An Introduction to Coca
Coca, Erythroxylum coca, coca leaf, coca tea, mate de coca__TOC__
The word coca refers to specific plants in the Erythroxylum family (Erythroxylaceae), Erythroxylum coca, more precisely to their leaves, which form a natural stimulant when “chewed” or infused as a tea.
Coca has a long ethnobotanical history of human use, with recorded archeological evidence going back to nearly 5000 years.
In its traditional setting, coca is a stimulant, but also a nutritional food supplement, a medical plant used to alleviate pain and discomforts, a religious offering and key symbolic element in various social and religious rituals. Coca use is widespread across the Andes (and beyond, reaching parts of Northern Argentina, Chile, Brazil or the Caribbeans), and is most common in Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador.
Stimulating effects of coca are mild, suppressing fatigue, thirst and pain, increasing physical endurance and motivation. Though coca is nowadays mostly portrayed in a negative light due to its association with clandestine cocaine production, it is important to emphasize that coca leaf and cocaine are very different substances. Coca is not cocaine.
Coca is a traditional ethnobotanical, with a long, non-problematic history of use for its light stimulant and medicinal benefits, and a background of deep socio-cultural and religious integration. Whereas "cocaine" is an alkaloid first isolated and extracted from coca leaf by German scientists in the 1850's, to a semi-synthetic form (hydrochloride salt or freebase) used in western medicine as an anesthetic agent, and a strong euphoriant stimulant, associated with well documented addiction and health issues, and a very lucrative source of income for narcotrafficantes cartels, with the violence and political issues associated with the clandestine drug trade..
The fact that coca leaves are indeed used to produce cocaine does not mean that coca leaves are a form of weak "natural cocaine", or that they should not be reduced to a vegetable source of cocaine only. Effects, and potential consequences of coca use and extracted cocaine use are worlds apart.
While coca leaf does indeed contain small concentrations ( 0.8% on average) of "cocaine" and other psychoactive alkaloids, unprocessed coca leaves do not induce cocaine like euphoria and typical over-stimulation nor the well known addictive qualities and deleterious health effects of the extracted cocaine alkaloid. Even if coca is taken in larger doses-- which might seem counter-intuitive : the theoretical equation [more coca= more cocaine in the bloodstream= effects closer to that of cocaine] does not hold. This is due to the traditional way coca leaves are used, and alkaloids absorbed into the bloodstream (through "chewing" or infusion brewing) but also mostly to the synergy between the 18+ alkaloids found in coca leaf, a complex chemical makeup which balances and moderates the effects of coca.
While coca leaves do contain the famous cocaine related alkaloids, effects of coca and extracted cocaine are highly different, and in no way should coca use and cocaine use be seen as synonymous, nor should the qualities of coca leaves be reduced to the presence of the famous cocaine alkaloid.
Sacrificial offering and divinationCoca has played a crucial role in the religious cosmology and rituals of the Andean peoples of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, up to Northern Argentina and Chile.
In these traditional coca using areas, coca leaves, anthropomorphized as a female figure called Mama Coca, played and play an important role in various aspects of spirituality, from the pre-Inca period through the present. Once a holy plant associated / reserved for the Inka hierarchy, bundles of coca leaves, called kintus in Quechua, are to this day a crucial element of sacrificial bundles (along with candies, cigarettes, incense and other items) which are burnt as offerings to PachaMama (Mother Earth) ,Inti (the Sun God) or Apus ( the mountains). A particular Andean myth presents coca as and anthropomorphic goddess of health, well-being and joy, the Cocomama. The goddess was originally a promiscuous woman, who's body was cut in half by her many lovers, and from which grew the first coca plant. Men were thus originally allowed to chew the happyness and joy bringing coca leaves after sexual intercourse which has given a woman an orgasm.
Traces of coca leaves and coca chewing related objects are often found in Andean mummies. Miners of the Cerro de Pasco consider that masticated coca leaves thrown at the exploited veins of ore will soften them, and make work easier. There is also a tradition of reading coca leaves as a form of divination, somewhat similar to the practice of reading tea leaves in other cultures. Coca leaves are also given and chewed in important social events and ceremonies such as weddings and mournings. Coca leaves are often refered to as "las hojas sagradas", the sacred leaves.
In shamanistic contexts such as those of the Amazon basin coca leaves are part of the tools used by the shaman/ healer as means to reach the other world, and also used, mostly by males, in initiation rituals, and ceremonies such "men's circles" where social and political issues are discussed, coca leaf use implying "true talk".
“Chewing"The best know method of using coca is “chewing” the leaves, a practice which is powerful symbol of indigenous cultural and religious identity. Freshly dried coca leaves are sold in rural markets and by street vendors, out of large bags, specifically for coca leaf "chewing".
The word chewing is actually incorrect as the leaves are not chewed, or masticated, but rather left to macerate in the mouth, the only action being occasional pressing or sucking on the ball of wet coca leaves. But since the term “chewing” is so commonly used, we’ll use it here as well, yet with quote marks to underline its inaccuracy.
This practice, developed in the Andean countries, has many vernacular names, such as "chacchar", "acullicar" "mambear", “picchar” which change according to ethnic group, language and location.
The most common words derive from Quechua or Aymara languages, but the Spanish verb "masticar", to chew, is also frequently used, along with with the more urban term "bolear," derived from the word "bola",ball, a reference to the bolus of coca leaves pouched in the chewer's cheek.
The process of coca "chewing", however, is pretty much the same everywhere, unchanged for centuries :
Whole, fresh or freshly dried coca leaves are kept in a woven pouch ("chuspa" or "huallqui") or simple plastic bag. Leaves are chosen, and stripped of the veins in order to avoid any trauma of the hard parts of the leaf to the mouth’s mucosa lining. They form the basic coca quid "acullico", which is placed into the mouth.
A mouthful of coca leaves is first preparated with a gentle chewing action so that the vegetable cell membranes are opened, and wet with saliva.
This shapes the mouthful of coca leaves into a small ball, a ball shaped quid or bolus, which will be placed between the gums and cheek lining.. This quid is said to weigh roughly 8 to 10 grams according to most sources, although this is almost certainly wrong, and would need to be verified. Indeed, whole coca leaves are quite bulky, and the actual leaf weight is probably overestimated.
Actually a bulky wad of 20 to 40 dried coca leaves, which seems like the maximum quantity which fits comfortably in a human mouth, weighs no more than 3 grams…
The bolus of coca leaves is then formed usually placed between the gum and cheek lining,
just below the outlet of the excreting duct of the parotid salivary gland.
From then on, the coca leaves will stay in this place, and are not in contact with the teeth but with the gums and cheek mucosa, occasionally pressed upon by contraction, and sucked upon.
The process is actually a form of incorpore, buccal extraction.
After 10 to 15 minutes, when the coca leaves are well dampened, the quid is ready, “chewer” adds a basifying agent. This alkaline substance will softens the leave's astringent flavour and most of all make the saliva more basic, thus extracting the alkaloids out of the coca leaf material. The quid is not effective before adding the alkali, which is a crucial step, as non basified saliva does not pull alkaloids from the coca leaves.
After adding the alkaline agent, the saliva is then kept in the mouth, filling up with alkaloid which are absorbed by the mouth mucosa, and enter the blood stream.
This alkaline agent, traditionally called "llipta" ( but also "tocra" or "mambe" depending on the agent's composition) "llijta", "ilucta", "leija", "lejia" ( from the spanish word for lye) in most areas, is made of vegetal ashes, such as burnt plantain or quinoa stalks, but also of seashells, coal, barks of certain trees. The alkali can be also made by burning limestone to form unslaked quicklime paste. In more urban areas, of sodium bicarbonate ( called “bico” or “bica”). A paste like agent is also used in Andean areas, often kept in a small gourd ( "ishcupuro" or "poporo" on the Carribean coast of Colombia).
The alkali added usually has a salty taste, yet some alkaline agents are sold flavoured, which adds a specific taste to the chewing experience, such as the "lejia dulce", one of the most common base in the La Paz area of Bolivia, which is made from burnt quinoa ashes mixed with anise and cane sugar, formed into a soft black putty with a sweet and pleasing licorice flavour. Other variants exist such as the popular "dulce de leche" flaour.
A stick, or in higher class Andean tradition, a precious metal spatula, is then dipped into the limestone / alkali paste and then smeared onto the leaf quid, avoiding direct contact bewteen the chewer's flesh and the corrosive substance. One could also use limestone paste such as the one used in the Betel chewing traditions of India and South East Asia.
The addition of the alkaline agent allows users to somewhat control the effects of the coca chew : more alkali is said to have stronger psychomotor stimulant effects, whereas less will affect mental alertness.
The addition of an alkali might at first glance seem counter productive, since it converts cocaine to a freebase form which is insoluble in water. Yet the chewer's saliva is kept in the mouth, allowing the freebase cocaine to be absorbed through the mouth's buccol muccosa membrane, which are lipophilic, bypassing the stomach and digestive system.
A few minutes after adding the alkaline agent, one can feel an intense ]anaesthetic effect on the mucosa in contact with bolus and also in the cheek lining, tongue and possibly on the throat as some saliva is swallowed, similar to the numbing of novocaine. The ingestion of the juice also exerts an anaesthetic effect on the throat, the lower intestinal tract and at the systemic level, which explains the Andean tradition of using coca as a relief for intestinal cramps.
This topical anaesthetic effect ( which spurred the initial development of Western research on coca, then extracted cocaine, for eye and mouth surgery) is also sought in the medical uses of coca as a relief for dental pain, sore throats, headaches etc… Sometimes coca filled saliva is used as dressing, topically applied to painful areas, for instance on bone fractures, contusions, rheumatisms or arthritis. In more urban areas, coca is also commercially sold as balms ( pomadas de coca)
After 15 to 20 minutes, the freebase coca alkaloids are absorbed into the bloodstream via the mouth mucosa lining, with the previously described effects.
Coca’s effects are strong from the onset, but diminish progressively , so the intake is usually increased slowly to maintain the effect. Coca leaves are usually kept for 45 minutes to an hour in the mouth, the anaesthetic effect indicating whether the coca leaves are still active or exhausted.
In some parts of the Andes, the “time used to chew one bolus of coca” the cocada, was used to measure walking distances.
Intensive users of coca such as farmers and miners “chew” coca at least three times a day, sometimes more when the work is hard, an amount which has been calculated as 400 grams of coca a week ( 13 ounces), although one would have to check it the quid weight measurements were correct…Some sources also report typical daily use as 55grams of leaf (2 ounces) on average. Taxi drivers, whose work is less physical, have been reported to chew coca continually throughout their driving shift.
Most studies, at least the less biased ones than those of colonial times or backed by political agendas , point that coca “chewing” is not habit forming. Users stop without suffering physical or psychological effects, and show no compulsive behaviour associated with addictive tendencies. Coca use is linked to physical activity, and is rarely used when not working.
With the notable exception of ritual coca use, when coca is given and chewed, along with alcohol and tobacco, as offerings to deities ( very present in Quechua Andean culture, for mourning and other occasions) or the shamanistic traditions of the Amazon.
Coca is also used as a more social stimulant in urban areas, such as in the Afro-Peruvian communities of Lima, where coca and alcohol are consumed together in more recreational settings.
Other chewing traditions include the use ground coca leaf powder, already mixed with an alkali, which is found mostly further away from Andean growing areas, especially in the Amazon forest, where Erythroxylum coca var. ipadu coca is used.
Coca leaf preparations are sometimes eaten, in the form of ground coca leaf powder already mixed with an alkali, placed in a gourd and sucked up in tubes.
Such traditions are mostly found mostly further away from Andean growing areas, especially in the Amazon forest and Carribean areas (from the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta coast of Colombia onwards). Coca is consumed by the Kogi, Arhuaco and Wiwa carribean tribes by using a special gourd called "poporo", which is associated with virility and manhood. The gourd represents the womb and the stick dipped in it is a phallic symbol, movements of the stick in the gourd symbolizing the sexual act. Women are prohibited from using coca.
In the Amazon basin, wild coca leaf powder is used, the leaves toasted and mixed with a shell based alkali, placed directly in bamboo straws, and the powder sucked chewed on during the day.
Another, more ritualized variant is found in the Hupda tribes, who actualy cultivate coca, known as “Patu”, grown small fields next to the villages.
There are three distinct types: Ipadu de Peixe, Ipadu de Pau, and Ipadu Abiú, which are valued according to flavor, Abiú being the most flavourful.
The Hupda refer to daily coca use as “eating Patu” . Starting at 4:30 pm the sound of the “pilão” (wooden mortar and pestle) can be heard in almost all of the households, preparing the Patu.
The recently collected “Patu” leaves are dried in a manioc toasting pan, then beaten into a powder which is mixed with ashes of dried Embaúba (Cecropria sp.) leaves.
The final product is then sifted through cloth to be taken, by men, orally in doses of a teaspoonful or more. The "Patu" consumption time is the “roda dos homens”; the circle of men.
At this time the events of the day are discussed. Taking “Patu” has an important role in the socialization of the Hupda men, being present as a stimulant when they relate to each other the trails used in hunting, discussing problems affecting group dynamics, or when they are organizing a party. These conversations last from 5:00 to 10:00 pm, when the “Patu” prepared for the the day is finished.
The men then begin preparing for sleep, which they all will be doing by midnight.
DrinkingThe other well known way of using coca is drinking coca leaf based infusions, either with fresh coca leaves or ground coca leaf teabags ( known as "mate de coca"). The vegetal taste is actually quite close to Japanese sencha, green tea. Commercially manufactured coca teas being available in most stores and supermarkets, including upscale suburban supermarkets, drinking coca infusions is less specifically associated with indigenous culture than coca leaf "chewing", though this is also one of the traditional ways of using coca leaves.
Effects of such coca infusions are very weak compared to coca “chewing”, actually comparable to strong green tea, with a little fatigue relief. There is no mouth numbing effect. However, drinking coca tea is very popular, despite the weak stimulation, as the tea is tasty, rich in vitamins and nutrients, and as the coca alkaloids act on blood pressure issues, effectively alleviating headaches and other symptoms of altitude sickness, as well as gastro-intestinal discomfort. This use is thus very popular, even among non-rural communities, which would look down upon coca chewing as a tell tale sign of the lower class peasantry. Chewing coca is seen as a low-class Indian habit, but drinking coca tea, especially commercial teabags sold in supermarkets, is widely accepted.
Coca teabags are manufactured and sold by companies, private ( such as Zurit or Herbi in Peru), cooperative or with state subsidies ( Bolivia's Frutti, MacMate, Windsor or Peru's Andina Real), or entirely state run (such as Peruvian government’s E.N.A.C.O., with the Delisse Brand), and have been given the name “mate de coca”, or coca mate, a commercial (if incorrect) reference to the very popular tradition of yerba mate drinking, found in Argentina, Chile, and other countries. Yet coca is not to be confused with caffeine ( mateine) rich yerba mate.
This use of coca is also very popular with tourists, who are common victims of altitude sickness, and is actually recommended by traditionally coca-unfriendly authorities such as the American embassy / consulate in Peru...
In traditional Andean medecine
In its traditional context, medical uses of coca focus on its stimulant qualities, to overcome common fatigue, hunger, and thirst. Yet coca was and still is a major part of rural pharmacopea. Oral coca is considered particularly effective against altitude related sickness ("sorojche")and headaches. Oral preparations, concentrated coca drinks and the like have been reported as a treatment for malaria side-effects, asthma and respiratory tract problems, to improve digestion and to treat ulcers, to prevent digestive problems, as an aphrodisiac agent, and credited with improving general health and longevity.
As previously mentioned, coca is also commonly used as a general anaesthetic to alleviate various pain of headaches, msucle aches, arthritis, rheumatism, topical wounds and sores. Concentrated coca preparation were also used for more serious issues requiring anaesthesia, such as broken bones, during childbirth, and skull trapanation operations, before stronger anaesthetics were made available. Coca and cocaine related alkaloid constricts blood vessels, which is why coca preparations are also commonly used for anti-hemorrhagic properties, to regulate and oppose bleeding. Coca seeds were used for nosebleeds.
In Western pharmacopea
Coca leaves were introduced in Europe in the 16th century, and coca (not cocaine, but actual coca leaves and full spectrum coca leaf extracts) was used in a diversity of pharmaceutical preparations such as wines, fluid extracts, tonics, syrups, elixirs etc, to relieve fatigue and various psychomotor ailments ( see http://www.drugs-forum.com/threads/23273).
Medical use of coca preparations can be found in Western codexes up to the 1940’s, and then disappeared, mostly due to the discovery of the new "wonderdrug" cocaine in the mid 19th century, and the new restrictive, cocaine use and abuse related international legislations - which came to included coca, leaf and plants, for reasons yet to be cleared up.
Some anthropological literature has also mentioned alternative methods smoking of coca leaves, yet this is probably more of a ritual use then an effective one as it is hard to understand how smoked coca leaves could have any psychoactivity, as those who have experimented with the leaves smoked or vaporised have reported that this is uneffective, and would indicated that the leaves are either mixed with other substances or prepared in a way which would make this form of use possible.
And lastly, for the record, coca leaves are indeed also processed in order to extract one alkaloid to its HCl form, know as cocaine, but this product is no longer coca…
As a side note, mate de coca teabags can also be chewed, a more urban and Western tradition. Because the coca leaf is already ground, this method is actually more effective then “chewing” whole coca leaves. As a rule, 3 to 8 teabags are opened, and a pinch of sodium bicarbonate is put into each bag. The bags are then closed with saliva, moistened with a little water and / or placed into the mouth, forming a coca / teabag paper bolus, and used as regular coca leaves would be. Saliva is kept in the mouth, and after 15 minutes, numbing effects are felt, just as one would with whole coca leaves. Yet this method is actually more effective than “chewing” whole coca leaves, because shredding the coca leaves makes the buccal extraction more effective, and because coca leaves are less bulky, which allows the user to really “chew” the reported quantities of 10 grams of coca leaves, as this is actually not often the case with whole coca leaves.
Industrial usesCoca is commonly used as a flavouring agent or additive in the food industry ( both due to the historical reasons as well as recent developements), and in the comestic industry.
Coca leaves, then coca full spectrum extracts, then cocaine were used in the medical coca wines and syrups of the 19th century, which gave way to commercial "coca" drinks and products, such as the Coca-Cola syrup and soft drink. An industrial tradition of using coca leaf as a flavouring agent in soft drink emerged from use of coca as a tonic in drinks.
A decocainized extract of coca leaf is reportedly used to this day, as one of the flavoring ingredients in the Coca-Cola soft drink, and others, which has given way to a specif mention and disposition regarding coca leaves as a flavouring agent within the United State's Food and Drug Administration rulings ( see Legal status and politics of coca), despite a U.N. ban on coca leaf. The Coca-Cola company (which historically, was born in the wake of the coca, then actual extracted cocaine, containing tonic drinks of the 19th century, such as Vin Mariani, and to this day imports coca leaf as a flavouring agent), since coca has very little culinary uses outside its traditional south-american socio-cultural context.
Coca leaves are also a natural flavouring ingredient in Red Bull Cola, that was launched in March 2008, and in Colombia's "Coca Sek", and in Peruvian Inka Cola, which was actually bought by the Coca-Cola company.
Coca leaf tea ( mate de coca), plain or mixed herbal infusions, 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, and other main brands such as Zurit, Herbi, Inka tea, Wawasana, Windsor, Lupi, MacMatte, Caranavi, Nasa Esh, Horniman...
Coca wines however, are still strongly associated with Native culture, and most are manufactured by producers themselves, and not sold in supermarkets, but rather through street vendors, market places and specialised shops. Yet a company based in Peru has announced plans to market a modern version of Vin Mariani, which should be available in both natural and decocainized varieties.
In coca's traditional South American cultural context, coca has many uses, including that of food stuff, and even more true today with the commercial expansion of coca containing products ( coca candy, coca chocolate, coca toothpaste etc). Yet it is highly unlikely that the production and importation of such products was what the F.D.A. had in mind when they mentioned decocainized coca leaves...
But this has changed, and since the 1990’s, as coca’s inocuity and value was “rediscovered” and promoted, and other actual uses of coca are developed, new coca wines and other alcohol macerations, elixirs and many forms of coca enriched commercial products which supposedly benefit from the medicinal properties of coca alkaloids, coca creams, coca soaps, coca toothpastes, ground powder coca pills, energy drink additive, coca honey, coca chocolate… South American coca products are fueled by the early 21st century political movement, now strong in Bolivia, Peru, and Venezuela, which seeks to move away from the North American imposed vision of coca as a source of clandestine cocaine, and to promote and expand legal markets for coca crops and their applications.
Effects of CocaThe most effective way of using unextracted coca is the process of “chewing” the leaves, usually done in a semi-dried state ( the coca leaves having been sun-dried but not to the point of losing their flexibility) Coca leaves dried in this matter can be kept over a long period of time.
Freshly picked coca leaves are more concentrated in alkaloids, but almost impossible to find outside cultivation areas.
However, the effects of chewed coca leaves are actually not only more moderate but actually quite distinct from those obtained through the well known use of pure cocaine alkaloid, in HCl form or freebase salt. This less well documented characteristic of coca is due both to the specific the chemical make up of the coca plant and mode of use.
Though this has not truly been studied in detail, it is clear that the coca plant’s pharmacology plays a role in balancing out the effects, and in a way downplays the psychoactivity and detrimental aspect of the coca plant’s cocaine constituent.
In the traditional method, coca leaves are said to be “chewed”, an incorrect term which designates an “incorpore” crude extraction of the coca alkaloids, performed in the user’s mouth by letting the coca leaves soak in basified saliva. The coca alkaloids are then absorbed through the mouth mucosa (and to a lesser and more accidental extent, through the digestive tract), thus entering the bloodstream.
This buccomucosal absorption technique implies a gradual delivery of the coca alkaloids into the bloodstream, a physical limitation to the amount of coca leaves used at one time, and also that there is no actual isolation of the cocaine alkaloid itself, but actually a crude and non-specific extraction of the coca plant’s alkaloid cocktail.
Coca is a psychomotor stimulant. The action of the “cocktail” of coca alkaloids is two folds : physical and psychological.
From a physical point of view using coca increases stamina : one can perform physical activities on a longer timescale, and tires less quickly.
The body is more energetic, one can work, walk, work out, and swim longer…
Yet unlike extracted cocaine, one is not over stimulated. Although psychomotor activity is indeed increased, one does not feel hyperactive, or experience feelings physical restlessness frequently associated with cocaine.
At high doses of coca one might experience a slight trembling of the hands, but not much more.
Fatigue is eliminated by coca, one feels less tired, as if refreshed, and local pain ( such as muscle pain, or back pain) is also lessened.
Hunger is suppressed, though this is temporary, and coca has no real effect on appetite : coca diminishes the feeling of hunger, which comes back after the effects wear out.
Bowel movement is stimulated, as coca stimulates the digestive system, but not to the proportion of cocaine, which is known to induce colic like reactions.
Blood pressure is raised slightly, and after long chewing sessions a light vasoconstrictor effect can be felt in the nose, extremities, hands, feet become colder.
Blood circulation is enhanced by a slight acceleration of heartbeats.
One’s Mouth is anesthetised, numbness begins to spread to the teeth and gums as alkaloids are released from the coca leaves.
Coca, like most stimulants, also reduces the feeling of intoxication of alcohol.
From a mental point of view, the best way to describe the effects of coca would be saying that one’s mood is lifted. A mood uplift, antidepressant like, not euphoria or anything comparable to the rather violent effects of cocaine HCl, yet one feels less gloomy (as cocaine is part of the picture which, does imply some comparable means an action on brain chemistry, and dopamine, but again one a much smaller scale) more eager to do something, but because the effects are more along the lines of a mood uplift than euphoria, one might be more motivated to indulge in work, productive activity. One feels more awake, concentration is increased, and the desire to sleep lessened.
By chewing coca for long periods, as taxi drivers do in some Latin American cities, one can stay awake for increased periods of time, with a sensation of alertness and mental clarity.
Libido can also feel stimulated, and sensorial functions become more intense.
Intellectual activities are accelerated, and there is sometimes a slight feeling of consciousness expansion (which could explain its use during religious rituals).
Emotionally, the effect of coca is stimulating, the individual feels more motivated, happy, optimistic, talkative, and eager, willing, to undertake action.
Cocaine HCl’s effects, in way it is most commonly used, could be said to be an instantaneous rush, a somewhat overwhelming, euphoric and hyperactive peak. In comparison, coca use gradually makes one feel more motivated, more eager to indulge in some productive activity, and allows the user to do that by increasing physical stamina and reducing hunger. And coca effects can be maintained over long periods of time without reaching a form of physical or mental saturation as one would with cocaine HCl.
It is very easy to concentrate on one task while chewing coca, whereas maintaining concentration is sometimes difficult when under full-blown effects of cocaine. Because it lacks cocaine HCl’s peak of sudden euphoria, coca’s recreational potential is actually quite low, yet its stimulation is unique, useful and with very little side effects.
Due to “chewing” technique’s gradual delivery of the coca alkaloids, their moderate concentration and their complementary nature, coca use seems to lacks the side effects and dangers of cocaine ( such as cravings, hyper stimulation, paranoia, cardiovascular risks), but also those of milder stimulants such as coffee, and its jitteriness.
Stimulation takes about 10 / to 15 minutes of chewing to be felt, and the main indicator is the numbness of the “chewer’s” mouth. Full coca stimulation does not last long, its effect decrease maybe 30 minutes after chewing has stopped. Yet due to the gradual mode of use, the effects can be sustained for quite sometime, simply by adding more leaves, without reaching saturation. The coca leave’s numbing effect acts as an indicator, the coca leaves are exhausted when it is no longer felt.
After long coca chewing sessions, there might be a short interval of “coming-down”, when physical stimulation stops and eventual fatigue sets in, and as the mood uplifting wanes away, but this does not exceed 30 minutes and is not comparable to the cocaine comedown or crash. It is a progressive return to a non stimulated state rather than a depression like episode, and not proportional to the duration of coca “chewing”.
Psychoactivity of coca radically differs from that of cocaine HCl in that the extracted cocaine alkaloid generates sudden, short lived euphoric peaks, notably due to the sudden effects dopamine release, whereas the psychoactive effects of coca are more in the line of a gradual mood uplifting, motivation and “glow”.
This is very different, coca does not “get one high” as one would with cocaine HCl, and even though those who have experienced extracted cocaine might recognise that cocaine is indeed part of the picture, it is but a pigment in the wider palette of coca effects.
Coca is not really a recreational stimulant, but rather more of a positive work “companion”. The difference between cocaine’s recreational hedonistic qualities and coca’s more humble and productivity inclined effects is also outlined and reflected by the social context and symbolism associated to both substances, which are radically different…
The following statement might be considered too subjective, yet it seems striking that the images most commonly relayed by the media regarding cocaine HCl use ( including fiction movies, anti-drug campaigns) litterature ( see “white lines”, writers on cocaine or “de l’encre sur la neige”, both collections of fictional litterature on the subject of cocaine use) are two-fold : those associated the history of the substance, which became rare, expensive and somewhat “exquisite” after prohibition, gaining popularity and exposure in the entertainment industry of the U.S.A. and Europe, with a climax in the late 1970’s to the the 1980’s cocaine boom : images of lively urban lifestyles, easy money, rich fast-living celebrities, artists and party lovers, glitter and glamour, sex and excess. And on the opposite, reinforced with the developpement of distribution cartels and of low quality freebase cocaine ( “crack”) images of slums, violence, addiction, crack, prostitution, criminal gangs and bosses etc…
Coca use ( i.e., coca when it is not linked to the specific criminalised context of cocaine production, with cartels, paramilitaries and left wing guerillas) on the other hand, brings up images of arid villages of the Andes, ancient civilisation and knowledge, remains of Inca society, religious rituals and traditional medicine, colonisation, silver mines, repression, discrimination, working in the field, peasants and urban taxi drivers, North-South divide, political struggle and resistance… This dichotomy, however subjective, is not unrelated to the crucial differences in the nature of coca and extracted cocaine HCl’s effects.
Due to its mode of use, actual effects and lack of psychophysical side-effects, coca has throughout its history not become a problematic recreational substance, and is very unlikely to do so…
When consumed with alcohol, psychoactive effects of coca are altered, and become slightly more euphoric, and yet diminish the feeling of alcohol intoxication, as most stimulants ( amphetamines, ephedrine, cocaine, caffeine…) would.
This can lead to over drinking and other physical complications.
The combination, in high doses, is quite toxic (despite the low cocaine concentration of coca, the cocaethylene alkaloid is probably still formed in the bloodstream), stronger vasoconstriction and cardiovascular effects.
Even if is a mild and safe one, coca is nevertheless a stimulant, and should thus be treated with the usual precautions associated with stimulant use, and possibly harmful combinations.
Coca products are also beneficial in reducing effects of hypoglycaemia, and gastrointestinal pain. Coca contains also contains anti-oxidants, improves oxygen uptake, and has a beneficial effect on fluid management.
It is commonly used to counter effects of altitude sickness, sorojche ( coca tea is served to tourists in high altitude areas of the Andes to fight AMS), and also reduces effects of motion sickness.
SummaryCoca is a stimulant which revitalizes refreshes the mind and body and energizes, increasing physical stamina, endurance, and reduces the need for sleep.
Coca is a short lived antidepressant in that it elevates and brightens mood, gives one more motivation to do something, without stronger stimulant’s euphoria and possible depressive side effects nor addictive potential..
Coca is a nutritional asset, source of vitamins and minerals, and has an action on the metabolism’s regulation of carbohydrates.
Coca stimulates the digestive processes, and reduces gastrointestinal pain.
Coca acts against fatigue and altitude, and motion sickness, and, to some extent, relieves physical pain.
Some suggested but lesser understood or studied effects of coca point out a reduction and/or limitation of oxygen consumption and caloric expenditure, which would further explain the benefice effects of coca on altitude sickness.
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Category: Ethnobotanicals|Erythroxylum Coca - Coca Category: Stimulants|Erythroxylum Coca - Coca
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