In 1961, the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs declared that the cultivation and sale of coca leaves should be prohibited. Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have died and many more have gone to prison all because of the simple plant and its contents whose scientific potentials haven’t even been fully exploited all these years. While the mention of coca is often synonymous with cocaine for many people, there is a lot more to the leaf than meets the eye. The global popularity of cocaine has overshadowed the knowledge of this plant.
It has been cultivated In South America For Over 8,000 Years
A long time ago in the Inca civilization, there was a beautiful woman with irresistible charms named Kuka. She used her beauty to entice men for years until the great Inca heard of his exploits and decided that she had to be executed. She was cut in half and buried and out of her grave grew a plant with the power to alleviate people’s pain and suffering. The people called the plant Coca and it was the gift of Kuka to the people she loved so much. Now, the legend may not be true but the history of growing Coca on the slopes of the Andes goes as far back as the Inca civilization. The cultural significance of the plant is so deep that the crime and violence associated with cocaine today couldn’t eradicate it. Many people still chew and brew coca leaves and most of them have probably never seen cocaine in their lives.
Coca Was Deeply Rooted In The Inca Culture
The Incas believed in many gods and the sun was one of them. While they didn’t exactly worship coca, they looked at it as one of the most precious things on Earth. When the Spanish came, they said some valued coca leaves way more than gold. The leaves would be burned in sacrifice for the gods and some would even be buried with the dead for some reason that has never been fully explained. Many indigenous Andean communities still see coca leaves as a part of their culture which is why Peru and Bolivia petitioned the US to remove the leaves from the list of dangerous and restricted narcotics in 1988.
The Leaves Were Part Of The Original Coca Cola Formula
Coca Cola is one of the few companies allowed by the FDA to import coca leaves and process them for manufacturing. The original formula or the drink formulated by Pemberton included an extract from coca leaves. It wasn’t illegal even then because coca leaves had not been classified as a narcotic. The cocoa extract used in Coca Cola wasn’t cocaine though so the theories that the drink contained the narcotic is baseless.
It Takes Lots of Work and Chemicals to Get Cocaine from Coca Leaves
It is true that without coca leaves, there would be no cocaine but it is not that black and white. Cocaine has been around for about 150 years with its negative medical and social effects causing it to be illegalized but the bad name also accompanies the parent plant. To make a single kilo of cocaine, you need around 400 kilos of coca leaves and lots of additives. They use gasoline, cement, lime, ammonia and bleach although gasoline and cement are considered the two main ingredients. The number of toxic compounds used in the extraction of cocaine from coca leaves puts a bad taste in your mouth even before the drug itself comes out. It is therefore true to say that there can be coca without cocaine if greed wasn’t a factor.
Cocaine Is Not the Only Product of The Coca Leaf
Cocaine is an alkaloid that is found in coca leaves in small quantities which is why so many chemicals are needed to extract it. When consumed n their natural form, coca leaves have very insignificant quantities of cocaine that are not enough to cause overdoses and the intoxication of cocaine. The leaves just contain minerals, nutrients and the stimulant which is the unconcentrated form of cocaine. The leaves are therefore safe to use as food and for medical purposes.
The Leaves Are Still Used in Manufacturing Energy Drinks
The energy drink Red Bull had to defend itself in multiple courts around the world between 2009 and 2015 when it was discovered that the drink contained trace amounts of cocaine. The company said that while it uses cocoa extracts in the manufacture of drinks, it doesn’t include any concentrated form of the drug. The trace amounts are so insignificant that you would have to drink over 5000 cans at a go to overdose which is not humanly possible.
Coca Tea Is Just as Good As Green Tea
The brewing of coca leaves for tea is one of the oldest methods of consuming coca leaves. Coca tea is enjoyed in many parts of the world despite the condemnation that some people use it as an excuse to extract cocaine from the leaves. The leaves have nutrients and antioxidants that are healthy just like green tea.
The Leaves Have Medicinal Properties
When John Pemberton was inventing Coca Cola, he was trying to get a painkiller that was less addictive but more potent than morphine. Using the coca plant extract was part of that process because the leaves have been used for millennia by the Inca to treat the sick. The most common use in the Andes nowadays is for calming pain and relaxing muscles. Chewing on the leaves also helps people treat altitude sickness.
The Leaves Can’t Cause Addiction
Cocaine causes dependence which is one of the main reasons why it has affected societies negatively. Some people even resort to the lower grade byproducts of the drug which are both toxic and addictive. While chewing on coca leaves delivers the stimulant into the body, the low concentration of the substance doesn’t cause dependence.
They Can Be Used In Food
Coca tea is not the only way to make food out of coca leaves. Chefs in high-end hotels in La Paz introduce fresh coca leaves or powder to special dishes and drinks served in restaurants. The use of coca leaves in food is believed to have benefits including improved digestion, fatigue and other stomach illnesses. The leaves themselves don’t have much nutritional value if consumed independently.