Coca Leaves and Cocaine: Unveiling the Intriguing Connection

by | Nov 18, 2023 | Peru Travel Blogs | 0 comments

coca leaves effects

There are numerous misconceptions surrounding coca. Every day, the word coca appears in headlines worldwide, but it’s often mistakenly used for cocaine.

The Drugs and Democracy Team at TNI aims to debunk these myths and reveal the reality of the coca leaf.

RELATED: If You want to see Quechua People Visit the Sacred Valley of the Incas

1. What is coca?

Coca is a plant that is rich in essential oils, mineral nutrients, and various pharmacological compounds, one of which is the alkaloid cocaine. In its concentrated, synthesized form, cocaine is a potentially addictive stimulant.

The coca leaf, however, has been traditionally chewed and brewed for tea for centuries among the indigenous peoples of the Andean region Such as Peru and Bolivia. It is harmless and can be beneficial to human health.

When chewed, the coca leaf acts as a mild stimulant, suppressing hunger, thirst, pain, and fatigue and assisting in overcoming altitude sickness. This practice, known as Coca Peackchay, involves keeping a saliva-soaked ball of coca leaves in the mouth along with an alkaline substance that helps extract cocaine from the leaves.

RELATED: Altitude Sickness in Cusco Peru How to Prevent

Coca Tea

Coca tea is widely used. Even beyond the Andean Amazon region. Coca has an established use among all social classes in two Northern provinces of Argentina. There is also an increasing use of coca candies or coca flour as a food supplement.

Due to its stimulant effect. Coca leaf was originally an ingredient in the soft drink Coca-Cola, though it was removed in 1903. Now, a decocainized coca extract is used as a flavoring ingredient.

2. What is its relationship to cocaine?

While the coca leaf is a harmless and mild stimulant similar to coffee, cocaine can certainly be extracted from it. Without coca, there would be no cocaine. The ‘ready extractability’ of cocaine from coca leaves is currently a major factor justifying the leaf’s illegal status under the 1961 Single Convention.

The cocaine alkaloid content in coca leaves ranges from 0.5 to 1.0 percent. Isolated around 1860, cocaine was synthesized and used in the manufacture of popular patent medicines, beverages, and “tonics” until the early 20th century. Concerns about cocaine use began in many countries in the 1910s and 1920s, centered on dependence on the drug and subsequent “moral ruin,” especially among young people.

Despite these concerns. It’s worth noting the use of smokable cocaine-based paste (PBC, paco, bazuco, or crack in Latin America). As distinct from free-base and crack cocaine produced from cocaine in the United States and Europe, is particularly worrying.

Smokable cocaine base paste is harmful and highly addictive, and when shared with homemade pipes. Which are often part of the crack use ritual, crack users can contract diseases such as herpes, tuberculosis, hepatitis, and HIV/AIDS.

3. Why Is the Coca Leaves Banned?

The coca leaf was listed on Schedule I of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs alongside cocaine and heroin in 1961. With strict controls on medical and scientific use. The inclusion of the coca leaf was intended both to phase out coca chewing and to prevent the manufacture of cocaine.

The logic for including the coca leaf in the 1961 Single Convention primarily stems from a report by the ECOSOC Commission of Enquiry on the Coca Leaf in 1950 after a brief visit to Bolivia and Peru in 1949.

The report concluded that the effects of chewing coca leaves were negative. Even though it “does not at present appear that the chewing of the coca leaf can be regarded as a drug addiction in the medical sense.” The WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence later rescinded this argument, labeling coca use as a form of cocaine.

The ECOSOC report was heavily criticized for its selection of researchers. Its arbitrariness, poor methodology, lack of precision, and racist undertones. Today, a similar study would never pass the scrutiny and critical review to which scientific studies are routinely subjected.

4. Does the 1961 Convention still ban any use of coca?

In 1994, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) – monitored the implementation of the UN international drug control conventions. Noted that the drinking of coca tea, “which is considered harmless and legal in several countries in South America. Is on the rise among tourists.” The INCB called upon ratifying countries of the 1961 Single Convention to “take all measures necessary to prohibit under their domestic law the possession and use of coca leaf for personal consumption.”

The Permanent Central Narcotics Board (later: INCB) was established in 1923, as a body of independent experts supervising earlier international drug control treaties.

Its original task was to supervise the application of national drug laws and regulations. However with a view to possible amendments or improvements of such legislation to ensure that the production, manufacture, and distribution of drugs were carried out following the provisions of the 1912 Hague Convention.

RELATED: Visit Rainbow Mountain Peru and you will see how Andean people Chew Coca Leaves

5. Conclusion

The coca leaf continues to be misunderstood and misrepresented around the world, but it is time to debunk these myths and recognize its traditional uses. Coca leaves have been used for centuries by indigenous peoples in South America, with no negative consequences, and even with potential health benefits.

The connection between coca leaves and cocaine should not be viewed as a justification for the leaf’s prohibition. As there are significant differences between the two substances.

The 1961 Single Convention, which includes the coca leaf alongside cocaine and heroin. Was formed on flawed research and has since been heavily criticized. It is time for a more nuanced and evidence-based approach to understanding and regulating the use of coca leaves.

So, it can be concluded that while the coca leaf may have a relationship to cocaine, it is not the same as cocaine and should not be banned due to this misconception. Instead, its traditional uses should be recognized and respected.

To learn more about coca leaves and their uses, further research and education on the topic is needed. With a better understanding of this plant, perhaps we can dispel the negative stigma surrounding it.

As a Tour Guide

Every day, as I journey along my route, I savor the tradition of chewing coca leaves. It’s important to note that I don’t smoke and I am not addicted to any narcotics substances. Just like coffee lovers, we can appreciate the rich flavors and unique experiences that our cherished traditions bring. Let’s celebrate the joy and passion for these customs together!


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Cesar Conde

I’m Cesar Conde, owner of Tour Leaders Peru & Travel Advisor and my other side job is Nomadic Digital. I share my own amazing Tour Experiences, travel stories, guides, and itineraries for travelers like you and me!


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