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Coca.

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Coca may refer to any of the four cultivated plants which belong to the family Erythroxylaceae, native to western South America. The plant is an important cash crop in Bolivia and Peru. It also plays a significant role in many traditional Andean cultures as well as the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta (see the Traditional uses). Coca is best known throughout the world for its psychoactive alkaloid, cocaine. However, the alkaloid content of coca leaves is low: between .25% and .77%, and production of cocaine from coca requires complex chemical processes. This means that chewing the leaves or drinking coca tea does not produce the high (euphoria, megalomania) people experience with cocaine.


There are two species of cultivated coca, each with two varieties:
• Erythroxylum coca
• Erythroxylum coca var. coca (Bolivian or Huanuco Coca) - well adapted to the eastern Andes of Peru and Bolivia, an area of humid, tropical, mountainous forest.
• Erythroxylum coca var. ipadu (Amazonian Coca) - cultivated in the lowland Amazon Basin in Peru and Colombia.
• Erythroxylum novogranatense
• Erythroxylum novogranatense var. novogranatense (Colombian Coca) - a highland variety that is utilized in lowland areas. It is cultivated in drier regions found in Colombia. However, E. novogranatense is very adaptable to varying ecological conditions. The leaves have parallel lines on either side of the central vein.
• Erythroxylum novogranatense var. truxillense (Trujillo Coca) - grown primarily in Peru and Colombia. the leaves of E. novogranatense var. truxillense does not have parallel lines on either side of the central vein like all other varieties.

Also known as supercoca or la millionaria, Boliviana negra is a relatively new form of coca that is resistant to herbicide Roundup, or the isopropylamine salt of glyphosate. Since Roundup is a key ingredient in the multibillion-dollar aerial coca eradication campaign undertaken by the government of Colombia with U.S. financial and military backing known as Plan Colombia, increasing popularity of Boliviana negra amongst growers could have serious repercussions' for the War on Drugs

Pharmacological aspects

The pharmacologically active ingredient of coca is the coca alkaloid, which is found in the amount of about 0.3 to 1.5%, averaging 0.8%, in fresh leaves. Besides coca, 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. In Bolivia bags of coca leaves are sold in local markets and by street vendors. The activity of chewing coca is called mambear, chacchar or acullicar, borrowed from Quechua,coquear (northern Argentina), or in Bolivia, picchar, derived from the Aymara language. The Spanish masticar is also frequently used, along with the slang term "bolear," derived from the word "bola" or ball of coca pouched in the cheek while chewing. Typical coca consumption is about two ounces per day, and contemporary methods are believed to be unchanged from ancient times. Coca is kept in a woven pouch (chuspa or huallqui). A few leaves are chosen to form a quid (acullico) held between the mouth and gums. Doing so may cause a tingling and numbing sensation in their mouths. (The formerly used dental anaesthetic Novocaine has a similar effect.) Chewing coca leaves is most common in indigenous communities across the central Andean region, particularly in places like the highlands of Colombia, Bolivia and Peru, where the cultivation and consumption of coca is as much a part of the national culture similar to chicha, like wine is to France or beer is to Germany. It also serves as a powerful symbol of indigenous cultural and religious identity, amongst a diversity of indigenous nations throughout South America.

Coca is still chewed in the traditional way, with a tiny quantity of ilucta (a preparation of the ashes of the quinoa plant) added to the coca leaves; it softens their astringent flavor and activates the alkaloids. Other names for this basifying substance are llipta in Peru and the Spanish word lejía, lye in English. The consumer carefully uses a wooden stick (formerly often a spatula of precious metal) to transfer an alkaline component into the quid without touching his flesh with the corrosive substance. The alkali component, usually kept in a gourd (ishcupuro or poporo), can be made by burning limestone to form unslaked quicklime, burning quinoa stalks, or the bark from certain trees, and may be called ilipta, tocra or mambe depending on its composition. Many of these materials are salty in flavor, but there are variations. The most common base in the La Paz area of Bolivia is a product known as lejía dulce (sweet lye), which is made from quinoa ashes mixed with aniseed and cane sugar, forming a soft black putty with a sweet and pleasing flavor. In some places, baking soda is used under the name bico.
In the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, on the Caribbean Coast of Colombia, coca is consumed by the Kogi, Arhuaco and Wiwa by using a special device called poporo.

Although coca leaf chewing is common only among the indigenous populations, the consumption of coca tea (Mate de coca) is common among all sectors of society in the Andean countries, especially due to their high elevations from sea level, and is widely held to be beneficial to health, mood, and energy. Coca leaf is sold packaged into teabags in most grocery stores in the region, and establishments that cater to tourists generally feature coca tea.

In the Andes commercially manufactured coca teas, granola bars, cookies, hard candies, etc. are available in most stores and supermarkets, including upscale suburban supermarkets.
Coca is used industrially in the cosmetics and food industries. A de-cocainized extract of coca leaf is one of the flavoring ingredients in Coca-Cola. Before the criminalization of cocaine, however, the extract was not de-cocainized. Therefore, Coca-Cola's original formula did include cocaine.
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. Coca leaves are also found in a brand of herbal liqueur called "Agwa de Bolivia" (grown in Bolivia and de-cocainized in Amsterdam), and a natural flavoring ingredient in Red Bull Cola, that was launched in March 2008.