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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
• 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
• 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
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
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
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