1 a South American shrub whose leaves are chewed by natives of the Andes; a source of cocaine [syn: Erythroxylon coca]
2 United States comedienne who starred in early television shows with Sid Caesar (1908-2001) [syn: Imogene Coca]
3 dried leaves of the coca plant (and related plants that also contain cocaine); chewed by Andean people for their simulating effect
- The dried leaf of a South American shrub (Erythroxylon coca).
the dried leaf of a South American shrub (Erythroxylon coca)
Coca is a plant in the family Erythroxylaceae, native to north-western South America. The plant plays a significant role in traditional Andean culture. Coca leaves contain cocaine, which is a powerful stimulant, and also one of the most heavily controlled substances in the world.
Coca should not be confused with the similarly named South American Cocoa bean from which chocolate is made.
The plant resembles a blackthorn bush, and grows to a height of 2–3 m (7–10 ft). The branches are straight, and the leaves, which have a green tint, are thin, opaque, oval, and taper at the extremities. A marked characteristic of the leaf is an areolated portion bounded by two longitudinal curved lines, one line on each side of the midrib, and more conspicuous on the under face of the leaf.
The flowers are small, and disposed in little clusters on short stalks; the corolla is composed of five yellowish-white petals, the anthers are heart-shaped, and the pistil consists of three carpels united to form a three-chambered ovary. The flowers mature into red berries.
Species and classificationThere are twelve main species and varieties. Two subspecies, Erythroxylum coca var. coca and E. coca var. ipadu, are almost indistinguishable phenotypically; a related high cocaine-bearing species has two subspecies, E. novogranatense var. novogranatense and E. novogranatense var. truxillense that are phenotypically similar, but morphologically distinguishable. Under the older Cronquist system of classifying flowering plants, this was placed in an order Linales; more modern systems place it in the order Malpighiales.
CultivationCoca is traditionally cultivated in the lower altitudes of the eastern slopes of the Andes, or the highlands depending on the species grown. Since ancient times, its leaves have been an important trade commodity between the lowlands where it is grown and the higher altitudes where it is widely consumed by the Andean peoples of Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Bolivia.
Fresh samples of the dried leaves are uncurled, are of a deep green on the upper, and a grey-green on the lower surface, and have a strong tea-like odor; when chewed they produce a pleasurable numbness in the mouth, and have a pleasant, pungent taste. They are traditionally chewed with lime to increase the release of cocaine from the leaf. Older specimens have a camphoraceous smell and a brownish colour, and lack the pungent taste.
The seeds are sown from December to January in small plots (almacigas) sheltered from the sun, and the young plants when at 40–60 cm in height are placed in final planting holes (aspi), or if the ground is level, in furrows (uachos) in carefully weeded soil. The plants thrive best in hot, damp and humid situations, such as the clearings of forests; but the leaves most preferred are obtained in drier localities, on the sides of hills. The leaves are gathered from plants varying in age from one and a half to upwards of forty years, but only the new fresh growth is harvested. They are considered ready for plucking when they break on being bent. The first and most abundant harvest is in March after the rains, the second is at the end of June, and the third in October or November. The green leaves (matu) are spread in thin layers on coarse woollen cloths and dried in the sun; they are then packed in sacks, which must be kept dry in order to preserve the quality of the leaves.
The pharmacologically active ingredient of coca is the alkaloid cocaine which is found in the amount of about 0.3 to 1.5%, averaging 0.8%, in fresh leaves. Besides cocaine, the coca leaf contains a number of other alkaloids, including methylecgonine cinnamate, benzoylecgonine, truxilline, hydroxytropacocaine, tropacocaine, ecgonine, cuscohygrine, dihydrocuscohygrine, nicotine and hygrine. When chewed, coca acts as a mild stimulant and suppresses hunger, thirst, pain, and fatigue.
Absorption of cocaine from the leaf is much less rapid and efficient than from the purified forms of cocaine, and it does not cause the euphoric and psychoactive effects associated with abuse of the drug. Some proponents have claimed that cocaine itself is not an active ingredient when unprocessed coca leaf is chewed or brewed as an infusion. However, studies have shown that small but measurable amounts of cocaine are present in the bloodstream after consumption of coca tea. Addiction or other deleterious effects from the consumption of the leaf in its natural form have not been documented.
HistoryTraces of coca have been found in mummies dating to 3000 years ago. Extensive archeological evidence for the chewing of coca leaves dates back at least to the sixth century A.D. Moche period, and the subsequent Inca period, based on mummies found with a supply of coca leaves, pottery depicting the characteristic cheek bulge of a coca chewer, spatulas for extracting alkali and figured bags for coca leaves and lime made from precious metals, and gold representations of coca in special gardens of the Inca in Cuzco Coca chewing may originally have been limited to the eastern Andes before its introduction to the Incas. As the plant was viewed as having a divine origin, its cultivation became subject to a state monopoly and its use restricted to nobles and a few favored classes (court orators, couriers, favored public workers, and the army) by the rule of the Topa Inca (1471-1493). As the Incan empire declined, the drug became more widely available. After some deliberation, Philip II of Spain issued a decree recognizing the drug as essential to the well-being of the Andean Indians but urging missionaries to end its religious use. The Spanish are believed to have effectively encouraged use of coca by an increasing majority of the population to increase their labor output and tolerance for starvation, but it is not clear that this was planned deliberately.
The drug was first introduced to Europe in the 16th century, but did not become popular until the mid-19th century, with the publication of an influential paper by Dr. Paolo Mantegazza praising its stimulating effects on cognition. This led to invention of cocawine and the first production of pure cocaine. Cocawine (of which Vin Mariani was the best-known brand) and other cocaine-containing preparations were widely sold as patent medicines and tonics, with claims of a wide variety of health benefits. The original version of Coca-cola was among these. These products became illegal in most countries outside of South America in the early 20th century, after the addictive nature of cocaine was widely recognized.
In recent times (2007), the governments of several South American countries, such as Peru, Bolivia and Venezuela, have defended and championed the traditional use of coca, as well as the modern uses of the leaf and its extracts in household products such as teas and toothpaste. (see Industrial Use below)
Traditional medical uses of coca are foremost as a stimulant to overcome fatigue, hunger, and thirst. It is considered particularly effective against altitude sickness. It also is used as an anaesthetic to alleviate the pain of headache, rheumatism, wounds and sores, etc. Before stronger anaesthetics were available, it also was used for broken bones, childbirth, and during trephining operations on the skull. Because cocaine constricts blood vessels, the action of coca also serves to oppose bleeding, and coca seeds were used for nosebleeds. Indigenous use of coca has also been reported as a treatment for malaria, ulcers, asthma, to improve digestion, to guard against bowel laxity, as an aphrodisiac, and credited with improving longevity. Modern studies have supported a number of these medical applications. Coca tea is produced industrially from coca leaves in South America by a number of companies, including Enaco S.A. (National Company of the Coca) a government enterprise in Peru.
Beginning in the early 21st century, there has been a movement in Bolivia, Peru, and Venezuela to promote and expand legal markets for the crop. The presidents of these three countries have personally identified with this movement. In particular, Evo Morales of Bolivia (elected in December 2005) was a coca growers union leader. Morales asserts that "la coca no es cocaína"—the coca leaf is not cocaine. During his speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations on September 19 2006, he held a coca leaf in his hand to demonstrate its innocuity.
Alan García, president of Peru, has recommended its use in salads and other edible preparations. A Peruvian-based company has announced plans to market a modern version of Vin Mariani, which will be available in both natural and de-cocainized varieties.
In Venezuela, president Hugo Chávez said in a speech on January 2008 that he chews coca every day, and that his "hook up" is Bolivian president Evo Morales. Chávez reportedly said "I chew coca every day in the morning... and look how I am" before showing his bicep to his audience, the Venezuelan National Assembly.
On the other hand, the Colombian government has recently moved in the opposite direction. For years, Bogotá has allowed indigenous coca farmers to sell coca products, promoting the enterprise as one of the few successful commercial opportunities available to recognized tribes like the Nasa, who have grown it for years and regard it as sacred . In December 2005, the Paeces, a Tierradentro (Cauca) indigenous community, started in December to produce a carbonated soft drink called "Coca Sek". The production method belongs to the resguardos of Calderas (Inzá) and takes about 150 kg of coca per 3,000 produced bottles. The drink was never sold widely in Colombia, the efforts to do so ended in May 2007 when it was abruptly banned by the Colombian government.
Literary referencesOne of the best known examples of coca's reference in fiction is Patrick O'Brian's character, Stephen Maturin. In many of the more than twenty book series, a.k.a. Aubrey-Maturin series, Maturin expounds the benefits of coca. However, the reader is made aware of the truly addictive effects of the drug when rats, who have found the coca (Erythroxylum coca) and become seriously addicted, scour the ship looking for it.
Legal statusCoca leaf is the raw material for the manufacture of the drug cocaine, a powerful stimulant and anaesthetic extracted chemically from large quantities of coca leaves. Today, since it has mostly been replaced as a medical anaesthetic by synthetic analogues such as procaine, cocaine is best known as an illegal recreational drug. The cultivation, sale, and possession of unprocessed coca leaf (but not of any processed form of cocaine) is generally legal in the countries – such as Bolivia, Peru, Chile and Argentina – where traditional use is established, although cultivation is often restricted in an attempt to prevent the production of cocaine.
The prohibition of the use of the coca leaf except for medical or scientific purposes was established by the United Nations in the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. The coca leaf is listed on Schedule I of the 1961 Single Convention together with cocaine and heroin. The Convention determined that “The Parties shall so far as possible enforce the uprooting of all coca bushes which grow wild. They shall destroy the coca bushes if illegally cultivated” (Article 26), and that, “Coca leaf chewing must be abolished within twenty-five years from the coming into force of this Convention” (Article 49, 2.e).
The rationale for including the coca leaf in the 1961 Single Convention is mainly rooted in a report requested of the United Nations by the permanent representative of Peru that was prepared by a commission that visited Bolivia and Peru briefly in 1949 to “investigate the effects of chewing the coca leaf and the possibilities of limiting its production and controlling its distribution.” The Commission of Enquiry on the Coca Leaf study, published in 1950, concluded that the effects of chewing coca leaves were negative, even though chewing coca was defined as a habit, not an addiction.
The report was sharply criticised for its arbitrariness, lack of precision and racist connotations. The team members’ professional qualifications and parallel interests were also criticised, as were the methodology used and the incomplete selection and use of existing scientific literature on the coca leaf. Nowadays, a similar study would never pass the scrutiny and critical review to which scientific studies are routinely subjected.
Despite the legal restriction, coca chewing and drinking of coca tea is carried out daily by millions of people in the Andes as well as considered sacred within indigenous cultures. They claim that most of the information provided about the traditional use of the coca leaf and its modern adaptations are erroneous. This has made it impossible to shed light on the plant’s positive aspects and its potential benefits for the physical, mental and social health of the people who consume and cultivate it. Bolivia also made a formal reservation to the 1988 Convention, which required countries to adopt measures to establish the use, consumption, possession, purchase or cultivation of the coca leaf for personal consumption as a criminal offence. Bolivia stated that “the coca leaf is not, in and of itself, a narcotic drug or psychotropic substance” and stressed that its “legal system recognizes the ancestral nature of the licit use of the coca leaf which, for much of Bolivia’s population, dates back over centuries.”
In recent years the current legal status of the coca leaf is more and more questioned. Even the INCB stated in its 1994 Annual Report that "mate de coca, which is considered harmless and legal in several countries in South America, is an illegal activity under the provisions of both the 1961 Convention and the 1988 Convention, though that was not the intention of the plenipotentiary conferences that adopted those conventions." It implicitly also dismissed the original report of the Commission of Enquiry on the Coca Leaf by recognizing that "there is a need to undertake a scientific review to assess the coca-chewing habit and the drinking of coca tea."
Nevertheless, the INCB on other occasions did not show signs of an increased sensitivity towards the Bolivian claim on the rights of their indigenous population, and the general public, to consume the coca leaf in a traditional manner by chewing the leaf, and even goes as far as to consider drinking coca tea, as "not in line with the provisions of the 1961 Convention." The Board considered Bolivia, Peru and a few other countries that allow such practises to be in breach with their treaty obligations, and insisted that “each party to the Convention should establish as a criminal offence, when committed intentionally, the possession and purchase of coca leaf for personal consumption.”
In reaction to the 2007 Annual Report of the INCB, the Bolivian government announced that it would formally issue a request to the United Nations to unschedule the coca leaf of List 1 of the 1961 UN Single Convention.
Legal status by countryOutside of South America, most countries' laws make no distinction between the coca leaf and any other substance containing cocaine, so the possession of coca leaf (except for de-cocainized leaf) is prohibited.
In the Netherlands, coca leaf is legally in the same category as cocaine, both are List I drugs of the Opium Law. The Opium Law specifically mentions the leafs of the plants of the species Erythroxylon. However, the possession of living plants of the species Erythroxylon are not actively prosecuted, even though they are legally forbidden.
In the United States, the Stepan Company of Maywood, New Jersey has the only license to legally import coca leaf. The company manufactures pure cocaine for medical use and also produces a cocaine-free extract of the coca leaf which is used as a flavoring ingredient in Coca-Cola. According to the Bolivian Press, in 1996 the legal importation of coca leaf by Coca-Cola was 204 tons annually.
More recently, coca has been reintroduced to the U.S. as a flavoring agent in the herbal liqueur Agwa. Coca tea and coca flour (powdered coca leaves) are available in the U.S. through Amazon.com and Mysterious Bolivia.
Since the 1980s, the countries in which coca is grown have come under political and economic pressure from the United States to restrict the cultivation of the crop, in order to reduce the supply of cocaine on the international market.
Article 26 of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs requires nations that allow the cultivation of coca to designate an agency to regulate said cultivation and take physical possession of the crops as soon as possible after harvest, and to destroy all coca which grows wild or is illegally cultivated. The effort to enforce these provisions, referred to as coca eradication, has involved many strategies, ranging from aerial spraying of herbicides on coca crops to assistance and incentives to encourage farmers to grow alternate crops.
This effort has been politically controversial, with proponents claiming that the production of cocaine is several times the amount needed to satisfy legal demand, and inferring that the vast majority of the coca crop is destined for the illegal market, which not only contributes to the major social problem of drug abuse, but also financially supports insurgent groups that collaborate with drug traffickers in some cocaine-producing territories. Critics of the effort claim that it creates hardship primarily for the coca growers, many of whom are poor and have no viable alternative way to make a living, causes environmental problems, that it is not effective in reducing the supply of cocaine, in part because cultivation can move to other areas, and that any social harm created by drug abuse is only made worse by the war on drugs.
- Turner C. E., Elsohly M. A., Hanuš L., Elsohly H. N. Isolation of dihydrocuscohygrine from Peruvian coca leaves. Phytochemistry 20 (6), 1403-1405 (1981)
- "History of Coca. The Divine Plant of the Incas" by W. Golden Mortimer, M.D. 576 pp. And/Or Press San Francisco, 1974. This title has no ISBN.
- Shared Responsibility
- Legalize Coca Leaves – and Break the Consensus
- OneWorld.net Analysis: Blurred Vision on Coca Eradication
- The Coca Museum (A private museum in La Paz, Bolivia)
- Coca - Cocaine website of the Transnational Institute (TNI)
- Coca, Cocaine and the International Conventions Transnational Institute
- Enaco S.A. Peruvian Enterprise of the Coca, Official Website
- Coca Yes, Cocaine No? Legal Options for the Coca Leaf Transnational Institute (TNI), Drugs & Conflict Debate Paper 13, May 2006
- Coca leaf news page – Alcohol and Drugs History Society
coca in Arabic: كوكا
coca in Aymara: Kuka
coca in Catalan: Coca
coca in Czech: Kokainovník pravý
coca in Danish: Coca
coca in German: Cocastrauch
coca in Estonian: Kokapõõsas
coca in Spanish: Erythroxylum coca
coca in French: Coca
coca in Galician: Erythroxylum coca
coca in Ido: Kokao
coca in Italian: Erythroxylum coca
coca in Hebrew: קוקה
coca in Lithuanian: Tikrasis kokainmedis
coca in Dutch: Coca
coca in Japanese: コカ
coca in Polish: Koka
coca in Portuguese: Coca
coca in Romanian: Coca
coca in Quechua: Kuka
coca in Russian: Кока
coca in Serbian: Кока
coca in Slovenian: Koka
coca in Finnish: Erythroxylum coca
coca in Swedish: Kokabuske
coca in Turkish: Koka ağacı
coca in Ukrainian: Кока (рослина)
coca in Catalan: Coca