Coca plants are the only natural source of the alkaloid cocaine and related compounds. For several thousand years, the leaves of the coca plant have been used by South American Indians as a mild stimulant, a remedy for medical problems, and for ritualistic or religious purposes. Coca chewing reduces hunger and increases endurance. It also eases the nausea, dizziness, and headaches associated with altitude sickness and relieves the symptoms of various stomach ailments. From pre-Columbian times coca has been an integral part of Andean cultures, and the commerce of coca leaves is still a legal and accepted practice in Peru and Bolivia.
The extraction and purification of cocaine hydrochloride from coca leaves, first accomplished in the mid-1800s, yields a drug with very different pharmacological effects than those associated with traditional coca chewing. Recreational use of cocaine produces a quick sense of euphoria
and heightened awareness. Its use became widespread in the United States and elsewhere in the 1970s. It has since resulted in profound economic and sociological impacts both in the South American countries where it is grown and refined as well as in countries worldwide where it is consumed.
Coca leaves can be harvested several times a year from two shrubby species of the genus Erythroxylum. Erythroxylum coca has two varieties, the main one occurring along the lower slopes of the Andes in Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia, and a lesser-known variety called ipadu in the lowlands of the upper Amazon basin. This is the species grown most intensively for cocaine extraction. Erythroxylum novogranatense is a related species that differs slightly in its chemical composition and leaf and floral features. This species, which grows naturally from northern Peru to Colombia, is part of the original formula of Coca-Cola® and is still used today as a flavoring in the popular soft drink (but only after the cocaine is first extracted from the leaves).
In traditional use, coca leaves are dried before they are chewed, and to increase the release of alkaloids, small amounts of lime are added to the quid of masticated leaves. In lowland Amazonia, where the alkaloid content is generally lower, a fine powder is made from the leaves and mixed with leaf ashes before being made into a quid. To extract cocaine from coca leaves, a large volume of leaves is required, and they are first soaked and mashed in a series of solvents such as kerosene and sulfuric acid and neutralizers like lime, which results in the precipitation of a crude cocaine paste. To produce purified cocaine hydrochloride from the paste, more controlled laboratory conditions are required, using reagents such as acetone, ether, and hydrochloric acid.
Cocaine is most often inhaled through the nostrils, but it can also be smoked as a paste or as crack cocaine, or even freebased using an organic solvent. All of these chemically concentrated forms of cocaine have proven to be highly addictive. From the local growers to the paste producers to the clandestine laboratories, then through the international and local drug distribution networks, cocaine demands a high street price and forms the quid a wad for chewing precipitation falling out of solution
herbivore an organism that feeds on plant parts illicit illegal basis of a multibilKon-dollar illicit economy. see also Alkaloids; Medi cinal Plants; Psychoactive Plants.
Paul E. Berry
Plowman, T. "Botanical Perspectives on Coca." Journal of Psychedelic Drugs 11 (1979): 103-117.
-. "The Ethnobotany of Coca (Erythroxylum spp., Erythroxylaceae)." Advances in Economic Botany 1 (1984): 62-111.
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