Coca (Erythroxylum coca)
Natural Standard® Patient Monograph, Copyright © 2013 (www.naturalstandard.com). All Rights Reserved. Commercial distribution prohibited. This monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. You should consult with a qualified healthcare provider before making decisions about therapies and/or health conditions.
The coca plant ( Erythroxylum coca ), or "coca," is native to the Andean region in western South America. Coca leaves have been used widely by native South American tribes for thousands of years. It has been suggested that the use of the coca plant was originally reserved for priests and royalty in ancient South America and was used for religious purposes.
Traditionally, coca plant products (for example, coca leaves, coca leaf tea) have been used for reducing pain, decreasing hunger, and for their stimulant effects. Cocaine, an alkaloid that is processed from the coca plant, is a highly addictive stimulant. In 1999, an estimated 30% of drug-related visits to emergency departments were due to cocaine toxicity. Cocaine production and trade is illegal in most countries. Unprocessed coca leaf, however, may be legal in some South American countries because the use of coca leaves has traditionally been considered to be a part of local cultural identity, particularly for specific indigenous groups. To prevent cocaine production, coca plant cultivation is often restricted in these countries.
Coca leaves have been used for treating cocaine dependence. Coca leaves have also been used for studies of exercise tolerance and hypoglycemia. Use of illicit cocaine has had negative effects on antisocial behavior and general health. Further study is needed.