have been possible in the thin air of the high mountain regions. Coca was moreover an important ritually used plant.
The coca bush, because of the cocaine-abuse, had entirely unjustified fallen into serious disrepute and was criminalized. Coca is not cocaine!
Use: Coca-leaves are mixed with lime or plant ashes and chewed. Coca is also drunk as a tea in its countries of origin, probably the least harmful form of consumption. In Peru, coca tea is even legally available in the whole country, in the form of teabags; the amount of Cocaine in such teabags is hardly measurable. Pure cocaine is snuffed, more rarely injected or smoked. In medicine cocaine is now only rarely used as a local anesthetic.
Active constituents: Cocaine, ecgonine, other barely investigated alkaloids, several vitamins and trace elements. The alkaloid-content makes around 0.2 –1.2 % of the dry solids, about 80 % of that are cocaine.
Effects: Coca acts stimulating, performance-enhancing, eroticizing. Coca acts on the heat regulation of the body in such a way, that the body can tolerate better the conditions, which are prevalent in mountainous regions. Coca tea acts slightly stimulating. Cocaine has these effects as well, however in a distinctly stronger degree. But here another component gains importance: If someone takes cocaine, his ego will be boosted. The consumer believes himself to be witty, interesting and funny. And he believes that others also view him this way. Cocaine disinhibits und euphorizes. A state of inebriation begins, sometimes also with fearsome contents. After around 2 hours the inebriation fades into a depressive hangover– which often becomes as reason, to take another dose.
Side Effects: Coca tea: none that are worth mentioning. Coca leaves: Excessive, long lasting consumption of the leaves can lead to addiction. The largest part of the indios, however, seem to use the leaves in a controlled manner. The occasional claim of “early ageing because of the use of coca” is not proven. Presumably, the poverty and exploitation of the indigenous population is more likely responsible for their lower life expectancy than coca. Compared to that, the continuous and/or excessive use of pure cocaine causes a couple of more serious side effects. It can easily lead to a strong addiction, that is proven not only impressively by the biography of Sigmund Freud. Cocaine acutely increases blood pressure, heart beat and body temperature. That can cause a heart attack, or the rupture of blood vessels that are located in the brain. Overdoses lead to paralysis, that can find its peak in a lethal respiratory paralysis.
Cocaine psychoses, decay of intelligence or attempted suicides are not uncommon. A typical form of the cocaine psychosis is the hallucination of foreign substances or small insects beneath the skin, which the patients then scratch or sometimes even cut open. The erotizing effect at the beginning also turns soon into its opposite: Impotence is another commonly occurring aftereffect of the long-term use of cocaine.
Suppliers: All parts of the plant, including the seeds, are listed in most controlled substances acts. Hence there are no legal suppliers. What makes it harder is that coca-seeds are apparently outmost sensitive: various shipments of seeds via air mail to Europe, which were sent by South America travelers, proved all to be no longer viable.
Miscellaneous: As reported by the Münchner Medizinische Wochenschrift 136 (1994) Nr. 7, cocaine besides nicotine and THC was also determined in the tissues of ancient Egyptian mummies.
A very informative and detailed brochure about the traditional use of cocaine, the contemporary cocaine trade and the exploitation of the indigenous population is the German text “500 Jahre Conquista” by Herrmann Herf, which is mentioned in the list of literature.
Cocaine and the coca-plant are listed in the narcotics drugs acts. Hence the intake of coca or cocaine is not advised; except in some South American countries where its use as tea is legal and widespread.