- It is a shrub scientifically known as Erythroxylum coca, grows up to 2.5 m in height; It has woody stems and its small, green leaves are ellipsoidal, its white flowers are small and its fruits, also small, are red.
- On the back of each sheet there are two lines parallel to the midrib.
- It grows in warm and humid lands (Yungas or tropical region) at an altitude ranging from 800 to 2,000 meters above sea level.
- The plant can last up to 30 years and is harvested up to three times a year manually.
Native Indians or workers from Colombia, Peru and Bolivia daily chew the coca leaf as a stimulant or drink it in mate infusions. In Southeast Asia, East Africa and the Middle East we can also find some habits of consuming plants with stimulating effect.
The coca leaf itself has a very low contraction in cocaine, so it does not cause dependence or withdrawal syndrome, nor mental dependence. However, cocaine purified from coca has a stimulating effect through the incidence in the central nervous system, which causes dependence.
The city of La Paz, Bolivia (with an approximate height of 3,600 meters above sea level) or Ethiopia – where the khat leaf is chewed – are regions of a geographical altitude that can cause altitude sickness to travelers (headache, malaise), whose effects are alleviated with the chewing of the coca leaf or the ingestion of the mate of said leaves, commonly called coca tea.
Originally, coca Erythroxylum was used in religious rituals of the Inca Empire, which developed in the Andes region of South America. The Incas lived in a hostile environment and for them the coca leaf became an indispensable food to support heavy work and deal with physical and mental fatigue. Later, when the Spaniards knew their properties, it spread throughout Europe and then products made with coca were developed to treat both physical and mental fatigue. Currently in regions of South America has been the tradition of chewing the coca leaf. In 1856 the cocaine crystal was purified from the coca leaf and products containing cocaine began to appear, such as wines, cigarettes, tablets and beverages. The well-known brand soda Coca-Cola in its beginning also contained cocaine. Many health workers and celebrities regularly consumed cocaine or products that contained it. Subsequently, due to the appearance of cases of cocaine dependence, withdrawal syndrome, mental dependence and death due to overdose, in 1906 a law was created in the United States to restrict the importation of coca leaves and cocaine products.
Then, in 1914, its commercialization, production and transportation were restricted through the Narcotics Drug Control Law. In 1961, in the UN Convention on the prevention of drug and psychotropic trafficking, directed by the United States government, the coca leaf was defined as a drug and since then the countries adhering to this agreement have been forced to take measures to avoid illegal cultivation. However, the Bolivian government currently argues that the leaf, as such, does not cause dependence or psychotropic effect, and should be considered as a different element to cocaine, since it is not the same as the latter, which is chemically extracted.
The difference is the concentration
There is a big difference between consuming a cup of coffee and caffeine pastry between consuming a glass of beer (5% alcohol by weight) and alcohol (90% alcohol by weight) between consuming coca leaves and cocaine.